Retake SAT after a 2090?

Erica must know how conflicted I feel about parents who want certain things for their kids, seemingly independent of what those kids actually want for themselves.

My gut reaction is to get pissy with the mom or dad and tell them to quit trying to impose their will on their adult (or nearly adult) children, but then I try to tell myself that doing so may come back to bite me when my own children are college-aged.

Who knows what video this is from?

So, I’m proceeding with caution today and I resolve to answer this question with as little of an asshole-ish tone as possible. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

Hello Judge Josh,

Thanks for all the wonderful advice you have been giving on here πŸ™‚

You’re welcome, and thanks for reading, and for saying so.

Here’s my situation: I am a senior in high school, starting to think about colleges. My 4 most favorite schools are University of Rochester, Northwestern, Case Western Reserve University, and University of Richmond.

Great choices.

I like how all of these schools are on different “levels” so hopefully I’m bound to get into one of those schools.

I don’t know, I think I might disagree with you a bit about the “different levels” part — they’re all pretty high-level schools. None of these is a cake walk to get into. And when I say that, I’m making NO reference to your credentials at all — so I’m certainly not saying you can’t get into them.

I’m just saying, I don’t look at these schools and see a wide variety of admissions selectivity. They’re all halfway tough to get into.

My mom really wants me to get into Northwestern, which is a high reach school for me. (I have a 4.27/5.0 GPA and a 660 CR + 700 W + 730 Math SAT score). She believes that if I retake the SAT and score above a 2200 that I will almost be guaranteed into this school.

Well, first of all, do YOU really want to go to Northwestern? Because, with apologies to Mom, that matters much more than what Mom wants.

Second, with a 2090, you’re in about the 95th percentile of all test-takers. Your mom needs to relax, because: a) you’ll probably get in anyway, and b) “that’s not good enough, try again” is not the appropriate response when your kid scores better than 95% of all other kids in the country on the most important test you’ll ever take. I’m much more of a, “Wow, I’m incredibly proud of you” kinda guy.

As much as I love Northwestern, I really don’t believe I can score much higher than I did.

You would know better than I. But aside from that, I don’t see much point in taking it again, because you’ll probably get into all four schools with the score you have.

Though I do not think there is any harm in retaking the SAT, I just feel I will not show any improvement.

I agree there’s no “harm” per se, but there is the additional testing fee and the additional time you’ll undoubtedly be taking to study and prepare for it, and those count for something.

Should I just follow my mom’s advice and just suck it up and take the SAT again or would it be alright if I just didn’t take it?

I think you know my answer, but first, let’s talk just a wee bit more about the SAT, tests, and numbers.

It is absolutely true that numbers are extremely important in college admissions. I get a magazine from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, and month after month it’s filled with counselors bemoaning the fact that the admissions process is driven by mathematical formulas more than ever before (because of a spike in applications that began a few years back).

So test scores are definitely important. Β However…you got a great one. You will not struggle to get into college. Personally, I think you’ll skate into Northwestern.

But even if you don’t, you need to do what you want to do. Northwestern is an elite school, but having said that, I don’t have any information about why your mom is married to the idea of you going there.

I won’t speculate on the reasons, because I don’t know her. But, generally speaking, there are honorable reasons for parents wanting their kids to go to particular school (e.g., because they’ll miss them and would love to have them close by, or because Great Grandma is at death’s door and won’t make it another four years until you’re back around again) and less honorable ones (e.g., so they can brag to the other moms about what schools their kids got into).

I do think it’s colored her judgment quite a bit, if she wants you to retake the SAT after you already got an outstanding score. So no, I absolutely do not think you need to take the SAT again.

All those other schools are great, too. Regardless of which you get into and attend, congrats are in order. I have no doubt you’ll kick ass at any one of them.

Thank you!

And thank you. Good luck!

— What about you guys? Any advice for Erica? For Mom? For Erica about Mom? Let us know in the comments below.

49 thoughts on “Retake SAT after a 2090?”

  1. Josh, I am SO in love with your answer for today’s question!

    Erica: You did great on the SAT. I say move on to bigger and better things. Keep working hard at your classes this year so you round out the 4 years of high school on a high note.

