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Why your new SAT score is not as strong as you think it is


Many college-bound students across America are celebrating this week what appear to be impressive results from the revised SAT. But in general the scores are not as strong as they seem at first glance.

It turns out the new test comes with a degree of score inflation. Simply put: a 1300 on the SAT is not worth as much as it used to be.

Figuring out what the new SAT scores mean, and how they compare to old SAT scores or to ACT scores, is likely to be a major source of confusion for students and parents in the next couple of years following the debut in March of a major revision to the nation’s oldest college admissions test.

The SAT enters a new era

Charts the College Board released Monday show that for a vast swath of students, new SAT scores are comparable to results that would have been 60 to 80 points lower on corresponding sections of the old SAT.

For instance, if a student earned a score of 1100 on the new SAT, out of a maximum 1600, that would correspond to a score of 1020 on the math and critical reading sections of the old SAT. Same hypothetical student, but two different tests, with an 80-point bump on the newer one.

Why the bump?

“The scores have risen because of design decisions made by the College Board,” said Adam Ingersoll, a college test-preparation consultant in California. “Kids are not smarter. The test is not ‘easier.’ The test has just changed. It’s a different test.”

Ingersoll, co-founder and principal of Compass Education Group, and others in the test-prep and college advising community have been flooded with questions this week from students and parents as results from the new test have been released.

Among the changes to the new SAT are the elimination of a “guessing penalty” and a reduction in the number of choices for possible answers to each question (four now, instead of five). The old test had a maximum score of 2400, covering math, critical reading and writing. Each of those three sections was worth up to 800 points. The new test has a maximum score of 1600. There are just two required sections — math and “evidence-based reading and writing” — and each is worth up to 800 points.

More comparisons on new SAT scores versus critical reading and math scores on the old SAT:

  • A new 1200 corresponds to an old 1130.
  • A new 1300 corresponds to an old 1230.
  • A new 1400 corresponds to an old 1340.
  • A new 1500 corresponds to an old 1460.
  • But a new 1600 is just as perfect as an old 1600.

It’s also worth looking at how new SAT scores compare to ACT scores, according to College Board analysis. The ACT, now the most widely used admission test in the country, has a maximum score of 36.

  • 1200 on the new SAT corresponds to 25 on the ACT.
  • 1300 on the new SAT corresponds to 27 on the ACT.
  • 1400 on the new SAT corresponds to 30 on the ACT.
  • 1500 on the new SAT corresponds to 33 on the ACT.
  • And 1600 on the new SAT still corresponds to a perfect 36 on the ACT.

On Wednesday, the ACT challenged the College Board’s analysis. Marten Roorda, chief executive of ACT, said the Iowa-based organization was not consulted for the analysis and could not endorse it. He said the ACT is quite different from the SAT. The former, for instance, includes a science test, while the latter does not. “Speaking for ACT, we’re not having it,” Roorda wrote of the College Board analysis. “And neither should you.” The ACT and College Board last cooperated on a comparative analysis, known as a “concordance,” 10 years ago, Roorda said.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization based in New York, owns the SAT. The first version of the test was given in 1926.

Below are several “concordance tables” from the College Board that go deep into the weeds for those who want to scrutinize nuances among the three different tests — new SAT, old SAT and ACT.

Jack Buckley, senior vice president for research at the College Board, said the tables are essential for comparing scores on different tests.

“Think of the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales,” he said in an email. “We know that water boils at the same temperature regardless of the scale you use; if we measure one pot of boiling water at 212 degrees F, and one at 100 degrees C, we know that one pot of boiling water isn’t any less hot than the other, even though numerically 100 is less than 212. In order to compare them, one must be converted to the other. Despite the similarity of their numerical scales, scores on the new and old SAT should only be compared through the use of concordance tables.”

College admission officers across the country will be looking closely at these tables. Undoubtedly, they will factor in the score inflation when they are weighing applications for fall 2017.

Whether colleges will also point out the inflation in their publicity brochures about the academic credentials of incoming students in future years is another matter.

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