Should you Retake Your Tests?

Submitted by ashley on Thu, 12/02/2010 - 1:31pm

Those of you who took the SAT (or an SAT II) in June should be getting your scores back in the next few days. I’ve already received a few questions from parents who want to know what type of score is good enough, and which numbers require a retake in the fall. You’re probably getting tired of hearing me say this, but there are no straightforward answers to these questions. In terms of your overall SAT score, you want to hit at least the 600 mark for each section. This will keep you competitive in an ever-growing pool of talented applicants. Of course, we set individual goals for each of our students, but this is a good rule of thumb. SAT IIs are a little trickier, since they vary in difficulty, but your scores should be on par with your grades and academic goals for college. If you want to be an English major and only score a 650 on your Literature SAT II, you should definitely retake it. The same goes for the calculus student who wants to be an engineer: shoot for the high 700’s. There are 20 different tests you can take, so make sure you’re playing up your strengths. Try to find 3 subjects you can ace.

    Of course, some of the tests are much harder than others, and I also receive many questions from parents about how colleges rank the different tests. Let me tell you a little story [...that may seem unrelated at first but which actually has a point...] – in 2005, Princeton decided to change its grading standards to combat what they considered to be “egregious” grade inflation among Ivy League schools. School officials decided that only 1/3 of the members in any given class could be awarded an A, meaning that GPAs began to plummet. They assumed other schools would follow suit, but everyone else realized this was a terrible idea and kept awarding A’s for A quality work. Go figure. Anyway, Princeton started sending out letters with everyone’s transcripts explaining the change so that when graduates applied for jobs, companies would make allowances for the stricter grading standards. Unfortunately, this had absolutely no effect. The hiring committees would say “why should we take the Princeton kid with a 3.4 when we can take the Yale graduate with a 3.8?” - they completely disregarded the fact that these 2 GPAs were technically equivalent. I mention this because college admissions have become so competitive that it is often a numbers game. You want to hit all the benchmarks so that your application will go into the pile the committees read more carefully. In an ideal world, they’d remember that Biology and Chemistry are arguably the two most difficult SAT IIs and view a 650 the same way they’d view a 780 on an easier test, but that doesn’t always happen. If someone else is submitting 800s, you want to be in the same arena, score-wise.

I hope everyone is having a nice summer. As always, feel free to post comments and questions!