Even if you feel fully prepared to take your ACT or SAT, and you have been scoring highly on practice tests, you should plan to sit an official test more than once. This is not something to loathe—on the contrary!
Taking several tests can help you really understand your testing environment and your reaction to “the real test” versus a mock test. Armed with this knowledge, you can customize your test prep to be even more ready the next time around.
Here are some ways in which retaking the test can be helpful.
Even if you take mock practice tests, nothing replicates the experience of a real test. During a real test, you might find that many of the techniques learned during prep simply don’t come to you naturally. Or perhaps you misjudge how much time you have left.
This is different from a practice test since on test day you are likely running on adrenaline, which can cloud your judgment. By taking an early test, you will get a real appreciation for how important it is to work through each technique and make it second nature. It will also encourage you to notice your timing during homework and pace yourself strategically.
There are many unexpected things that can happen on the day—the room might be too cold or too hot, your proctor might be talking out loud while you are trying to focus, there might be no clock on the wall, your valuables might be placed in an unsafe place, you might be offered an unfamiliar whiteboard to take notes on. If you allow yourself to get familiar with the environment of your particular test center, you will feel more in control the second time around.
If you are taking an international ACT without accommodations, you will use a computer. While there are mock tests you can take online in advance, it can help to familiarize yourself with the computer at your test center. The screen size, the type of mouse, the location of the timer in the top right corner, and the use of digital tools under pressure are all things that can throw you off when the stakes are high. Debriefing with your mentor after the experience will help you prep in a more targeted way after.
It is a real possibility that your first score will be on the lower side, but that is not a reason for concern. Many colleges require you to only submit your best score or superscore. For those colleges which require you to submit all scores, demonstrating real progress between tests can show commitment, hard work, and capacity to learn.
We recommend taking your first official test soon after you start prep so you can use your test-day insights to fine tune your training. While it might seem like the stress of an unfamiliar environment won’t make a difference to your score, in many cases even one missed question can lead to a significant score drop (especially for high-scoring SAT students). So it is definitely worth going through this experience several times to be as prepared as possible.