ACT and SAT Score Reports: So what's with the changes?

In recent months, both the SAT and ACT score reports have received major makeovers. For tutors and teachers, they now provide better insights into a student's strengths and weaknesses. However, for many colleges, it may take a bit longer to test their true value.

The score reports from the ACT and SAT are, in essence, an analysis of a student's test performance on a particular test. Once upon a time, students would receive a score report which simply showed their composite score and the score for each section of the test. For example, many of us remember having a Verbal Score and a Math Score. Long gone are the days of that elementary explanation. And perhaps the new approach is in a college's best interest; breaking down students’ performance into smaller units may allow for a better prepared admissions class. Whatever the reason, let's take a look at "new" scores.

The ACT, until this past semester, gave little information on a student's performance. Students saw the breakdown by section and then, very generally, categories within each section. A student would know their performance overall in Math, Reading, English, and Science, but that was about it. The improved Student Score Report includes additional sub-scores for English Language Arts (ELA); Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM); and a more thorough analysis of a student's writing ability. These new additions can be helpful for students and colleges as majors of study are chosen. Students interested in engineering may need to show a higher STEM score while students preparing for a Journalism degree may want to concentrate on getting that ELA subscore up. These scores, while simply averages of other sections of the test, can be helpful to colleges looking to more closely compare their applicants. The essay breakdown in particular will more closely illuminate a student's strengths and weaknesses.

The SAT has seen a greater overhaul of its score report. In this tutor's opinion, the SAT's score report has always been more useful to students wanting to improve their scores. However, it hasn't been quite as useful to colleges during the application process. Reading, Math, and English scores along with subscores within each category based on question type were the only scores provided previously. Students could also see their performance broken down by question difficulty level and topic, such as Algebra versus Probability. This approach could be very helpful for studying, but not as insightful when deciding among a group of applicants.

With the redesigned SAT comes a redesigned SAT score report. The new score report includes two section scores (Evidence Based Reading/Writing and Math) as opposed to the three section scores of the former SAT (Reading, Writing/Language, and Math). These two section scores can range from 200 to 800 for a total composite SAT score of 400 to1600. These section scores are then broken down into individual test scores - Reading, Writing/Language, and Math - which are again broken down into cross-test scores and sub-scores. Confused yet? Let's take a closer look at the somewhat superfluous categories.

  • Section Scores: The two main scores that, when added together, give a student's actual SAT score. For example, a student scores 750 on the Evidenced Based Reading/Writing and 600 on the Math for a total SAT score of 1350 out of 1600 possible.

  • Test Scores: The three scores of the individual sections of the test (the two math sections are combined). These scores are for the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math and are scored on a scale of 10 to 40.

  • Cross-Test Scores: Scores for History and for Science. These scores are based on selected questions through the SAT. Think of these as hand-picked questions that contain material commonly found in History or Science categories.

  • Subscores: There are seven subscores. These subscores break down the Reading, Writing, and Math test sections into subcategories such as Vocabulary-in-Context and Data Analysis. In this tutor’s opinion, these may be the scores least likely to add value, especially when compared to the ACT's score report. While the ACT includes categories quite familiar to most educators - Algebra, Geometry, Probability- the SAT subscores include relatively obscure categories such as Passport to Advanced Math and Heart of Algebra. Yes, descriptions of these categories do exist, but one must ask the question- was this new jargon really necessary? Probably not.

Overall, the two new score reports for the SAT and ACT are more beneficial to both students and universities. While confusing at first, this more detailed data can better a student's studying and provide colleges with better insight. Both outcomes potentially improve a student's college readiness.

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