Category Archives: SAT Info

Meet The SAT’s Environmental Context Dashboard

There is a new SAT score that colleges will see on your student’s college applications this fall and beyond. The Environmental Context Dashboard (aka, The Adversity Score) has quietly been used by a few colleges (including Duke, Yale, and Florida State) but many more colleges (100-150) will be seeing this score in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle.  

As the debate continues over the predictive value and fairness of the test, the SAT’s intent is to offer colleges information about a student’s socioeconomic and educational environment; thereby helping colleges understand how much of an achievement a student’s SAT score is in light of their background. Students, parents, and high school counselors, however, will not be able to see the score attached to students’ files.

How is it calculated? The ECD index has three components (see photo below). The first attempts to put SAT scores in context using the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile of SAT scores from the student’s high school (3-year average). The second includes information on the high school, including senior class size; percentage of students who meet federal eligibility criteria for free and reduced-price lunch; rurality/urbanicity; and average first-year SAT score of colleges students from that high school attend, the percentage of seniors taking an AP Exam, average number of AP Exams taken, average AP score from that high school, and the number of unique AP Exams administered at that high school (3-year average).

Finally, the score considers contextual data on the neighborhood and high school environment, measuring both the neighborhood and high school environment that the student comes from. This information includes Median Income & Poverty, Single Parent Households percentage, Education Levels, Housing Statistics, and FBI Crime Statistics, and is calculated using data drawn from a combination of publicly available sources (e.g., NCES and U.S. Census Bureau), and aggregated College Board data. The neighborhood and high school measures are rated on a nationally normed scale between 1 and 100. The two scores are averaged to get the ECD index score, with 1 indicating low “adversity” and 100 meaning the most.

The Environmental Context Dashboard

Every student in the same neighborhood gets the same score, and every student in the same school gets the same score. However, the Dashboard and resulting index are currently only visible to colleges.

Even though race is not a factor in the formula, colleges using it report that students with higher index scores are “more likely to be students of color” (John Barnhill, Florida State University’s assistant vice president for academic affairs). Proponents of the new index hope it will help colleges find “diamonds in the rough”, recognizing students relative achievement and potential for future success, instead of expecting all students to reach the same bar.

The index is not without its critics, including, with many questioning the need for a tool that runs the risk of being taken at face value without individual context. “Promotion of ‘adversity scores’ is the latest attempt by the College Board to defend the SAT against increasingly well-documented critiques of the negative consequences of relying on admissions test results,” according to Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). Others add, “If the score on your standardized test requires a separate algorithm to determine if the score is actually a valid measure of ability, then perhaps it’s time to fix the test itself rather than contextualize its scores.”

College admissions staff already work hard to understand a student within the context and environment they come from and their evaluations often use more nuanced information than a standardized score can offer. However, colleges that are currently using the score appreciate its ability to bring certain students to their attention that might otherwise have been missed.

David Coleman from the College Board responded to criticism about the new score and to the inherent flaws in the calculations. “The score is a measure of your achievement but it doesn’t measure what you’ve overcome and the situation you have achieved that in. How resourceful are you and have you done more with less?” But even David Coleman agrees that the Environmental Context score is not a measure of individual adversity, as students in affluent zip codes may have overcome plenty of academic and personal obstacles; likewise, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds may have received scholarships to attend a school with a “low adversity” score.

The ACT, while admiring (the SAT’s) good intentions, announced the organization does not think it is a good idea. Michael Roorda (the ACT’s CEO) commented, “Scores that affect students’ futures require transparency, validity, and fairness. The algorithm and research behind this adversity score have not been published. It is basically a black box….and is another example of not being transparent.” He goes on to state what we are all thinking, “If parents, teachers, and counselors know test scores will be re-equated for adversity, some will attempt to manipulate and game the system. That is easy: You can use an address of someone you know who is living in a poor neighborhood or report lower family income.”

Most people agree that students who have faced adversity should be acknowledged for their achievements in context. Those taking the SAT will have to trust (hope) that the data is used not as an unfailing numerical piece of information, but as a possible sign that admissions staff should look deeper into a student’s background when viewing their accomplishments. It remains to be seen if the SAT’s new college offering is the right tool to help, and if it can do so without creating more unscrupulous opportunities.

PSAT Results Are Coming. What’s Next?

testSophomore and Juniors:

If you or your student took the PSAT in October, you should be receiving the score reports next week. Here is a video explaining how to read your report, and continue reading below for some tips on understanding your scores.