    When you *do* get to the college of your choice, it is more than ok to stay up all night, start drinking coffee, skipping the cafeteria to go eat some fast food, and color your hair on the sly right before you go home for break. If your mom throws a hissyfit, have her email me. Because none of that sh*t really matters in the long run. It’s about you and your life, and you should be the one in the driver’s seat.

    That being said, still be respectful to your mom. She’s the one with the free washing machine and the full fridge. I’m just sayin’…

    1. As a mom of a college bound Senior, I couldn’t agree more Josh. We’d like our daughter to retake her ACT or take SAT (not needed for midwest college choices) because two points higher would get her to the next level in scholarships, but we told her she did a great job and we were proud of her. We waited unil we did college visis for her to see the two points (which she could probably acheive easily) would help with $, but told her it was her choice (yes, we are paying for most of her private school, and yes, the extra 1-2k a year would have been a blessing, but we didn’t want to discount her success).

      Rebecca, your response made me laugh. So true!!

  2. I still go back to your first question Josh, “do YOU want to go to Northwestern?” I realize, mom is probably paying for schooling for this student, but you need to go where you want to go and what makes sense for you and your goals.

    1. If you know you cant get a better score. then dont take it again. Your mom will understan,and who know mabey you could still go the the university. On the other hand; if youcould take it again, and they would take the higher mark of the two, then try. But if taking it would cancell out your last score then dont take the chance.

    1. I could not disagree more.

      It’s Erica’s life, not her mom’s. And interpreting the situation with the assumption that the older (mom) are smarter than the young (Erica) is just an unintelligent one.

  3. Let’s lay off all the hate for her mom, please. It’s all stemming from the fact that she really wants the best for her kid, and whether or not she actually does, it is normally a decent assumption to make that her mom has more life experiences to actually know what the “best” for her kid might be.

    I, for one, really appreciated that my parents pushed me incredibly hard. I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish all that I have without external motivation. I think that if it’s not taken to the extreme, and coupled with plenty of “I’ll love you anyway”s/etc, nothing is wrong things like her mom’s suggestion.

    Unless you think you’ll do worse if you take it again or if you’ll have a panic attack having to sit through the test again, I’d say maybe try out some different studying techniques, really work on those practice problems/vocab/drills/whatever, and try it again!!! Don’t settle, and see how well you can do just for the sake of it even if you don’t want to go to Northwestern – better scores could also qualify you for better external or university scholarships and honors programs and such.

    1. Don’t mistake this as “hate for mom,” but just because someone has had more life experiences, it doesn’t mean they know what’s “best” for another person.

      Speaking as someone who spent the better part of her life trying to stay on the path laid out by my mother (who I love dearly), I have to tell you how wrong that idea can be. We are both quite intelligent and are both hard workers, however, we are very different in what we are meant to do and how we need to get there in life. That doesn’t make either of us better, it just means that what has worked for her, doesn’t necessarily work for me.

      PS: I don’t think that studying hard and scoring better than 95% of her peers would qualify as “settling.”

  4. it’s not about what your mom wants, its about what you want. a 2090 on the sat’s is a very good score. retaking it wont hurt anything though.

  5. I personally know many students who were offered money due to their high SAT scores, and it was not connected to their high school GPA at all. The colleges making offers were the high end to the low end, it’s all about that SAT score. One student I know well has severe health issues that has her in disabling pain most of the time. She is a brainiac with a low GPA due to so much class time missed, but her SAT score put her in the top 1% in the nation. She was offered 4 years of free tuition attached to that SAT score. So…irrelevant what school mom wants Erica to attend, what kind of money offers will come with attending that school? Colleges are a business first, a place of education second. The best reason to do a retake is to go for that higher SAT score for the money offers it brings. None or little debt and attending a decent school at the end of her four years should be a huge goal. Do not forget, this economy will still be with us in four years. Right now, neither the student nor the parent should be incurring major school debt and they should hold onto as much of their money that they already have. In the near future that school debt will have to be paid right after graduation. Jobs are in short supply, grads are moving away from where their families are due to where a job offer comes from. If there is little to no college debt, the grad has more time to find a job close to family. So what does mom want in four years, a daughter on the other side of the country due to a job offer that will pay off school debt, or a daughter who attended a great local college that offered her money to attend there, and is close enough to see her on the weekends? Big Picture.

  6. professional student.

