Should Your Student Retake the SAT?
The average college-bound high school student takes the SAT two or three times. That said, many students take only one swing while others choose to retake the test four, five, or more times. So what’s the sweet spot? How many times should a student take the SAT?
The simple answer is that there is no simple answer (sorry!). The decision to retake a college entrance exam depends on a wide variety of factors.
While other companies may push clients toward retesting at all costs (after all, more tests means more opportunities for test prep, right?), your test prep business should be prepared to help guide students through the decision using purposeful formative and summative assessment data. That means that sometimes the answer to the “Should I retest?” question will wind up being a “no.”
Turning away test prep opportunities may seem antithetical to a test prep company, but in some cases, it winds up being a smart, forward-thinking move. In the long run, it will matter to potential clients and the communities you serve that you have adopted clear and honest policies to guide your support for students’ testing decisions. It will establish your business as one that aims to position your students as the best possible college applicants they can be.
Help Students Look Beyond Superficial Reasons for Retesting
A recent study by a the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown that while there are plenty of factors that students should consider when deciding whether or not to retest, many times, it’s the least achievement-minded rationales that win out. In perhaps the most interesting (read: alarming) finding, the study discovered that students who scored just below a factor of 100 were more likely to retake the SAT than those who scored 10 or more points below a factor of 100.
Other findings from the study concluded that “Low-income students are 20% less likely to retake than high-income students, and underrepresented minorities in higher education are 9% less likely than whites.” In these cases, the cost of the test was often cited as a governing factor in the decision.
In each of these situations, there is no explicit consideration given to whether or not a student is likely to improve their scores with a retest. For one thing, a score’s raw, numerical value should not be the sole basis of a retest decision. Similarly, while tests are expensive to take, there are ways to qualify for financial assistance for at least a single retake (should one be prudent) – cost shouldn’t disqualify a chance for improvement.
Base retesting advice on performance-based factors and data
When it comes to retesting, don’t let your clients talk themselves into these types of traps. Instead, dig into the data and compare a student’s SAT score(s) to other measures of student aptitude and potential. These factors should include:
· practice test performances
· measured growth across test prep sessions
· effort in relevant school subjects
· available test preparation time
For each student, base the decision to retest or not on if there is evidence to suggest that there is room for targeted improvement. Clear Choice Prep’s SAT curriculum and test prep tools are designed to provide this type of diagnostic information in ways that can inform tutors’ support and clients’ decisions. In many cases, not only can these types of reflections make it easier to decide to retake the SAT, it can help tailor the test prep experience to maximize the odds of raising test scores.
When Should You Suggest Skipping a Retest?
The SAT score report is an extremely helpful tool. Not only does it provide the overall scores for each section of the SAT, it also breaks down a number of specific content and skill related elements that were assessed on a particular test. Using this data, test prep tutors should be able to identify possible discrepancies between a student’s performance on test day and a student’s demonstrated abilities on test prep assessments.
That said, if a student’s performance on test day matches up with or surpasses his or her test prep efforts, there isn’t likely to be any low-hanging fruit to target for improvement on a retest.
Unless there is some other evidence to suggest that a student can produce noteworthy growth prior to a retest (like they are taking a high school course that is relevant to an area of deficiency or a tutor has a plan for teaching a new concept in short order), you might consider advising against a retest. Time spent optimizing an application essay or improving academic performances may be a better use of a student’s time.
There is also such thing as simply taking too many retests. For one thing, there is a significant time investment involved in preparing thoroughly for an SAT. Repeating the process ad nauseam becomes an inevitable case of diminishing returns. The score on the seventh retest isn’t likely to be much higher than the sixth.
It makes sense. Students realistically have a ceiling on the amount of time, focus, and enthusiasm they can drum up for additional rounds of test prep and test days. If the signs of burnout are setting in, it’s time to stop testing – at least for now.
For younger students, there may be a chance to reevaluate and retest later on. However, when a high school senior has hit a wall, it may be time to encourage him or her to focus on other facets of their college application package. Forcing the issue isn’t likely to foster success for your students or your business’s reputation.
Furthermore, while there are schools that allow students to ‘superscore’ their best math and evidence based reading and writing scores by combining their best performances across test days, many highly competitive schools require students to submit their entire testing record for consideration – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Over-testing risks cluttering a score report with sub par results. Even if the final attempt is the most successful, it can be regarded as an outlier when compared to three or four other more disappointing scores.
This Isn’t Black Jack
Spend 10 minutes at the house minimum black jack table in any Las Vegas casino and you’ll hear someone nervously ask the dealer, “What does the book say to do here?” Typically, the player is appealing to the dealer for an objective ruling on the statistics to support his pre-determined decision to double-down on a 15 against the dealer, who is showing an Ace (FYI, don’t be that guy). The thing is, SAT prep isn’t black jack.
In black jack, one player’s 15 is the same as anyone else’s 15. But with the SAT, one student’s 1500 isn’t the same as anyone else’s 1500. One student may have peaked after months of prep. Another student may have some low-hanging fruit remaining. For example, he may be able to improve his score if he can just improve his pacing before the next test day. These students share a score, but they’re in completely different situations. Also, they may have very different goals for their college applications. A 1500 may be more than enough for one student to get into his or her top choice school, but another student may need another 50 points to have a solid shot at her top choice school.
The point is that you should never advise your student to cease or continue test prep based on a single number. When it comes to test prep, there is no “book” that can tell you whether or not to keep prepping. Ultimately, it’s a personal decision that should take into account the student’s goals, trends, and potential for further improvement.
Remember You’re a Consultant — Not a Salesperson
When all is said and done, cultivating a reputation for serving students’ needs above all else will help to build your test prep company’s credibility as one focused on growth and success as opposed to one just out to make a buck. While you can’t buy trust, you can certainly earn it. When it comes to advising students on retaking the SAT - cliché as it may be - honesty really is the best policy.
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