How to prepare for retaking the SAT

Marc Feder
September 24, 2020

Do you need to retake the SAT?  Rest assured that you’re not alone: repeating the SAT is very common, and in fact, data indicates that students who take the SAT multiple times perform much better the next time around. 

To put yourself even more at ease, recognize that schools really only care about your top score, so there’s no shame in having multiple scores on your official report (some colleges even allow you to "superscore," which means you can combine the best sectional scores from multiple attempts.

Of course, you want your last score to be a huge number, so let’s talk about how to prepare for your SAT retake:

1)  Learn everything you can from your previous SAT exam

While an unsuccessful official SAT attempt is certainly frustrating, it can also be really valuable: you just took the most authentic practice test possible!  So while the results of that practice test are still fresh, take some time to write down what it taught you. Consider things like:

  • Which problems did you really struggle on? And what made them hard? (did you not know the rule, did you know the rule but just get stumped on how to get started, were you looking for a connection that you just couldn’t find, etc.)  
  • How was your pacing?  Did you feel rushed through the whole thing? Did you ignore the clock and panic when you realized you were behind? Did you rush and then realize at the end that you had more time than you had thought? If you could go back, what would you do differently?
  • Did you eat well and get adequate rest during the days leading up to your official exam, or did you overexert yourself trying to cram at the last minute?

The more specific you can make your notes on the previous attempt, the more concrete your action items become for the next SAT test. 

Too often people focus only on the scores and not enough on the experience – it’s the lessons behind that experience that will help you address that score.

2)    Don’t try to improve everything at once

Using your notes and your results from recent SAT practice tests and study sessions, come up with a short list of around 3 topics or strategies to master at a time.  

Too often students identify that they need to make a score jump (whether 30 or 50 or 300 points) and commit to “getting better” in general. Or they know that one side of the test (Math or EBRW) is their weaker suit, and they commit to “getting better” at that. The problem there is that the improvement isn’t tangible - that’s not a real plan for improvement.  

The beautiful thing about an SAT retake is that you’re seasoned enough to know a few areas that definitely need improvement, so you can deep-dive on those and just about guarantee that you’ll improve your SAT score because you know where the improvement is going to come from.

How should you identify those areas? Of the areas that you’ve struggled on, look for the “easiest” points first: which concepts or question types did you feel the closest to mastering before your last attempt, or do you most frequently think “come on I should have known/seen that” when you get them wrong?  

Those handful of things you know you should master are your best opportunity to gain quick points; once you’ve mastered those, you can grab another topic or two for next.  

Also consider frequency: if something showed up multiple times on your official test, it’s not something you can hope to hide from. At the same time, those topics you sweated about but never saw – it doesn’t mean you won’t see them again, but you know they’re not the most important things in the world, either. 

The beautiful thing about an SAT retake is that you’re seasoned enough to know a few areas that definitely need improvement, so you can deep-dive on those and just about guarantee that you’ll improve your SAT score because you know where the improvement is going to come from.

Selfless plug: Everydae's academics team analyzed every officially released SAT exam to identify which skills matter the most and show up most frequently on test day. Which means we’ve removed the guesswork for you. Just follow our proprietary SAT study plan and you will conquer the right skills in the right order to maximize your SAT score on test day.

3)    Don’t Neglect Your Strengths

One common theme in people’s SAT retakes is that they improve their weaker score (either Math or EBRW) by a healthy amount…but their strong suit dips by a few points and their overall SAT score isn’t as high as they had hoped. Why? Because heading into their previous attempt they were a well-oiled machine on their strong side…and then they exclusively practiced their weakness and lost some of that strong-suit sharpness.  

While you of course want to practice some weaknesses heading in to test day, don’t forget to stay current on everything else. Make sure that at least ¼ of your study time is spent maintaining your strengths and your “new strengths” once you’ve mastered a new topic and decided to add on a new one.  

4)    Take the SAT again soon if you’re close to your goal

Even if most students in your grade aren’t taking their SAT exams for a while longer, if you’re close to your target score, try to keep that momentum up and take the SAT again within 2 months of your previous attempt if possible. Just note the areas you want to make sure you address, put your other extracurricular activities on hold for a bit, and attack that improvement with everything you’ve got. If you delay too long, you’ll lose some of that inertia that’s gotten you so close to your goal.

5)    …But give it some time if you’re far away

Demoralized by the SAT? Have a huge score gap between where you are and where you need to go? Make sure you take some notes on what you’ve learned to this point and then take a week (or a few) to step away from the test for a bit before you recommit to your studies.  

For one, you’ve earned a break and you don’t want to run too quickly into a study plan you’ll resent right away. But perhaps more important is the notion that you probably need to change your approach a bit – what you’ve been doing to this point may have been helpful to get you to a certain threshold, but to take it the rest of the way you’ll need to make some adjustments. Get a little space and give yourself a fresh start on the new SAT study habits you want to embrace.

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