Upcoming Changes to SAT and ACT

Get a Head Start on Preparing for New Exam Formats

In addition to narrowing down the college list, thinking about college financial aid, and searching for scholarships, rising juniors and seniors may be wondering about what test they should take in preparation for their upcoming college application. Generally there are two tests - the SAT and ACT. Check with your anticipated colleges to see whether they accept either or both tests, or if they are even test-optional.

While similar in nature, the two measure different capabilities, so one might be a better fit for your abilities. In addition, both are planning some upcoming changes that might affect your decision:

  • SAT: The SATs are administered by The College Board. Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school. Many schools use SAT Subject Tests for admission and course placement decisions. There are three test dates in 2015 using the existing SAT format. Beginning in March 2016 the SAT will include three sections - evidence-based reading, language and writing, math - and an optional essay, although students should check whether their college requires the essay. Top scores will move back to 1600, with a separate score for the essay. There will be more real-life vocabulary, and there will no longer be a wrong-answer penalty. To prepare students for the test, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials. Afterward, income-eligible students will receive fee waivers to apply to four colleges for free.
  • ACT: The next ACT test date is September 12, 2015 with a registration deadline of August 7. The ACT consists of four multiple-choice tests in English, mathematics, reading, and science. There is no penalty for guessing. Beginning in the fall of 2015 the additional writing test will be enhanced to cover a broader range of engaging subject matter, offer different points of access to the issue, more clearly resemble real-world argumentation, and allow more time for composing. For example, a sample essay prompt offers an overview of intelligent machines, provides three perspectives on the issue, and then asks students to assess and evaluate each given perspective and also develop their own. New ACT Writing Scores will include a subject-level writing score between 1 and 36, individual domain scores between 2 and 12 for ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions. There will be an ELA score between 1 and 36, which will be an average of the English, reading and writing tests. ACT will also provide a STEM score that will be based on science and math scores. Schools will receive a bronze to gold level rating of the students’ skills, which will assess the likelihood of their potential future success in college and career. Finally, ACT will assess Career Readiness with a report on a student’s chances for success in both his major and in specific course work.

    Deciding which test to take may be based on your personal academic background as well as your potential colleges’ requirements. Make sure to carefully study the admission pages for your college to learn their requirements. Talk about your strengths and weaknesses with your parents, teachers, and counselors. Familiarize yourself with the test format, and take practice exams if they are available.

    Test scores can affect your admission chances for a particular college, as well as your ability to receive merit-based financial aid. In addition to test scores, though, you will also be judged on your high school academic background, difficulty of courses taken, and extra-curricular activities.