By Brian Witte





This month, the College Board debuted its much-discussed redesigned SAT. As you update your test-taking strategies, also consider the circumstances in which you would retake the SAT. Though retaking the test involves a second infusion of time and money, it is worth it in these three instances.

1. Your score falls below the average mark for your prospective colleges. 

Your SAT scores should not define your college choices, but they should inform them. If you took the SAT early in your junior year, you might not have had a list of target schools in mind yet. Or you might have realized that your score put your first-choice school into the “reach” category if you were 50-100 points below the admissions average.

Having a concrete score in mind can be a powerful motivator. It is always more difficult to work with a vague or poorly defined goal, and if you set out to simply “get better” it can be hard to gauge whether you are making significant progress. Recognizing that you must add 200 points to your score provides you with a measurable target, and it can turn that coveted reach school into reality.

On the redesigned SAT, the essay section is optional. If you skipped the essay the first time you took the test, you may need to retake the whole exam if you later realize that your prospective colleges require it.

2. A higher SAT score will qualify you for additional financial aid. 

Perhaps your initial scores on the redesigned SAT are sufficient for admissions purposes, but they fall just short of the threshold for merit-based scholarships. The University of Arkansas, for example, uses a sliding tuition scale for students who are not state residents. As few as 70 additional points on the SAT can mean a significant tuition reduction.

Of course, scholarship policies differ across schools, and your target score may change accordingly. So how do you decide when to retake the SAT? If you are within 100 points of a definitive target score, as in the University of Arkansas example, it is worth working toward that goal.

For more nebulous situations, where the criteria shifts with each incoming class, pay attention to trends and aim to score in the top 10 percent of test-takers nationwide. According to the College Board’s data for the previous version of the SAT, this represents a score of 660 in critical reading, 680 in math and 650 in writing.

It can be very difficult to earn extra points if you are already in a high percentile, but if you were to gain 110 cumulative points, you would move from the 90th percentile to the 95th percentile. The payoff, in turn, could be amazing: up to four years of significantly discounted tuition.

3. New coursework will enhance your ability to earn a competitive score. 

The redesigned SAT, when compared with its predecessor, is oriented toward analysis and knowledge assessment rather than memorization. While there is still value in strategy, the acquisition of new knowledge is more important.

If you did poorly on the math section of the SAT, for example, it may be wise to retake the test after you complete a semester of data analysis or trigonometry. A rigorous Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course in English or history could also boost your score, as the content and skills in these subjects directly apply to the evidence-based reading and writing portion.

By sitting for the exam early, you may be able to identify skills useful to the SAT in your later classes. For instance, as you analyze texts in your English course, you may be reminded of questions you encountered on the SAT. When you eventually retake the SAT, you will have had a semester or more of practice with evidence-based textual analysis.