Recent Changes to the ACT/SAT: What Students Need to Know

Taking Standardized Test - No Text

Recent Changes to the ACT/SAT: What Students Need to Know

Published August 1, 2016

Taking Standardized Test - No Text

Taking Standardized Test - No Text


There have been quite a few changes in the world of testing lately, all involving the SAT and ACT. It’s important to know what these changes are, and what these changes mean for you as you prepare for college.


New SAT Scoring Scales: What Are They, and How Will They Be Used By Schools?

The SAT has a different scoring scale, as of March 2016. These new SAT score ranges have changed for the test as a whole, and have also changed for the SAT Essay. Before March 2016, the SAT was scored on a scale of 600 to 2400. That scale has now been tightened into a narrower range: 400-1600. In addition, the SAT Essay is now scored separately from the whole-test score. Previously, the SAT Essay was part of the SAT Writing & Language section. Now, however, the SAT Essay is taken separately from the rest of the test, receiving a grade based on a three category scale. The scoring categories are analysis, reading, and writing. Test-takers are awarded between 2 and 8 points for each category, for an SAT Essay score range of 2-2-2 to 8-8-8.


It’s important to realize that more often than not, schools are only using the scores from the old SAT in their posted admission requirements. This is because score requirements are based on long-term scoring studies. The new SAT has been out for less than a year, so universities don’t have the info they need to set their updated SAT score requirements just yet.

So for the time being, most students who’ve taken the new SAT are accepted if they have a score that’s equivalent to the requirements on the old 600-2400 scale. Luckily, the College Board has an official old/new SAT score converter tool that you can use.

Changes To Requirements For SAT Subject Tests

Over the past decade, there have also been some changes to the way that schools use SAT subject test scores. Specifically, many top schools have decided to stop using them. (Mid-tier schools seldom used SAT subject scores to begin with.)

The institution that really started the trend of not using SAT Subject Test scores was the University of California. In 2008, UC policy analysts and administrators questioned the validity of SAT Subject Tests. The next year, the UC publicly announced their long term plan to stop requiring SAT Subject Test scores. And by 2012, they got rid of SAT Subject requirements at all of their campuses statewide.

Several top private universities, eventually followed the UC’s lead:

  • Amherst College, Barnard College, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Haverford College, Harvard University and Vassar College no longer require SAT Subject Tests, but Subject Tests will be considered if submitted.


  • Williams College has dropped SAT Subject Tests; University of Virginia has dropped Subject Tests from recommended to considered; George Washington University is now test optional.


Still, some top schools are going against the trend. The University of Pennsylvania, a prominent Ivy League university, recently changed their requirements to recommending SAT Subject tests.

The Impact of the New ACT Essays and New SAT Essays

The essay for the new SAT is scored separately because it has to be scored separately— and now it’s optional too. By making its essay optional, the SAT is following the lead of the ACT, which has had an optional, separately scored essay for years.

However, the ACT itself has also overhauled the format of its essay in the last year. The new ACT essay is more complex than the old one. Before the fall of 2015, ACT test-takers only had to write a persuasive essay about their own opinion on an issue. New ACT essay prompts ask for much more. Here, students must analyze three different opinions on an issue. Students must then offer their own opinion, comparing it to the three opinions given in the prompt.

Both the new ACT Essay and the redesigned essay prompt for the SAT are more complicated than before. The new SAT essay is very likely to impact average SAT scores, since it’s now optional and no longer part of the composite test score. With these recent changes to the ACT essay there was also some unease about unusually low ACT writing scores. In response, the ACT changed their scoring from the new range of 1 – 36 on writing back to their original scoring of 2 – 12. Amid all this confusion, it’s likely that most schools will put little weight on a student’s ACT writing score. In fact, check out some of the schools that have recently dropped the writing requirement altogether:


  • The following colleges have recently dropped the Writing requirement for applicants submitting ACT scores:

Boston College, Brown University, Case Western Reserve University, Davidson College (formerly recommended), Harvey Mudd College, Lafayette College, MIT, NYU, Northwestern University, Oberlin College, Occidental College, Scripps College, Stevens Institute of Technology, Tufts University, University of Delaware, University of Georgia, University of Miami (essays used for placement only), University of North Caroline—Chapel Hill, University of Southern California, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, Vassar College, and Washington and Lee University.

Bottom line is that things are constantly shifting in the world of college testing, so keep checking the schools your student is interested in to see what their latest testing requirements are.


David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!


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