Retake the ACT, SAT or Change Exams

Sometimes, despite hard work, your SAT* or ACT* score is disappointing. Don’t lose hope, though; if you took the standardized test early in the college application process, you may have time to retake it. But should you retake the same one, or consider changing course and registering for the other college entrance exam instead? Weigh these considerations before you decide.

1. Avoid unnecessary testing: Determining whether an SAT* or ACT* score is sufficient is an art unto itself. If you did well – or well enough – on the SAT* or ACT*, do not worry about completing the other exam too.

  • A high score on both tests offers you no benefit over an equally high mark on just one exam. Your time is limited, and you would do better to focus on other elements of the college admissions process.

2. Consider the causes of your poor showing: If your score was disappointing, consider why. Did you struggle with the exam content and format, or did circumstantial elements complicate matters?

  • Many factors can affect your testing performance, including anxiety, fatigue and illness. With illness, chances are slim that you would face the same challenge twice.
  • Anxiety and fatigue are states that you can affect to some extent. Extra preparation time before your next test date can give you a chance to address these issues constructively.
  • But should you change exams? If your poor performance was primarily due to circumstances or a lack of preparation, you should retake the same test. You will have less preparation to do, since you are already familiar with the format. You will also have a ready-made guide to which sections you should concentrate on studying.

3. Compare formats: In some cases, the SAT* or ACT* format may have actually worked against you. With the redesign of the SAT*, there is less separation between the two major college entrance exams, but there are still some differences.

  • The SAT* has no dedicated science section – though science is included elsewhere. The SAT* also has a slightly different format for its math portion, and it allows students more time per item.
  • For the ACT*, if you did very poorly on the science section, for example, you may benefit from registering for the SAT* instead. Conversely, you may have a strong science background that could help you score well if you switched to the ACT*.
  • Before deciding, take at least one full-length practice exam for the new exam you are considering taking. Do not just compare your results to a simulated national average. The practice tests cannot exactly match the curves used in the real versions, so look for whether the alternate exam format was noticeably better for you.
  • If you take the ACT* practice test, did you benefit from the faster pace? Some students produce their best results when they cannot overthink answers. Or, did the slower pace of the SAT* reduce your anxiety?

4. Weigh your time constraints: Learning a new exam format and a fresh set of strategies can be time-consuming. Do you have several months available to focus on an entirely unfamiliar test? Despite the similar content of the two exams, the different pace necessitates distinct answer-optimization strategies.

  • If you have a single month before your last possible test date, concentrate on improving one or two key areas from your first exam. A month is sufficient to drill into a topic and see results.
  • If you have two to three months available, however, you have more options. How much time can you devote to test prep over that span? If significant time and you have identified structural advantages to switching, then do so.
  • Changing exams may pay large dividends, but it is hardly a surefire method for improving your score. Consider the causes of your poor performance, the differences between your test options and your available time before taking your next step.

Omega Learning® Center offers a SAT*/ACT* Evaluation Test in a proctored, simulated environment. An Omega certified teacher will review your SAT* and ACT* test results and build your test prep program. For more information and to reserve your seat, stop by an Omega Learning® Center near you. 

**SAT is a registered trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this service. ACT is a registered trademark of ACT Inc.


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