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We are committed to providing you with the most up-to-date resources and announcements from the college admissions testing landscape. Here are some of the top headlines from this past month:


Annual Reports from SAT and ACT

Summary: Last month, both College Board and the ACT released annual reports on their exams and results titled; SAT Suite of Assessments and Program Results and Condition of College and Career Readiness 2018, respectively. the SAT surpassed the ACT with the class of 2018 for the first time since 2012. More students in the class took the SAT (2.1 million) than took the ACT (1.9 million). That’s a gain of 25% over 2017 for the SAT, and its highest number of test takers ever. Additionally, the average SAT composite score increased 8 points over last year, while the ACT’s decreased by a minimal 0.2 points.

Important notes and trends from the SAT Report:

  • This was the first year of stats for which all of the class took the new SAT.
  • Essay takers were down 2%. Only 68% of SAT takers sat for the Essay.
  • More than 1/3 of all students in the U.S. took the SAT on a School Day as part of state/district mandated testing.
  • PSAT and PSAT 10 participation remained the same, but PSAT 8/9 participation jumped 20% as College Board targeted younger students.
  • 2/3 of all students who retook the SAT improved (as opposed to the 50% reported by ACT for retakes).

Important notes and trends from the ACT Report

  • 44% of students took the ACT multiple times; almost half of these testers improved on a retake
  • 3,700 U.S. students scored a perfect 36 composite
  • The number of students who scored 35+ is highest in English (approximately 76,000), then Reading (63,000), Science (30,000), and Math (25,000)
  • Only approximately 904,000 of the 1.91 million students who took the ACT sat for the essay, the first time in a number of years that fewer than half of students did

ArborBridge’s take:

SAT – Many of the stories celebrated the fact that SAT scores rose despite a climb in participation. Normally, when more students take the test, scores fall as access expands to underserved students. But don’t get too excited about rising scores. First, an 8-point increase is only an increase of .5%. Second, much of the increase was likely due to the significant rise in test-prep resources available for the new SAT with the most recent crop of students. And lastly, we can assume that a larger percentage of high-income students with access to counseling and test prep took the SAT this year than the previous year. Students in the Class of 2017 were the guinea pigs for the new SAT and many had been counseled to avoid the unknown test last year.

ACT – It appears that the ACT has passed its peak number of test takers. ACT hit an all-time height of popularity in 2016 with 2.09 million test takers, fell to 2.03 million last year, and is now at 1.91 million (the same level as 2015). Almost all of this change can be attributed to the College Board’s aggressive campaign to win state testing contracts for the SAT, at the ACT’s expense. We expect this trend to continue for at least another year or two until state contract changes settle down.

SAT Suite Results: 2018 (College Board)
More Than 2 Million Students in the Class of 2018 Took the SAT, Highest Ever(College Board)
Condition of College and Career Readiness 2018(ACT)
Math Readiness Drops to 14-Year Low among US High School Graduates, According to ACT 2018 Report(ACT)


Number of Colleges Allowing Students to Self Report SAT/ACT Scores Rises

Summary: EdWeek reported on a growing trend among American universities: allowing students to self-report their standardized tests scores at the time of application instead of requiring an official score report from the test organizations. Students are only asked to submit an official score report (which the student pays for) if the college offers admission and the student decides to enroll. The change dramatically lowers the cost of the admissions process for students by limiting the number of official reports they need to pay for. While many counselors have been discussing such a change since 2010, colleges have only embraced it in the last two years, with more than 110 colleges now allowing it. Colleges that have studied the policy found that it speeds up the application process, saves money, and results in extremely few dishonest self-reports.

What this means:

  • This is a big win for students of all economic backgrounds, and one we think will continue to spread.
  • While the SAT and ACT organizations seem a bit reluctant to give up this major revenue stream, neither seems to be bringing out the big guns to fight it. They, too, likely see that it’s a foregone conclusion that colleges will move to self-reporting. SAT and ACT appear more focused on the fights they may be able to win, such as test security and the test-optional movement.

More Colleges Allow Applicants to Self-Report SAT and ACT Scores(EdWeek)

College Board Launches a $25 Million Scholarship Program

Summary: Later this year, the College Board will launch a $25 million scholarship program that aims to incentivize more students, particularly those considered low-income, to apply for college. Beginning with the class of 2020, students will become eligible for scholarships as they check items off a to-do list that includes building a college list on the College Board’s website, practicing for the SAT on the College Board’s online system, improving official SAT scores, strengthening a college list, completing the FAFSA, and applying to college. Prizes will be awarded through monthly drawings. Twenty-five students who complete all six steps on the checklist will be awarded a $40,000 scholarship. The scholarship program is set to last for five years, with $5 million awarded to students each year. However, two of the six steps are SAT-centric, disqualifying students who opt to only take the ACT.

What this means: 

  • The focus on rewarding solid habits on the college-application road is admirable, especially given the College Board’s intended focus on underserved students. But it will be interesting to see if what is essentially a sweepstakes actually ends up rewarding low income students.
  • There are clear business incentives for College Board built in here. First, it will likely drive more students to take the SAT instead of the ACT. Second, it will increase the amount of data the College Board harvests on students as they create accounts with the College Board and create their school lists through its portal. And third, it aligns with the College Board’s recent attempts to counter popular perceptions about standardized tests’ elitism.

Introducing the College Board Opportunity Scholarships Program(College Board)
New Scholarship Rewards Completing Road-to-College Steps(Education Week)