Q: I took the SAT in March and got a 2190 and then took the ACT in June and got a 35. I would be happy with the 35 if I didn’t think that I could score a 36, and I also feel strongly that I could improve on my SAT score. Is it worth it to retake either test? Would it look bad if I retook both? Does a high score on the SAT look better than a high score on the ACT?

A: I’d be happy with a 35, too! Congratulations --your scores are enviable indeed, and I am sure that many readers of this column wish they could do as well on their tests. But yes – I would try for a 36, just because you are so close to it. What do you have to lose?

Your query has several parts to it, and I need to provide several answers – not just for you but for everyone facing standardized tests for college admissions:

  1. You seem to be buying into the myth that somehow the SAT is “superior” to the ACT. The suppliers of the SAT would certainly like folks to believe that. But the truth is that either test is fine. These tests are administered by two companies in different parts of the U.S., and they are competing for market share. Colleges and universities do not care which one students take (if you take the ACT, be sure to take the “with writing” version!)

  2. It does not look bad to re-take tests. Itlooks bad if the first results are so-so, and the student seems to decide that they are “good enough.” This will make admissions officers wonder why the student was satisfied and didn’t strive for something better. The other thing that looks bad is taking the test over and over and over (say, more than 3 times) until perfection or near-perfection is reached; that may make the admissions readers think the student is being a bit obsessive.

  3. All SAT scores are reported on one comprehensive score report (unless you specifically ask to have certain scores withheld from colleges); each ACT score from each test date can be sent independently. So you can decide what the colleges see.

  4. The major point is to bear in mind that standardized tests are only ONE PART of the whole admissions picture. Yes, the most selective colleges and universities want high scores, but as part of a bigger picture. Even the highest scores do not guarantee acceptance unless there are other application components that excite the admissions office.

There is no reason why you should not try re-taking both, just to see what happens. But only once more, then stop!