Test Prep

What to Do If You're Unhappy with Your SAT Score

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Test day has passed and you're eagerly awaiting your results. It's natural for a little post-test anxiety to settle in while you wait: You might be wondering if you did as well as you'd have liked. Maybe you distinctly remember a few questions that you know you spent too much time on or didn't answer correctly. So what should you do if the email from the College Board arrives and your scores aren't quite what you'd hoped? Here are a few tips to help you out.

Consider Taking the Test Again

If you have another chance before you have to submit your applications, consider taking the test a second time. Some colleges allow you to submit your scores after their admissions deadline as long as the rest of your application is submitted on time. You certainly don't want to be late on your applications, but if you're unhappy with your score and your target school allows this grace period, it could be a good idea to use it.

Some students worry that taking the test multiple times will weaken their applications. This is simply not the case, and many schools will even superscore your SAT results, meaning they'll look at the highest section scores from multiple overall testing administrations. On the other hand, some schools do require that you send all of your SAT scores, whether they're beneficial to you in a superscoring situation or not. Be sure to weigh your chances of getting in with your current score against any possible technicalities with a school's score reporting policy, such that they would hold multiple test administrations against you.

Consider Taking the ACT Instead

If the format and the content of the SAT just simply aren't in your wheelhouse, consider taking the ACT instead. Most schools accept scores from either test, so in most cases, you won't be at a disadvantage if you submit one score over the other. In some situations, many students find it beneficial to take both tests anyway.

On the surface, the SAT and ACT are quite similar. In fact, they have quite a bit of content overlap, which means that if you've prepped for the SAT, you're probably not too far behind on prep for the ACT. Apart from altering a few techniques and learning some new pacing strategies, you could be pretty close to ready for the test as-is.

That said, there are some key differences between the tests. For instance, the ACT's Science Reasoning test — which doesn't actually test science concepts like the ones you'd find on the AP Biology exam— might provide some extra points to those who are experts at reading charts and graphs. Smaller nuances, like differences in the time allotted for each section, or the number of questions, may seem like nothing, but may make snagging a high score either easier or more of a challenge depending on the student. Sign up for a free ACT practice test and give it a shot to see.

Reassess What Score You Need

While you may not have scored how you wanted on the SAT, it can be beneficial to reassess what score you need. No student needs to aim for a perfect score, and you should do your research to determine your appropriate target score. Plus, keep in mind that your test scores don't hold the final say when it comes to an admissions decisions — that lies with your entire application as a whole.

Above all, make sure you use your first test scores to come up with a plan of action. If that's to submit those scores and move on to other areas of your application — great! If you decide to retake the test, ensure you use your previous score(s) to put together a test prep plan to improve on that. Whatever you do, don't just show up to another administration and hope to get a better score. For strategy and practice tests, check out our book Cracking the SAT.