    Well in my opinion I would not retake the SAT. I know it is probably possible that your mom will be assisting in paying for you education. But she is not the one that will be walking that campus you will. That being said if you are satisfied with the other four school speak up and let her know. If you compromise with this decision it could get a lot worse in the future. On a final note be appreciative that your mom is so concerned about your future. I did not have that type luxury in my life. Congratulations on the hardwork and Good Luck.

  7. For once, on the record at least, I disagree with Judge Josh on retaking the SAT. If she’s happy with her score, then let it be. The 95th percentile is outstanding.

    However, we routinely have students take either SAT or ACT a second time, and a majority score higher. The students claim they are more at ease the second time around, they know what to expect, and are able to pace themselves better with the time limits.

    Of course, raising a score above 95th percentile is going to be more difficult than an average student trying to score higher, but for $47 and a bit more of your time, there is certainly no harm in taking the SAT a second time. And I assume mom will gladly cover the fee.

  8. Don’t worry about it too much! The admissions process is based on a variety of things and YOU got a great score–greater than mine and I go to NU!

  9. My granddaughter took the SAT the latter of her sophmore year and scored a 1630. I have suggested that she take the test the beginning and end of her junior year to top that score. What are your thoughts?

    1. Yes, Retake. There’s a big difference between 1600’s and 2000’s. Not to mention maturity and knowledge of the student between sophomore and junior year.

  10. I would have to say “listen to your heart” on this one. I appreciate that “moms” is pushing you to get a higher SAT score, but do it if you feel you have the energy and the willpower to do it. If not, don’t burn yourself out.

  11. I’m really surprised at all the people saying that 2090 is a great score. You all have to keep in mind the level and tier that Northwestern is in. 95th percentile may be great for colleges not in the top 25 ranking (Northwestern is ranked 12th in Us News) , but think of how many people are in the 99th percentile. This year, approximately 1.55 mil people took the SAT
    75000 kids scored higher than Erica. Northwestern has how many freshmen seats per year? Around 3500?
    Her stats would be near 40th percentile in the class of 08-09 (Couldn’t find 2010 stats).
    She will not “skate into Northwestern” as Judge Josh stated. If anything, it would be an uphill battle. Also, Northwestern needs to make room for the athletes and legacies in their pool, which further lowers the SAT score standards. Unless Erica has some sort of talent that is widely sought after, that SAT score will be a significant factor in deciding her admission.

    1. Agree x 100. First off, no one “skates” into Northwestern, much less with below median scores as YD2k notes (95th percentile nationally is nothing special at an elite school, in fact it’s behind the curve). On numbers alone, Northwestern would probably be a significant reach for Erica.

      Second, what’s the harm in retaking the SAT? She’s more familiar with the test, more comfortable, heck, if the cost isn’t burdensome I say take it as many times as possible. The more times she takes it, the more chances she has of improving, the more schools are possibilities for her, the greater her chance of receiving increased scholarship money. In this day and age NOBODY takes the SAT once, thus doing so would put Erica at a substantial disadvantage vs. her peers.

  12. Erica, i haven’t had time to read all the answers for your question, but if only your best score is taking in account for colleges and if it does not affect your first score in the eventuality that you would score lower, go for it, not only for your mum but for yourself and the fact that it will open up your choices for college.

  13. Thanks for all the comments!

    @YD2K: People are saying 2090 is a great score because 2090 is a great score. As you said, those scores would put her in the 40-45th percentile of *accepted* freshmen — “accepted” being the operative word, as opposed to applicants at large.

    Of course, 75,000+ scored higher — but the comparison of that number to Northwestern’s number of available seats isn’t relevant, because those students will scatter across thousands of other schools. If Northwestern were the only school in the country, though — yeah, she’d have a problem.

    Erica, let us know how it goes!

  14. As I student scoring a 1290 on my sat, this score is amazing, no reason to retake it, I say do what you think is best for you not your parents besides iats yor life right.

  15. Josh, normally you’re right on, but today… you’re definitely wrong. I went through this ultra-competitive admissions process and you have to do a lot of “making up for the score” in other parts of the application to “slide” into Northwestern. Those 75,000 students are mostly vying for the same schools, from the same U.S. News list. Yeah, not all 75,000 are applying to Northwestern, but a lot of them are and Erica needs to beat them for her spot.

