Tag Archives: test scores

While nothing in the 21st century college application process approaches conventional levels of transparency, the rise of test optional admissions has added a whole new level of ambiguity and opacity to an already stressful process. Nothing has changed, of course, when applying to colleges that are open-admit or select the majority of applicants. The real drama occurs at the selective and highly selective schools. Not only is a smaller percentage of applicants than ever selected at some of these schools–lower than 4% at certain institutions–but the blurring of qualifications has added entirely new levels of confusion, even for experts. Colleges universally adopted test optional admissions policies during the pandemic, in part because a handful of national SAT and ACT test dates and a flood of local test center administrations were cancelled. Test optional admissions also served to lower anxiety during a time when both applicants and the schools themselves were…

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Summer break is already about halfway over, and for a lot of high school students, that means the pressure is already back on. You’ve got summer reading to do, math practice to finish, tutoring sessions and extracurriculars to sign up for before they’re full. It’s all overwhelming enough without knowing that colleges are getting pickier every year. If you’re aiming for a top school, you’ve probably gotten the impression that you need a schedule full of AP classes, a 4.2 GPA and flawless SAT and ACT scores to stand a snowball’s chance, and in some ways, you’d be right. Ivy League universities and other schools of that caliber can afford to expect perfection, and some students thrive when they’re striving for that perfection. That’s all well and good–our society needs its academic juggernauts. But not everybody is built for that kind of rigor, and if you’re not, it can be…

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No matter what how the current SAT or ACT is scored, its score scale is arbitrary. Understanding the difference between a 200-800 SAT score and a 1-36 ACT score can drive a person crazy. That’s why percentiles matter so much. Every SAT and ACT section score is based off a raw score which is then converted to a scaled score based on a larger testing cohort. Any score report will include both scaled scores and percentile ranks. And, really, the only way to understand the value of the former is to consider the latter. For any given score, your percentile or percentile rank describes what percentage of the testing population you scored higher than. For example, a score in the 70th percentile is higher than 70% of all the scores for that population. When it comes to test scores, the higher the percentile, the better you are doing! Students prepping…

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When test scores come back, making sense of it all can be overwhelming. Composite scores, section scores, percentiles—it’s a lot to decipher, and people taking the SAT or ACT for the first time are often surprised by subscores. These tests are broken down into sections, but the sections break down even further into different types of questions. Subscores measure how well you did on each of these types, and they show up on score reports in a couple of different ways: for the SAT, they’re listed at the bottom of the first page, and for the ACT (which calls them Reporting Categories), they’re listed under Detailed Results. The SAT measures seven different subscores: Command of Evidence Words in Context Expression of Ideas Standard English Conventions Heart of Algebra Problem Solving and Data Analysis Passport to Advanced Math On the ACT, each section measures three Reporting Categories. In English: Production of…

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Often, we focus so much on high stakes tests that we fail to recognize them merely as intermediate steps to a larger goal. The SAT and ACT, for example, matter quite a lot, but mainly only for students striving for their choice of four-year college. And while we sometimes miss the big picture, the test makers always keep that test-to-college connection firmly in view. This, in a nutshell, explains why ACT, Inc. provides ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. The College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum scores in each section of the ACT associated with a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses. ACT English is associated with introductory English Composition classes. The ACT Benchmark for English is a scale score of 18, which is approximately 39th percentile. ACT Math is associated with…

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For students and parents accustomed to their high schools’ grading scales, standardized test scores can feel inscrutable. Bad enough that every exam adopts its own arbitrary scale, but the test scores they produce show little relation to the number of questions a tester may answer correctly. Even more confusing, test scores and school grades are not at all aligned. Perfect grades definitely don’t translate to perfect or even excellent test scores, depending, of course, on the complex interactions between students, teachers, and assessments. Yet, if understanding what a given test score means is difficult, comprehending the magnitude of an increase from one score to another can be exponentially more challenging. How should someone who isn’t an educational professional recognize that a 2-point improvement is outstanding on an AP exam, good on the ACT, and too low to measure on the SAT? Obviously, the easiest way to appreciate the impact of…

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