When Should I Take (or Retake) My Test?

If you're thinking about taking (or retaking) the SAT, ACT, GRE, or another standardized test, don't just pick a date out of thin air and head off to the testing center. Strategy is involved in determining the best time to test. The following tips should help you make an informed decision.

Take the test only when you are ready

Standardized tests measure the same skills in the same way every time. The questions themselves may be different, but the content you need to know will be the same. There's really no point in taking a standardized test if you aren't ready. If you're unprepared, you won't do your best, and you'll want to take the test again anyway.

If you're thinking about taking the test just "to see what it's like," take a practice test instead, and save the registration fee.

Make sure you have time to prepare

People who know how the test is structured and have a strategy for answering the questions have a major advantage over those who don't. Make sure you budget some time to prepare. Some people study during the school year and test in the spring, but others prefer to study over the summer and take the test in the fall. Either way is okay, as long as you're ready to do your best. Be honest about the amount of time you're willing to spend preparing, and make the commitment! It'll pay off in points.

Take the test early enough to report your scores

Getting your college application in early is great, but most admission offices won't look at an application until it is "complete," which means it must include all required test scores. Getting your test scores in early is best. Just make sure you're prepared! Taking the test in the fall is okay, but you'll have less risk of missing any deadlines if you take your test in the spring, before you apply.

Leave yourself a margin for error

On test day, you might get sick. Or your car might break down. Or you might simply have a bad day. Lots of things that have nothing to do with your ability could affect your test score, and circumstances like these may lower your score. If your bad day happens on the last possible test date, you're out of luck; you may have to live with a bad score. But if you have another test date ahead of you, then you'll have another chance to prove your abilities. That's why it's best to take the test early rather than last minute. It's good to have a backup test date in case something goes wrong.

Getting a bad score is not a reason to take it again

If you prepared well and took the test early but just aren't happy with your results, should you take the test again? Unless you earned a perfect score, the possibility certainly exists that you could score a little higher. However, wanting a better score isn't necessarily a good justification for testing again. To be worth the preparation time, aggravation, and the new testing fee, you need a strong reason to believe you'll score significantly better.

Ask "what will be different next time?"

If you totally bombed the first test because you were sick, or something unexpected happened that affected your concentration, then go ahead and take it again. However, standardized tests are very consistent, so if you don't do anything differently, then you're likely to wind up with about the same score.

If you didn't prepare well (or at all), then you have much to gain by improving your skills and taking the test again. So...make sure you study before you retake it!

Peterson's © 2008

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