    Even if Northwestern is really her mom’s ambition, the higher score could mean a) that she wins scholarships and b) that she scores merit aid from the less selective colleges on her list (like URochester, which, by the way, is much easier to get into that Northwestern.)

  16. HI,
    I think you should follow your heart, it’s understable where mom is comming from but, it’s up to you. What school do you want to go to? And, I guess you should just reseach the school before enrolling and ask about the SAT scores you know what consider good for scholarships and other things like that. Best of Luck.

  17. Most people take the SAT and/or ACT at least twice, so I would take your mom’s advice and take it again and see what happens. It’s not like you have to completely re-study for the test, since you know what to do and how to take it…just review in areas that you feel like you could have done a little better in. Regardless of whether or not *you* decide to go to Northwestern, improving your score slightly could make you even more competitive for the scholarships that will help pay for you education.

    In the meantime, you and your momma need to work something out. Figure out why she wants you to go there so badly over the other schools– is it that she feels that the school is in a better area than the others, or does she think that NU is a lot stronger in a certain program than the others? Or does she feel that NU will give you a better fin-aid package (HUGE if your parents are helping you pay for college) than the others? Maybe she’s seeing something that you aren’t…or maybe she’s just bein’ stubborn (my parents were!)…or maybe she just doesn’t want you to go far away…or all of the above.

    Yes, it is your decision and your future, but it would be a wise decision to sit down and talk about your decision with someone who loves you (I hope!) and who you trust (I hope!).

    Best of luck, and congratulations once again!

  18. The SAT isn’t very expensive. Schools will look at your highest SAT score. I don’t see any reason not to retake it if it will make your mom happy. What do you have to lose? nothing.

  19. This is from for Northwestern University in Illinois (I assume this is the university being discussed). While Erica’s score is good, it looks to be just barely above the lower end of the curve.

    Test Scores
    Middle 50% of
    First-Year Students Percent Who
    Submitted Scores
    SAT Critical Reading: 670 – 750 80%
    SAT Math: 690 – 780 80%
    SAT Writing: 670 – 750 80%
    ACT Composite: 30 – 33 54%

  20. Congrats! A 2090 is a very good score. Yes, 75000 may have gotten into the top 1%, but only a fraction will be applying to Northwestern. Being in the top 5% is nothing to sneeze at. I have a friend that was accepted for this fal with a 1990 at Northwestern, so retaking the SAT I would say is up to you. If you have anything that would count against you in other areas maybe try to get a higher score.

    I don’t see mom’s pushing for Northwestern per se. You mentioned that her reason is due to Northwestern’s rep as a major research university. So I’m guessing your field of study is in something where that is important. In which case I say try for the best school you can. In fact I think all students should aim for the best college for their chosen field.

    Also you mentioned that northwestern is in your top 4 choices, so it is not unreasonable for a parent to have a favorite college. So I don’t see your mom’s request as oddious as Judge Josh and other are making it out to be.

    It is your life and your choice. So weigh whether you feel you need to retake the SAT. Talk to an advisor at Northwestern, and your other choices and see if and how much of a difference getting a higher score changes your aid package–if at all, etc. Think about if you want to go through all the prep and test taking again. Only you know if you are up to it or not. Then decide and let your mom know what that is, and why.

    After that keep working on your senior year. Keep those grades up and enjoy the ride.

    Best of luck:)

  21. Hi! I’m a Northwestern senior, so I think I can speak about this with some authority. First off, I don’t think that stressing over a 2200 is going to make a huge difference. I got into NU, Duke, Boston University, etc. with a 2070. Rather than studying up for the SAT, I’d work on a very strong essay, especially for NU’s supplemental questions. NU values people with vision, drive and passion, not just a score. I know people with 2300s who didn’t get in and people with 1700s who are here and thriving. Also, good advice Josh!

  22. My main point was that she will definitely not skate into Northwestern. Her accomplishments would have to be very, very impressive for her to be accepted. Since I am personally not an admissions officer, I cannot say the exact specifications, but I would imagine that she would definitely have to be:
    in the top 10% or even top 10 of her school
    be an active participant in sports, fine arts, science, or volunteerism
    be state or nationally recognized in something (preferably from one of the above)
    be a club officer or show active participation in clubs
    be a great interviewee
    Write a unique and touching personal statement
    If she has 3 or more of the above, she would have a great chance

    Accepted freshman= including all the ones with “hooks.” As in legacy, donors, athletes, etc. These “special cases” almost always tend to have a lower SAT score, and thus would make the percentiles higher. If we take out all the those special cases, her percentile would be even lower since I am assuming that she is in the academic merit pool.

