You did it! You made it through the painfully long four-hour SAT test (or three-hour ACT test) and just got your test scores back. Before you get too excited about never seeing another SAT or ACT question for the rest of your life, consider the two scenarios below:
Scenario 1: You received a 36 on the ACT or a 1600 on the SAT. Send your scores to schools and never worry about a standardized test ever again (well, until AP exams, the GRE, the MCAT, the GMAT, the LSAT, etc.).
Scenario 2: The more likely scenario is that you did not receive a perfect score, along with 99.9% of high school students that took the same test. You may have prepped and improved your score, but not enough. You may have tried taking the test cold just to get an idea of how you would do. In either case, it’s usually a good idea to take it again. No harm in trying to do a little (or a lot) better on a second (or third) test. In case you’re wondering, there is no limit to the number of times you can take the SAT or ACT, but we don’t recommend any more than four times.
If you find yourself in the second scenario, don’t worry. Follow these steps before taking your next test.
Step 1: Prep for the test that best showcases your strengths. If you have taken both the SAT and the ACT, compare the two scores using the concordance chart found here. Colleges will accept either test score for admissions, so prepare for the test that is best for you. If you have not taken both tests, try a practice test at home and then compare your scores (ACT practice test, SAT practice test).
Step 2: Review your mistakes. You can do this by ordering your test booklet that includes a copy of all test questions and the correct answers for each question. This question-and-answer service is available three times a year for both the SAT (October, March and May) and the ACT. There is an extra fee, but it’s a great way to understand and analyze your test performance.
If you did not test on one of those dates, you can still gain a lot of information about your strengths and weaknesses from your score report. This is usually posted on your account at www.collegeboard.org or www.actstudent.org within three to four weeks after the test date. For example, the math section of the SAT score report is broken down into four categories: number and operations, algebra, geometry, and data and statistics. Those categories are then broken down further into difficulty level: easy, medium, and hard. This will help you determine which types of problems to review before the next test.
Score reports can also provide insight into whether pacing was an issue. For example, on the ACT, the last reading section is always Natural Science. The subscores for reading include arts/literature (passages 1 and 3) and social studies/sciences (passages 2 and 4). A significantly lower subscore on social studies/sciences may indicate that you did not have enough time to properly read the last passage, which is always a natural science passage.
Step 3: Reflect on your first testing experience. This step is best done immediately after finishing the test. Did you run out of time on any sections? If so, which ones? Did you have difficulty focusing throughout the test? It is likely the longest test that you have ever taken so it is common to start out well but have more difficulty at the end of the test. Did you feel overly anxious during the test? If so, did you combat your anxiety with any tips such as taking deep breaths or repeating a positive mantra? If not, this is something to do during the next test. Did any sections seem more challenging than those that you had practiced?
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice. At this point, you have identified the test that is best for you. You should have also identified areas in which you still need to review as well as other hurdles in the testing environment such as focus and pacing. Now, it’s time to review. If the main issue was pacing and focus, it’s best to practice timed assignments and replicate the testing environment as closely as you can. The SAT prep books we recommend can be found here.
Step 5: Retake the test with confidence!
Happy Test Prep!