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Should I retake the SAT?

QUESTION: I am a high school senior and I just took my SAT for the second time. I received a 750 on the math section but only a 650 on the critical reading section. I'm not pleased with my critical reading performance, but my total is 1400, which is a decent score. I want to gain acceptance at Duke, so I'm not sure if I should retake the SAT to try to improve my critical reading. I'm only in the top 20 percent of my class, have taken 5 AP courses as a junior and will take the same as a senior. I have all A's and B's and am involved in extra-curricular activities. How can I be a competitive applicant for such schools as Duke? Signed, Aiming for Duke

Dear Aiming for Duke: Whether or not you should take the SAT again depends on what else you need to do to prepare for college. If you spend time studying for the SAT, will you still have enough time to study for the other standardized tests and keep up with your classes? If the answer is no, then don’t re-take the test. If you do think that you have the time, then it won’t hurt to take the test again concentrating on the critical reading portion.

To give you an idea of where you stand, the middle 50 percent of students admitted to Duke scored 1300 to 1500 on the SAT according to U.S. News & World Report. In addition, 88 percent were in the top tenth of their class and 97 percent in the top quarter. Your current SAT score and class ranking are certainly competitive.

It seems like you are on the right track to getting accepted. You are challenging yourself with difficult courses and you’ve achieved good grades. You can increase your competitiveness by continuing to get high grades in your classes, scoring highly on the SAT Subject Tests, making significant contributions in your extracurricular activities and building a strong application.

When you are working on your application and essay, it’s important for you to demonstrate your passion for learning and, if appropriate, for an extracurricular activity. Take a look at the example essays in our book, Get Into Any College: Secrets of Harvard Students (available at to get an idea of what makes a winning essay and how you can write one yourself.

The reality is that there are many students who have strong academic and extracurricular records. You need to make yourself stand out from the pile.

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Gen & Kelly Tanabe

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.