    Not to mention that a 2200 would open the door to a ton of automatic merit scholarships. When I applied to my colleges, a high SAT score ensured that I got automatic merit scholarships ranging from 5k -22k per year at all my safety and match schools. Keep in mind, that these scholarships required literally no effort (other than the time I spent on the SAT).

  23. Hey, thanks again for everyone’s comments, both those who agree and disagree. And for the lovely Sara Peck of Forbes magazine for dropping by to join us this evening. πŸ™‚

  24. Thanks Josh!

    I’m glad 2090 is seen as a so-called “high” score because the way my mom put it, it seemed “low” for the schools that I am applying to. I saw that my score is on the bottom half of Northwestern’s middle 50 range.

    The 2090 is the 3rd time I have taken the SAT…I took it once in January (1900), once in March (cancelled), and once in May (2090).

    I actually have a LOT of extracurricular activities, various officer positions in clubs, volunteer work, and music (I will be sending in a CD supplement). I also have 2 SAT II subject tests (chem 750, math 2c 780) so it’s not like I have just this score to rely on.

    My mom does mean the best for me, and I think she wants me to go to Northwestern probably because it is the most prestigious school out of all of the schools I am applying to. (I probably should have pointed out that I want to do something in medicine, possibly medical school). Though she has been hard on me sometimes, I am really glad that she is able to help me through this college process by helping me learn about schools because I know that many of my friends (who also have Korean mothers) do not get any help at all.

    I try to study whenever I can, but right now I am taking 4 AP courses and I am trying to balance the workload. As much as I try to study, it just really isn’t working.
    I never thought about the scholarships though, so I might just retake to see what happens, and if I do not feel confident about it I will just cancel the score.

  25. Syed Asad Hussain

    Alright…first of all 2090 is a pretty good score. Anyway, theres always no harm in taking the SAT again. But, if you really feel you gave it ur best shot and didn’t at all slack off while preparing then it really isn’t the best option. Its the inner contentment that matters more so than anything else. Second, mommy is wrong. A 2200 does not in any way at all guarentee that you get into northwestern. Maybe a 2300 can somewhat “guarentee” your getting admitted but definitely not a 2200. And as far as repeating the SAT goes…usually 2nd takes end up in a + 20 – 50 ish score. And why do I say that a 2200 is absolutely no guarentee? Well I’m at Rice University and 2200 is by far not that big of a score at all here (north western is a few spots up in ranking but rice and north western are pretty much in the same league )…So, the 75th percentile had a score of 2270 at rice in 2009 (but the 25th percentile is 1980). So you pretty much fall on the 50th percentile. Half the kids would have better scores than you and the other half won’t.
    So, in theory you actually stand a decent chance (I think your GPA will hurt you more than your sat score)…But depends on other things that you’ve done? I mean now would be a good time to volunteer at a bunch of places or get a nice job πŸ˜›

    So, if you really really really don’t want to take the SAT again (i just gave my MCAT and I have the same feeling that I really don’t want to retake it! Its just too much effort and work and again its not like your guarenteed a better score in the end)…You don’t have to πŸ™‚ Just apply to north western! See how it goes. You have a shot and lets see if it works out. Otherwise, you’d be going to some other really really good school! But what if you still really want to go to northwestern? Well transfer after a year. Its a lot easier to transfer into a school. Especially because your SAT scores become irrelevant and its your college GPA that matters (As for my case, the only reason why I am at Rice was because I transferred from the university of illinois…I had a decent GPA which got me in πŸ™‚ ) So, the moral of the story …you kinda have a 50 50 shot at getting accepted at north western…if you don’t apply for a transfer next year…and then we are all happy πŸ™‚ And remember 2090 is a really good score! You did very well… You’ve lost most of your points in critical reading which honestly is the hardest to improve πŸ™ ( I know because I’m foreign and english isnt my first language!!!) Anyway, good luck πŸ™‚

  26. Aside from the whole mom issue, don’t waste your time with the SAT again. Northwestern and URichmond are all good schools, but they don’t demande crazy exceptional SAT scores. If you were trying to get into Harvard or Carnegie Mellon or Vanderbilt or something, I would say take them again. But definitely not for the schools you have picked.