The PSAT is said to be scored on the same scale as the SAT, but the maximum you can score on each of the two sections of the PSAT (Evidence-based Reading & Writing plus Math) is 760 (for a maximum total of 1520), while the SAT’s two sections are scored on an 800-point scale (maximum total score of 1600).

What you score on the PSAT should equate to a projected SAT score if you took the SAT now. However, since the tests are normed to the student population, scaling from PSAT to SAT is actually going to look different at each point within the bell curve. Additionally, be aware that the PSAT percentiles are often higher than what is reported on students’ SAT reports, with a number of students scoring below their predicted SAT scores based on the PSAT percentiles. This can be due to a number of factors, including the fact that PSAT percentiles are based on averages of “all students” vs. just students who took the PSAT. Here is how the PSAT creates these percentiles:

  • Nationally Representative Percentile – shows how your scores compare to scores of all US students in your grade, including those who typically don’t take the PSAT.
  • User Percentile – shows how your score compares to scores of U.S. students in your grade who typically take the PSAT.

The percentiles on the SAT, in comparison, show how you did compared to other students who actually took the test. Read more here to understand why percentiles are important on the SAT (more so than they are on the PSAT). Regardless, to make the most of your PSAT, make sure that you and your student log in here to see their full report and continue reading for more details and what to do next.

Why are there so many different scores on the report? Continue reading

SAT Subject Tests

bookstackAlthough few schools require them, and only a small percentage of college applicants will submit them, Subject Tests can help high scorers set themselves apart from other applicants by submitting them.

SAT Subject Tests include more than 20 different tests focusing on specific disciplines, such as English, history and the social sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, and foreign languages. These are tests that are only required or recommended from a few colleges but are options for all students to strengthen their applications or highlight skills in a particular subject area. Each subject test lasts 1 hour and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions.

What is the difference between the SAT (or ACT) and SAT Subject Tests?

The SAT (and ACT) is a college entrance exam, testing what students learn in classrooms and how well they apply that knowledge. Its reading/writing and math sections are based on the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed for college success. SAT Subject Tests focus on a single subject and indicates a student’s readiness to take college-level courses in that subject.

How Colleges Use Subject Tests

Some colleges value the Subject Tests as a key indicator of college readiness for specific programs. For example, UC Berkeley “recommends Math Level 2 and a science Subject Test for its Chemistry and Engineering colleges;” UC Irvine “recommends Math Level 2 and a science for its engineering, pharmaceutical and physical sciences schools;” and UCLA “recommends math Level 2 and a science test for its School of Engineering and Applied Science.” Many colleges require or recommend Subject Tests to strengthen applications, and some also use them for course placement and even for credit.

Who Should Take Subject Tests

  • Applicants considering colleges that require, recommend or consider SAT Subject Tests for all applicants or to apply to specific programs or majors.
  • Students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors: Subject Tests are the only high school level national admission tests that assess a student’s grasp of fundamental scientific concepts and his or her ability to apply that knowledge.
  • Students whose best language is not exclusively English: These students can demonstrate achievement in other languages or in areas that are not as reliant on the mastery of English.
  • Many students can benefit from taking SAT Subject Tests to highlight their knowledge of a specific subject or subjects. SAT Subject Tests can help students spotlight their academic strengths and get an edge in college admissions.
  • Students who would like to demonstrate knowledge obtained outside a traditional classroom environment (e.g., summer enrichment, distance learning, weekend study, etc.).
  • To place out of certain classes in college. Many colleges use Subject Tests to advise students or help with course placement. Other schools allow students to place out of introductory courses or gain credit based on their performance on certain Subject Tests. (For example, Subject Tests can also be used to fulfill subject-based competency requirements for large university systems like the University of California and the University of Arizona.)
  • For most of you, Subject Tests are completely optional, and in light of the stress most students feel about the SAT and ACT, it is perfectly reasonable to not take Subject Tests. However, you should know it is an option and one you might consider even if not required, to highlight your strength in a subject, or to make your application stronger.

When Should I Take the Tests?

