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If you’re a high school junior who just received a copy of your March SAT scores, chances are good that you’re pretty pleased with the results. Students from across the country are reporting higher than expected outcomes on the redesigned SAT exam, in some cases boasting 100+ point improvements from the PSAT to the SAT. All of this sounds like great news, right? Why shouldn’t students be thrilled that their March SATs now put them within range for some of their more competitive “dream” colleges? Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple. If you really want to know what your March SAT scores mean, you’ll need to check out the newly released SAT Score Converter – a handy little tool that shows exactly how your new scores compare to the “old” SAT scale colleges currently employ. (And for those folks looking for additional information, I advise you to dig into this document from the College Board, which gives a number-by-number comparison for all varieties of SAT scores.)

But wait a minute…I thought that the redesigned SAT was just returning to the same old 1600 scale. Can’t I compare “old” and “new” SAT scores by simply removing the Writing component from my older SATs? Why do I need a score converter?

It seems perfectly rational to assume that CR (Critical Reading) scores from the old SAT and ERW (Evidence-Based Reading & Writing) scores from the redesigned SAT would be equivalent. And that the same must hold true for old and new Math scores, too. After all, each of these sections is graded on a 200-800 point scale. So, logically:

    Old SAT: CR 620 + M 580 = 1200
    New SAT: ERW 620 + M 580 = 1200

Exactly. A 1200 = a 1200, regardless of the exam.

Not so, dear reader. When you convert your new March score into an “old” SAT score, your 1200 suddenly shrinks down to an 1130. In order to really get a 1200 (that is, what colleges have traditionally considered to be a 1200), you’d need to achieve a 1270 on the redesigned SAT.

But what about the 1400 I just earned on the March SAT? According to both Dartmouth’s and the College Board’s website, my 1400 is within the average range for admitted students. So that means my new 1400 will be good enough to get into the Ivies, right?

It’s true that reported SAT averages for Dartmouth indicate that a 1400 (ERW 700 + M 700) is within range, but bear in mind those averages are based on old SAT scores. That is, SAT scores that haven’t been re-centered (or inflated) for the redesigned SAT. If Dartmouth is going to heed the College Board’s advice and assess new SAT scores on the new scale, your 1400 is actually equivalent to an old 1340…not a bad score at all, but not one that will stand out in an ultra-selective applicant pool.

Does this mean that all colleges will essentially downgrade my new SAT scores and I don’t have a chance at getting in to some of these more competitive schools?

This is, perhaps, the trickiest question of all. And it’s the question we don’t have an answer to – at least, not yet. It’s likely that some admissions officers will be instructed to use SAT conversion charts when reading applicants’ files so that they accurately interpret scores from the redesigned SAT. But given how overworked many admissions officers are, it’s probable that many colleges will simply accept those enhanced scores at face value. Which bodes well for all of you happy juniors who just reached your own personal best on the March SAT.

We don’t know exactly why recent SAT scores have increased so dramatically. Perhaps it’s because the redesigned SAT more precisely measures the knowledge students have acquired in school (as the College Board asserts this new iteration of the exam was meant to do). Or perhaps it’s a veiled attempt by the College Board to increase its number of test takers and compete with the increasingly popular ACT. While the answers to these questions are still unclear, we do know this: the redesigned SAT will continue to be a hot topic in the admissions world for months (and potentially years) to come.

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Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Elyse received her BA in linguistics from Dartmouth College and her MA from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining College Coach, Elyse worked as an admissions officer at Barnard College and Bennington College.