After working through a grueling standardized admissions test, the moment of judgement arrives when you get your scores. If you got the score you were hoping for, congratulations! You can now focus your time and energy on the rest of the admissions process. If your score is much lower than you’d hoped, however, you have to decide about whether or not to retake the test.
My biggest advice is: DON’T RETAKE THE TEST IF YOU HAVEN’T DONE ANY ADDITIONAL PREPARATION! As a tutor, I’ve encountered student after student who has taken the test two or more times before seeking a tutor or doing additional practice, hoping to somehow “get lucky” on the retake. This rarely works because these tests are not lottery tickets; the only way to substantially raise your score is to master the skills and test taking strategies they require.
A well-planned retake, however, can give you the boost you need to improve your application and clear the path to the school of your dreams.
It’s a good idea to retake the test if:
1) You’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary to prepare for the retake.
Use the score report from your first test to map out how much time you’ll need to improve your skills. For low-scoring students, this might require several months, or an intense effort if you have limited time. You might consider finding a tutor (or purchasing additional hours, if you had one before) to help. Then, take at least one more practice test, preferably more, before the next real test to make sure you’re making progress.
2) You had extenuating circumstances on your test day.
One of the only exceptions to the additional preparation rule would be extreme circumstances, such as if you became violently ill halfway through the test, accidentally deleted your entire essay ten seconds before your time was up, or your test center was invaded by aliens. In these cases, you might score substantially higher without additional preparation. Hopefully you’ve already cancelled your scores, because it’s better to not to have a score show up on your score report if it doesn’t reflect your true abilities. Most of the time, however, the biggest factor in how you score is preparation.
3) You scored substantially higher on your practice tests than the real test.
If your official test performance was much lower than your practice tests, test anxiety may have been a factor, as practice can’t fully mimic the stress of the real test. There’s a chance that once you’ve had the real test-taking experience, you’ll be calmer and more clear-minded the second time around. That said, you should still evaluate the reason your real test scores were lower and try to address the problem. For example, did you only complete the practice test in sections instead of all at once? If that’s the case, you should complete a few full-length practice tests in one sitting before your retake. Did the questions on the test seem harder than those on the practice tests? If so, you should seek out a different brand of practice tests and work through those.
4) Your score is just shy of a posted requirement.
If the school to which you’re applying has posted minimum or expected scores and you are just short of those requirements, a retake might get you over the top. You should still do additional preparation, however, otherwise you’re just as likely to score lower the second time around.
You probably shouldn’t retake the test if:
1) You haven’t done enough additional preparation and aren’t scoring better on practice tests.
The best way to tell if you’ve improved is to take at least one more practice test and see if your score has gone up. If it hasn’t, the retake might be a waste of time and money.
2) You scored higher than you did on any of your practice tests and don’t have more time to prepare.
In this case, there’s a good chance you’ll score lower if you take the test again, so don’t tempt fate.
3) You’ve already retaken the test several times.
While one or two retakes is common, retaking the test over and over again can weaken your application, especially if your scores don’t go up. A single retake with substantial gains, however, can show the admissions committee that you worked hard to improve, or that maybe the first test didn’t reflect your true abilities. (Not all schools require all test scores be sent. Click here for more information.)
If you do choose to retake your admissions test, make it your goal to retake it only once and get the score you need. If you didn’t seek professional help in preparing the first time around, a class or tutor might be what you need to get you over the top. A private tutor can help you evaluate your weaknesses, keep your studying on-track, and come up with the best plan to make sure you do the retake right.