Why Did My SAT Score Go Down?

So you decided to retake the SAT, and the day’s here–your scores are posted! You rush to the computer, eager to see how you did…and…what? You run to the window, open it wide, and scream in frustration, “WHY DID MY SAT SCORE GO DOWN?”

Obviously, this is a major disappointment. But, not majorly uncommon.

According to Collegeboard, 35 percent of juniors tend to have score drops. They also noted that “the higher a student’s scores as a junior, the more likely that student’s subsequent scores will drop.”


But why? What’s causing the drop?

Because it can be such a mystery, we wrote this article to shed some light on possible reasons why you didn’t do as well as you hoped you might.

Possible Reason 1: Official Test Conditions

So there are a couple situations to set up here.

The first one: You took a practice test and got a reasonable score. Then, you took the test for real, and your score dropped. What gives?

The second one: You took a real test and got a reasonable score. Then you retook the test, and your score dropped. Darn!


So, if you just took a practice test before, you need to keep in mind that the official test conditions can make a huge difference.

Did you take the practice test as officially as possible? Did you take it in a classroom, with a proctor, with other people around? Did you make the timing as exact as you could?

Because, if not, that could have contributed to your score drop.

You could be perfectly comfortable taking the test on your own in your living room, but maybe you got a little nervous once you were in front of a proctor.

But what’s the explanation if you already took an official test, and this was your second go-around?

Well, the conditions still could’ve been a little different. Maybe the second time you took it, you found yourself surrounded with:

  • A hot room
  • A cold room
  • A distracted proctor
  • A difficult-to-see clock
  • Majorly stressed out fellow test-takers

Anything can affect your scores. If there were distractions in the room, that could be a big answer to the question, “Why did my SAT scores go down?”

Possible Reason 2: Low Stamina (Not Enough Prep)

Between your last test and this test, did you study enough?

The SAT is a long test, and you can’t build up the skills to take it overnight. It takes time to build up the amount of stamina to be able to breeze through, totally focused. 

Did you take full practice tests? Did you take more than two?

If you weren’t physically prepared for the length of the test, this could be a reason for your score dropping.

stamina-why-my-score-went-downPossible Reason 3: You Were Burned Out (Too Much Prep)

Maybe you’re on the other side of the coin. Maybe you were trying to raise your score several hundred points.

And so, in preparation, you took a TON of practice tests, and studied every waking moment, and your brain couldn’t take it anymore.

Then, when it was showtime, you couldn’t perform.

Obviously, it can be tricky to strike a balance between being prepared and being over-prepared. Nobody has the exact answer. But here are some tips:

  • While you’re studying, make sure to take mental breaks! Get out and exercise.
  • Get enough sleep. If you exhaust yourself, you won’t have the mental processing power to achieve the score you want.
  • If you find yourself frequently telling your friends you’re too busy to spend time with them, take a reality check. Go to a movie or something. Your study materials will still be there when you get back.
  • (If you want more of these, click here for 10 Weird Tips to Ace the SAT!) 

Possible Reason 4: Timing Mistakes

Timing mistakes can also be a big reason for your score going down. And there are usually two big versions of this, and they go hand in hand:

  1. Spending too much time on questions you’re probably going to get wrong anyway
  2. Rushing through the easy questions

If you’re going to do well on the SAT, you need, need, need to make sure you slow down and do the easy questions correctly. Those are the definition of low-hanging fruit.

But, of course, you can’t get the easy questions if you’re spending too much time on the hard ones.

What you need is a pacing guide.

Here’s the deal.

The questions in each SAT section are structured from easiest to hardest. That means you should make sure you pay attention and do well on the early questions, do your best on the middle questions, and leave the last couple questions for last.

If you find yourself having trouble with a question, skip it and come back to it later.

But–gasp! What if you can’t finish the question you skipped?

Well, you might not need to.

Below is a chart that illustrates how many questions you can leave blank, depending on the score you’re hoping to earn.

Take a look! Circle the number. Take a breath. We’re here for you, kid.


Then, once you’ve figured out how many questions you can leave blank, and how many you need to make sure you get correct, you can fill out the rest of your pacing guide to look something like this:

pacing guide

For every question you leave blank, that’s a little more time you have to get the other questions correct! Make sure you don’t rush.

Want more info on the pacing guide? Click here for a handy-dandy explanation!

Possible Reason 5: Anxiety

Do you regularly suffer from test anxiety? You know the material, and you feel fine with it…but the idea of taking a test makes your palms sweat.

Here are some common symptoms of test anxiety. Read through ’em. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Increased heart rate
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach
  • Jittery feelings
  • Profuse sweating
  • Shaking hands or body
  • Difficulty concentrating

If they do, no worries! Click here to read our blog on easily reducing test anxiety. 

Possible Reason 6: You Didn’t Learn from Past Mistakes

If you took the official test before, did you diagnose the types of questions you were having trouble with? Did you study and practice those specifically?

There is actually a service, provided by Collegeboard, that allows you to get a full report of:

  • How you answered every SAT question
  • What the correct answers were
  • Why the correct answers were correct.

It’s called Collegeboard’s Question-and-Answer Service (QAS), and if you want more information about it, click here for our full article on when you’ll get your SAT scores, and how to take advantage of QAS.

Or, if it was one of the above issues–timing, anxiety, distractions–you didn’t take note of it and try and find a way to correct it.

Or, maybe it was one of the above issues–your timing was off, you were anxious, there were distractions–and you didn’t try and find a way to correct it.

Hey, have you ever heard that thing about the definition of insanity?

You know, that cliche about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Well, come on! You’re amazing. Get out of your own way, darlin’.  


If your scores went down, it’s likely it was one of these culprits:

  1. You didn’t take your practice test in official test conditions, or the test conditions were different this time around.
  2. You didn’t prep enough.
  3. You prepped WAY too much.
  4. You made a lot of careless timing mistakes.
  5. You were experiencing test anxiety.
  6. You didn’t learn from your past mistakes.

But, no worries–take a look at what happened, and once you’ve identified the problem, you can move forward and try again! You can do it! 

lm checklist cita with girl test prep grey

What are you struggling with? Did you have a particularly distracting test proctor? Tell us in the comments!

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Dressler Parsons

Dressler Parsons spent most of her childhood in an adobe house her father built in rural Arizona. Right now, she's taking so many business and art classes at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, and plans to graduate in Fall 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. And, handily enough, her SAT scores and grades qualified her for ASU's Presidential Scholarship (worth $24,000), as well as the AIMS tuition waiver. She is passionate about showing people their potential for a bright, beautiful future. In her free time, she cooks edible things and knits inedible ones.
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