Continue reading

Should I care about the PSAT?

by Kristen Miller @ College Bound & Ready psat_graphic

The PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) will be offered in high schools around the country next week (offered 10/11 or 10/14). Sophomores are usually required or are strongly encouraged to take the exam, and juniors have the option to take it.  For each group of students, the PSAT is worth considering and taking seriously.  Even though college admission offices will not use the scores to assess admissions applications, the PSAT is important and students should familiarize themselves with the test ahead of time.  Here’s why:

For sophomores and juniors alike, the PSAT is great prep for the SAT and a diagnostic tool for determining which college entrance test to take (SAT or ACT). If students come out of the PSAT feeling like the test was doable, perhaps they should focus on studying for the SAT.  If the test proves too challenging, students might consider the ACT. The PSAT is slightly shorter than the SAT (165 minutes vs. 180 minutes), but the structure and content are the same on both tests.  Even though there are slightly fewer questions per section on the PSAT, the amount of time allotted per question is also the same (except for math, where PSAT takers have a few more seconds/question). The main difference between the two tests is the scale (the PSAT is out of 1520 points; the SAT is out of 1600) and the fact that the PSAT does not have an essay (it is optional for SAT test takers).

With the PSAT, students will get a feel for the no-calculator math section, the “great global conversation” passages in the reading section, and the charts and tables in the writing section. You will gain a better sense of which sections present pacing problems, as well as an awareness of math or grammar content that might catch you by surprise. With that knowledge, and score results (released in December), students will be better prepared to decide either to take the SAT or switch tests and prepare for the ACT, since both are accepted at colleges without preference. PSAT scores can also give students insight into how competitive an applicant they are for their college list, which juniors should start creating the 2nd half of the school year.

In addition to exposing students to the content and pacing of the SAT, the practice of taking the PSAT under testing conditions is great conditioning for taking any standardized college admissions test.  Part of being a successful test-taker is being able to work at peak capacity for an extended length of time, without getting too nervous or too fatigued. Students are no longer reading books for enjoyment, and studies show this contributes to struggles with intense concentration for long periods of time, as well as having less critical thinking skills. Plus, it is natural to feel nervous about taking a test that carries such weight, as it appears to in college admission chances.  As with many things, being successful at taking college admission tests requires practice in order to improve concentration and control anxiety.

Some schools use the PSAT for AP course placement (check with your counseling office if you are unsure). If this the case, you might want to do some preparation between now and next week to ensure the score you will provide to your school represents your best. Download the two, free practice PSATs from the College Board website and devote time this weekend to working through some timed sections.  Also, consider using some test strategies. You might consider guessing on the last few difficult math problems to save time for the low-to-mid level questions, if during your practice sections you are unable to answer all questions in the allotted time.  If there are specific question types that trip you up, you should go to Khan Academy for tips and practice problems. Perhaps you should practice annotating the reading passages in order to catch as much detail as possible the first read through. In addition to these strategies, you’ll want to check with your school to determine the AP qualifying policy and relevant cut-off scores for your desired classes.

For juniors, the PSAT is used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) as an initial screen of candidates for the National Merit® Scholarship Program, an academic competition for recognition and scholarships. Recipients and finalists must score in the top one tenth of one percent. The cutoff scores to become eligible for the corporate scholarships and college-sponsored scholarships offered by some colleges and universities varies by year as well as by state (Oregon’s Class of 2018 cutoff was 220). In some cases, these scholarships cover full tuition, in other cases, $2,500. For more information, visit NMSC’s website (or see the FAQ below).

There are many free resources to familiarize yourself with the PSAT test.  A few hours of preparation can make the 2-hour and 45-minute test less painful, and perhaps even profitable (by earning a scholarship). Overall, the PSAT is great practice and a great launching point for college planning.  Please contact me if you have questions or to see how I might help with your college planning needs.


What is a good PSAT score for sophomores?

What is a good PSAT score for juniors?

What was the Oregon NMSQT score for 2018?

How is the NMSQT cutoff score calculated?







What to do with your PSAT Results

You (or your student) should have received PSAT test scores recently (if they took the test in October). If you are unsure of what to do with the results, please read below for tips on understanding the scores and where to go from here.

The new PSAT is said to be scored on the same scale as the new SAT, but the maximum you can score on each of the two sections of the PSAT (Evidence-based Reading & Writing plus Math) is 760 (for a maximum total of 1520), while the SAT’s two sections are scored on an 800-point scale (maximum total score of 1600).

You should be able to add around 40 pts. to each section score and get a projected SAT score. However, since the tests are normed to the student population, the scaling from PSAT to SAT will look different at each point on the bell curve (for some students, it might mean adding 60 pts, for others it might mean adding only 20 pts.). Be aware that last year there were reports the PSAT percentiles were abnormally high, and a number of students scored below their predicted SAT scores based on the PSAT percentiles.

Regardless, to make the most of your PSAT, make sure that you and your student log in here to see their full report, watch this video on how to read the report, and continue reading for more details and what to do next.

Why are there so many different scores on the report?

