In the several month-long frenzy leading up to submitting your college applications, you might be wondering whether or not you should try to retake standardized tests. There are a few obvious benefits to doing so (the primary one being the potential to get a higher score), but there are some drawbacks as well. Here we walk you through everything you should ask yourself before cracking open those review books again.

Do I have time?

It can be tempting to try to squeeze in a second (or third) attempt at a standardized test in the summer or fall prior to submitting applications. Before you register, however, consider both how much time you have to prepare for the test itself and how much time it will take the scores to reach your colleges and universities of choice. A fall test date, for example, could be too late if you intend to use the new score to apply Early Action or Early Decision.

How hard am I able to study?

This is related to question #1, because the time available to you is also a significant factor. If you know that you’re going to be swamped with extracurriculars or coursework, or if you feel burned out from previous testing attempts, then it’s a good idea to reassess whether or not a retake is a worthwhile investment of your time and money.

How much improvement can I really expect?

Be realistic about your previous testing attempts and consider how much room for improvement you actually have. If, for example, you were sick on test day but routinely score much higher on practice tests, you might want to seriously consider a retake. On the other hand, if you scored well previously and have yet to substantially improve your score (even with the help of test prep), it might not be reasonable to expect a substantial point increase.

Will a higher test score substantially improve my chances?

The short answer is, it depends. Candidates who are on-target for their top choices but have test scores below the mean of admitted students could probably benefit from a retake (given that there is time to properly study). However, a better standardized test score will not magically enable students who are otherwise uncompetitive to gain admission to their dream school. Additionally, keep in mind that small increases (i.e. up to 50 points) will rarely, if ever, be the determining factor in admissions.

Should I focus my attention elsewhere?

If it’s September or early October, you know you want to apply to a school early, and your test scores are already within the range of admitted students, your time is probably better spent polishing up essays and preparing for alumni interviews. There are many facets of a college application, and it is unwise to fixate on one at the expense of all the others. In general, focus on those aspects of the process that are still within your control; you should be sure to put your best, most polished foot forward in all of the subjective components of your application.

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