Scoring a 1500 on the SAT is no small feat, and students should feel proud of themselves for achieving a score just 100 points away from the perfect 1600. However, some students looking to apply to extremely competitive universities might consider retaking the SAT in order to get a higher score and become a better candidate. Whether or not to retake the SAT after scoring a 1500 depends on many factors, including the amount of prep time left, top college choices, and other upcoming assignments for school.
When students should retake the SAT:
Students who are considering retaking the exam in hopes of scoring higher than a 1500 should retake it if they feel they have sufficient prep time left. Scoring a 1500 on the SAT places students in the 99th percentile, meaning they performed better than 99% of their peers on the exam. Moving up from the 99th percentile into the 99.9th percentile is a difference of less than 10 questions, which may seem like a reasonable number. However, students should also recognize that, in addition to those extra questions, they must answer a hundred-plus questions correctly again. Therefore, if a student is considering another attempt at the SAT after achieving a 1500 score, they should take the time to think about whether or not they have enough time to study.
A few months of prep time should be enough in order to fit in a high volume of online SAT tutoring and boost a student’s score from a 1500. Students should look at their past exams’ scoring sheets in order to gain insight into what areas of the SAT curriculum they need to improve upon. Instead of continuing to take practice tests over and over, it could be a better and more efficient strategy to focus on sections where they struggle the most. For a more rigorous and thorough approach, students should look for questions that are similar in style or topic to the ones they missed on previous exams. Targeted and mindful practice is specific to each student, meaning this personalized approach will be most effective in helping the student correctly answer questions that they previously got incorrect.
Students looking to apply to very competitive universities and colleges should also consider retaking the exam, especially if their top choice school typically requires a high SAT score. Schools like MIT, Stanford, and the Ivy League universities all maintain extremely high standards for standardized test scores. Students can find this information using a quick Google search to find the average SAT score for admitted applicants. If a school’s average SAT score is above 1500, students with sufficient preparation time should retake the exam to become a stronger applicant.
Many schools also release a more specific breakdown of their students’ typical SAT scores, separating the Reading/Writing section and Math section. For example, the University of Pennsylvania’s typical SAT scores in 2018-2019 were between 690-760 for the Reading/Writing section and 730-790 for the Math section. Students can also see that the University of Pennsylvania’s admitted students scored better on the Math section, meaning focusing on Math might be more valuable if a potential applicant wishes to attend UPenn. Applying this logic to other schools on a student’s list might help them narrow down which sections to devote the most time to.
Furthermore, what a student wishes to pursue in college and beyond might influence whether or not taking the SAT again is a good idea. Many high level institutions require a supplemental college essay that asks applicants to explain why they want to attend that specific school. A large number of students include information about what they would do on campus or what concentration they would study. Depending on what the student indicates they are interested in, the SAT score expectation could change. For example, majors that are number or calculation-heavy like Finance or Economics require a higher Math section score than concentrations in the humanities. Taking SAT II Subject Tests for specific subjects is also a great way to demonstrate both an interest in certain subjects and mastery of them.
If a student does not have much time to prepare for another exam, it might be best to focus on other aspects of the college admission application. However, if a student is absolutely confident that they can perform better even with minimal extra practice, taking the SAT again is understandable. Some of the factors that could interfere with a student’s performance include test day anxiety or stress, which might hinder even the most prepared test-takers. If a student feels that they simply blanked or panicked because of nerves on their SAT day, then it could be a good idea to retake the test, even if they did not have months to prepare further. If students feel they fit into this category, they should look at test-day strategies that will help reduce any anxiety that might interfere with their ability to think clearly. Having the experience of already taking the exam should also help subside any major nerves on test day.
Ultimately, whether or not to retake the test depends on multiple factors, one of the more important ones being the level of institution a student wishes to attend. If students have their hearts set on a highly competitive college, we recommend they mindfully study and retake the test in order to score better. A 1500 score on the SAT is very impressive, but for the top colleges, the difference between a 1500 and a 1550 is stark. Studying for a couple of months in order to increase the odds of admission to a top-ranked college will be worth the level of education a student may be able to receive for the next four years, so we highly recommend retaking the SAT if going to a specific institution is the goal.
When students should not retake the SAT:
Students who research the schools they are applying to and see that they are in the upper range of typical SAT scores can feel safe about choosing not to retake the SAT. Again, understanding the score breakdown of a student’s dream college is an extremely important factor in deciding whether or not to retake the exam. If students do see that their 1500 score is on the higher side of the typically admitted student, they should focus their time on perfecting other application components.
Students need to understand that the application process for colleges is holistic, meaning admission officers care about more than simply the applicant’s SAT scores, as they understand students are more than just their standardized test performances. Usually, they are able to tell how much time, effort, and consideration a student spent on their supplemental materials and essays. Investing time into those elements of the application is key. With the stress of the SAT out of the way, students who know their scores are in the upper range should invest that free time into other, also worthwhile, activities. Using that valuable time to focus on schoolwork can also be a better idea if retaking the SAT is not necessary, as schools usually require grade reports even after admission.
If a student feels that their application is strong because of the quality of their other materials, retaking the SAT might become less necessary. This being said, is very important to understand that there usually is a certain SAT score threshold that students must meet for every level of school. For schools where 1500 is close to or within their typical range of scores, students will likely rank in the top quartiles of applicants if their other application materials are similarly strong. These materials can include GPA/course load, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, leadership positions, awards, and community service. Strong examples of these components will help any student during the application process and can demonstrate to the board of admissions that a student is dedicated, smart, and hardworking. In some cases, students with slightly lower SAT scores than the school normally accepts are admitted because of their other merits. Again, students need to understand that this will not apply if their score is well below the typical range of SAT scores for a specific school.
However, the SAT score is not the only component of an application that admission boards consider, so depending on the school, students should think about whether or not it is absolutely necessary to retake the SAT.
Furthermore, the SAT can become a huge drain of time and energy. It often also contributes to a high amount of stress for the students, especially on top of their schoolwork. For these reasons, students should think about their own personal circumstances if they are considering retaking the SAT after scoring a 1500. If they do not have enough time to prepare further, taking the SAT could just take up even more time than necessary. Students should only retake the exam if they study harder or with a different method, because otherwise they could end up scoring the same (or potentially, worse).
Usually students plateau with their SAT scores after the third attempt. Students who would be taking their fourth SAT should consider using that time elsewhere. While it is possible to improve on the fourth attempt, most students do not improve their scores significantly, unless they have been doing something drastically different and devoting enormous amounts of time to studying and preparing. For this reason, retaking the test could carry more costs than benefits for the students.
The bottom line:
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Students must sit down and carefully consider all of the factors when deciding whether or not to retake the SAT after scoring a 1500. If a student is set on retaking the SAT no matter what, we suggest a highly efficient and smart method of studying. Instead of continuing to study the same way as before, the only way to have the best shot at improving is to understand specific points of weakness and work on them until the student feels more than comfortable with them. While students can definitely achieve this on their own, asking for help from others with SAT experience can be a huge help.