New SAT Scores Are Inflated

  Scores from the new format March SAT were released this week. A lot of students were excited to see scores that matched the profile numbers of their top choice colleges. What most test takers didn’t know is that the new SAT scores are inflated. Students will now have to earn about 100 additional points on the new test to compare with old SAT results.

How inflated are the new scores?

Using the conversion calculator from College Board, we can see how old and new results compare. Old test (R+M)          New test 800                              890 1000                            1090 1100                            1190 1200                            1290 1300                            1380 1400                            1470 1500                            1540 So most test takers need an additional 90 points to equal the old SAT scores (Reading + Math.)

How can I convert my scores?

Use the SAT Score Converter from College Board. You can go from old format to new format scores and vice versa. Be ready for some confusing information. For example, the new 1290 that is similar to earning 600 per section on the old SAT is estimated as a 650 on Evidenced Based Reading & Writing and a 620 on Math. Yes, that’s right. Those scores add up to 1270, but the total equivalent is 1290. (That’s new SAT math for you—haha!)

What does this mean for college admission?

Colleges have been waiting for these new SAT scores with almost as much anticipation as students. They need to have a plan for next fall. They need to know how numbers compare. Colleges are aware that the new SAT scores are inflated. They will interpret them conservatively. Essentially colleges will be using three types of scores for admission decisions this fall:
  • Old SAT
  • New SAT
  • ACT
While there are tables and conversion charts that allow us (and colleges) to compare these three types of scores, they are essentially all different. New SAT results are as different from old SAT scores as they are from your ACT results. Bottom line: colleges will not view new SAT results in the same way they view old scores. Conversions will be made. Expect profile numbers to increase.

How does this impact my test preparation plans?

First, take time to compare scores. Use the conversion calculator for the new / old SAT scores. Use the concordance table to compare old SAT (or equivalent) and ACT. Second, don’t be fooled by higher numbers. The College Board has rolled out higher scores so their consumers feel better about the results. This is just like a high-end clothing label putting smaller sizes on clothing to make consumers feel better. The shopper who normally wears a 12 in dresses may be so excited to fit into the designer 8 or 10 that she is willing to pay a little extra for the high end label. She is the exact same body size whether the tag says 8, 10, or 12. Inflated scores have the same psychological impact as smaller dress sizes. The consumers feel better about the product. They aren’t smarter. The tag on their label was changed to make them feel better about the SAT results. (Yes, College Board is a huge corporation and they are worried about bottom line sales. This test format redesign is largely a response to the fact that the ACT has outsold the SAT for the past three years.) Don’t be fooled by savvy sales techniques. Finally, focus on the test that is right for you. Maybe your new SAT results are really higher than your old SAT or ACT scores. Great! But you may find the ACT is a better alternative. From a test prep perspective, I’m still encouraging students to take the ACT instead of the new SAT this year. Here are my reasons:
  • More material. Currently there are 4 full-length new SATs with which to practice. There are easily 12 ACTs students can access.
  • No score delays. Students waited from March 5 until May 10 to get SAT results. Students are getting ACT scores in 2-3 weeks—enough time to sign up and retake another exam if necessary.
  • More straightforward questions. In all sections, the ACT questions are shorter, more to the point, and written without a lot of unnecessary information. I find students do better with this structure.
  • Less reading fatigue. Just look at the exams side by side. The ACT is less dense and switches from English to Math to Reading to Science so students face less fatigue from reading long passages for prolonged time periods.
  • Less confusion. Students who focused on the ACT this year don’t have to worry about score inflation or content changes. They don’t need to wonder what else will change. There is already too much uncertainty in the admission process; standardized tests should not add to it.


Understand that comparing new SAT scores to old ones is like comparing apples and oranges. You must use the score converter before you compare your new results to the numbers listed on college websites and brochures. I don’t want to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, but know that new scores are inflated. Colleges know this and will make policy changes accordingly. I love the update I received from one of our local University of Texas reps:
“Early reports indicate colleges might have to make some adjustments as the NEW does not equal the OLD SAT.  Last fall many of my private high schools recommended to their juniors and seniors to take the ACT and in retrospect that was great guidance. So until colleges are able to update their web sites, brochures and scholarship awards you might want your NEW SAT test takers to download the SAT Converter AP and or take the ACT.”

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