As a Testive coach, I often hear students ask themselves if a good score is “good enough,” or wonder how many times the SAT is worth taking in the hopes of an improved score. Generally, it feels like taking the SAT again is an obvious choice if you’re dissatisfied with your score, but retaking the test can cost you time and money, and distract you from other important elements of applying to college, like crafting your admissions essays. If you’re wondering whether or not you should retake the SAT, there are several questions you should ask yourself before making a decision:

How Far Is My Current Score From My Ideal Score?

Most students have an “ideal score” that they walk into the test hoping to attain—they want to “break” 1400 or 1500, for instance. One of the biggest temptations for high-achieving students is to retake the test until the get their ideal score or as close as they can—and this can be a great idea! However, the difference in score isn’t always worth it. For instance, if you scored a 1480, and you were hoping to get to 1500, you may be better off keeping your initial score and focusing on perfecting other aspects of your application.

You should retake the SAT if your ideal score is in reach, reaching that score will significantly open up your opportunities for college and you have time to prepare. (I’ll get to those second points later.)

What Score Do I “Need”?

While hardly any colleges will explicitly state “You need to score X on the SAT for admittance,” it’s common for schools to publish a “range” of scores for the students they admit (“The incoming Class of 2021 on average scored between X and Y on the SAT”). If you are close to that range for your first-choice school, but not quite there, retaking the SAT after some extensive study and test prep can be an excellent way to boost your odds of admittance.

How do I find the score I need?

  • If you have a handful of target colleges in mind, you can locate their average SAT score of admitted students
  • The average SAT score of admitted students for the previous year is a good approximation of the score that will help your chances of getting in.
  • Visit a college’s website, then navigate to their admissions page to locate this information.
  • If a college doesn’t state the average SAT score of admitted students, you can find an unofficial score from a third-party site like College Simply with a quick Google search.

What Happened the Last Time I Took the Test?

One extremely important question to ask yourself when you consider whether or not to retake the test is whether or not your first test was affected by extenuating circumstances. For instance, if you had a bad cold the day of your first test, if you didn’t get enough rest the night before the test or if you had just received some startling personal news the night before which kept you from sleeping well, these could have a profound effect on your test performance. Sometimes extenuating circumstances prevent you from doing your best on a specific test day, and this can’t be avoided. If that was the case when you last took the SAT, then retaking the test, particularly after going through some test prep to keep the test materials fresh in your mind, can be an excellent idea.

How Heavily Will My Score Be Weighed?

This is not a fact that’s often discussed, but different applic