There is a total score, a math score, an evidence-based reading and writing (ERW) score, a “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile(s),” three test scores, two cross-test scores, seven subtest scores, and a National Merit® Scholarship Corporation Selection Index.

And each of these sets of scores has a different score range. The total score ranges from 320 to 1520; math and ERW scores range from 160 to 760; test scores and cross-test scores range from 8 to 38; subscores range from 1 to 15; and the NMSC Selection Index ranges from 48 to 228.

Focusing on the total score, and adding approximately 80 points total (40 for each of the two sections) will give you a rough prediction of your new SAT score. The sub scores and cross-test scores can give you insight on how to study for your next test. The percentiles tell you how competitive you are compared to other test takers (but don’t let a high percentile fool you into thinking you don’t need to prep/study for the SAT or ACT). For what to do with the NMSC score, hold onto it, and read the section below.

Will my score be high enough for National Merit?

Oregon’s cutoff was 219 for last year, so scoring around a 1440 might be needed to be a commended scholar or semi-finalist. We will not know until next fall. Here is a list of the cutoffs for the Class of 2017 by state.

How do I compare ACT scores against the new SAT scoring system?

If you have taken both the ACT and the new PSAT, check out this link to compare scores and determine which test to focus on (new SAT or ACT).

What Is a Good PSAT Score?

The PSAT is extremely similar to the SAT, and your performance can help predict how you’ll do on the SAT. Almost everyone improves when they take these tests more than once, so the PSAT is a useful trial run. You’ll likely score higher on the SAT than you would if you’d never taken the PSAT.

You can use your PSAT score report to see your current scoring level and find out where you can improve to hit your target SAT scores. To figure out your target SAT scores, you should do some college research. Find schools that you’re interested in, and look for the average SAT scores of accepted students. This piece of data will help you set your own SAT goals.

Once you know what scores you need to get into your colleges of interest, you can use your PSAT score report to design a study plan. Pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses, and write down a personalized SAT study plan that targets your weak areas. Step one in your test plan should be to link your PSAT account to Khan Academy (do this while you are logged into your College Board account). Step two in your test plan should be to work with an advisor on mapping out the resources you will use, as well as a timeline for practice tests and official tests.

You should plan to set aside a certain amount of time for studying depending on how many points you’re seeking to improve. Here’s an estimate of how many hours you need to study to achieve various score improvements.

  • 0-50 SAT composite point improvement: 10 hours
  • 50-100 point improvement: 20 hours
  • 100-200 point improvement: 40 hours
  • 200-300 point improvement: 80 hours
  • 300-500 point improvement: 150 hours+

Your PSAT score report offers a good starting point for your SAT prep. Whether or not you think you got a good score on the PSAT, you can still achieve a good score on the SAT with enough commitment. I encourage you to view Test Prep (whether it’s using free resources in books or online, or using private or group tutors) like you are training for a marathon and not a sprint. To be successful taking standardized tests for college admission requires content knowledge as well as pacing and endurance. The only way to achieve all of those skills is by studying and taking practice exams.

Remember, the PSAT will never be seen by colleges. It is just a good practice/preview for the new SAT, and is used as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship program.

ACT or Redesigned SAT?

SATvsACTMost of you have heard about the redesigned SAT debuting in March 2016.  For seniors, this change is most likely too late to affect their college planning, but for students graduating 2017 or later, a tougher decision needs to be made.  The current SAT is much different than the ACT, which made it easier for most students to decide between one test or the other.  The current SAT is known as a “reasoning” test, vs. the ACT which is known as more of an “achievement” test.  Because the SAT has been losing ground to its competitor, its redesign makes it much more similar to the ACT.  Students will have to spend a little more time, thought and perhaps full practice tests in order to determine which test to focus on.  Here are some tips for making that decision: Continue reading

Big Changes to the College Process

Big changes have been made recently to how students apply to colleges and how they apply for financial aid.  If you have a student graduating high school in 2017 or later, definitely read on.planningphoto

Most of you have heard about the redesigned SAT debuting in March 2016.  For seniors, this change is most likely too late to affect their college planning, but for students graduating 2017 or later, a tougher decision needs to be made.  The current SAT is much different than the ACT, which made it easier for most students to decide between one test or the other.  The current SAT is more of an “aptitude” test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities; the ACT is known as more of a curriculum-based “achievement” test, measuring what a student has learned in school. Because the SAT has been losing ground to its competitor, the redesign makes it much more similar to the ACT.  Students will have to spend a little more time, thought and perhaps full practice tests in order to determine which test to focus on.  See my blog on SAT vs. ACT to help you determine which test to take.   Continue reading