  27. To make a valid comparison, I went to check out what had to say about Northwestern
    for 2008 admissions – 26% of applicants made it. Low SAT Math was 690, writing 670, and critical reading 670. Erica has already exceeded two of three, and only got 10 points lower on the third. So while it may not be skating, she’s got a good shot on current scores already.
    Why NOT retake? Stress. Already taking 4 AP classes, plus lots of extracurriculars, and anxious parents on top of that…that’s a lot of stress. And is the payoff really worth it? Hard to say, but to me it would likely depend on just how bad I wanted it and how well I thought I could do. If it’s not likely to get better, there are other things to do as well.
    The big reason why what the STUDENT wants is more important than what the mom wants is that the student is the one who has to actually do this. Generally, people don’t do well at things they aren’t pretty enthused about, or have limited interest in. So if Erica wants to do well, she needs to be sure she’s going where she wants to go. If she hates school she might not graduate at all. It’s not about who’s right or wrong or who’s in charge or who’s paying – it’s just a simple fact of human nature.
    So Erica, is it worth it to you to try one more time? If it were me, and I were struggling to balance things, I’d think not.
    Depends. Will you love it enough to stay 4 years, Erica?

    1. I’m sorry, do you understand how college admissions work?? Clearing the 25th percentile does not mean you’re in by any stretch of the imagine. There are tons of applicants with scores in the 25%-50% range, she’d be just one of the crowd. Oh, and guess what: they ALL have great ECs and recs.

  28. Erica: Here’s the way I see it. Is your mom going to pay for the test? If she’s gonna pay for it, I say go for it. I took the test 5 times to get the score I wanted, but I was ready to give up after the second attempt. Just keep trying and you’ll be able to get that 2200.

  29. I don’t know if anyone guessed the picture or not (I’m not reading 31 other comments) but it’s from Van Halen’s music video Hot for Teacher. “Got it bad, bad, so bad…I’m hot for teacher.”

  30. I disagree with Josh’s comment about levels

    Northwestern is much more competitive than U Rochester (barring special programs). If yu look at average GPA, student class percentiles, SAT scores, and admission stats its apparent. Personally I got into U of R half assing the app and was offered a shit ton of money as an international but Nwestern would only accept me if iwiuthdrew my aid app and were much more selective in general.

    In terms of SAT id say it depends on your profile. What other stuff do you have going on. If you are playing the brains angle then a high score is essential. But if you have great grades and a very respectable SAT score and are also an art prodigy or do a lot of community work then no. Its about the unique image you are going for as an applicant (that is authentic to you).

  31. Just re-take it. Students who take the SAT a second almost always score higher than the score they got when they took it the first time.
    Don’t get me wrong, that’s an amazing score! Great job! But I believe that you can impress yourself and get a higher score (you may even get higher score than what your mom wants you to get).
    If it helps, don’t think of it as you are doing it because your mom told you to, think of it as a great opportunity to show what you can do!
    I hope that helps! God Bless! πŸ˜€

  32. Well, just based on the score, it is clear that Mom has done a good job preparing her daughter. Obviously, mom made an investment in daughter and had certain expectations for daughter. Daughter took care of business and scored exceptionally high on standardized test. Mom realized what daughter accomplished, but recognized that daughter could gain more by re-taking the exam. Mom made a suggestion to daughter knowing what the significance of getting the higher score means. Mom wants daughter to re-take exam. No harmful consequences from re-taking exam. The least the daughter can do is most likely score around the same or better. If getting a full-ride scholarship is the benefit of getting this higher score, I think the decision is up to daughter, but Mom is just trying to be as responsible and supportive of daughter as possible. Mom has clearly done a good job up to this point and wants to see daughter do the very best she can. Nothing wrong with it. There should be 10 million more Moms like her. I didn’t have a Mom like that when I was growing up. Wish I did.

  33. I got a 1950, and still got into UPenn (number 5 in the nation according to US News). Test scores aren’t everything. Make sure your essays and your extracurriculars are awesome.

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