Test Prep

My ACT and SAT Are Comparable -- Do I Send Both to Colleges?

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You took both tests? You deserve a pat on the back for putting an incredible amount of time and energy into studying for the SAT and the ACT.  Now that you've received the scores from each test, you may be asking how you can tell which score is better, and which you should submit to colleges.

Remember that the SAT is scored out of 1600, while the ACT is scored out of 36, and the ACT tackles certain subjects that don't show up on the SAT. Feels kind of like comparing apples and oranges, right?


Well, lucky for us, the College Board and ACT worked together to come up with a way to make the comparison happen. Based on thousands of actual SAT and ACT test scores, the two testing organizations jointly developed a tool called the concordance table, which is simply a group of six tables that allow you to see what a composite ACT score looks like as a composite SAT score (and vice versa), what an ACT Math score looks like as an SAT Math score (and vice versa) and what an ACT English and Reading score looks like as an SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (and vice versa). Here's the official concordance table from 2018.

We spoke with Rachel Coates, a Brooklyn-based college admissions consultant and founder of EduCoates College Services, to get her tips on comparing SAT and ACT scores, what to do about superscoring and how the latest update to the concordance table will affect you.

College Confidential: What do you do if your two test scores look like a tie?

Rachel Coates: Some colleges, like Yale and the University of California, have a policy: Send us all your score results from both tests. In that case, you know what to do. But many colleges give students "score choice," allowing you to decide which to send and where. Even if the scores seem to be tied, sometimes there may be a reason to pick one over the other.

Say Sarah scored 1420 on the SAT and 32 on the ACT, and Justin scored 1440 and 32. The table shows this correspondence: SAT results of 1420, 1430 and 1440 correspond to 32 on the ACT; and for an ACT of 32, if a single SAT equivalence is being sought, it is 1430. In this case, Sarah should probably send in her ACT of 32 and Justin his 1440 from the SAT. Why? Because at some point, colleges may compare students using the 32/1430 notch. If that happens, Sarah 'gained' 10 SAT points, and Justin gets placed just above that mark because of his extra 10 points.

CC: What if a college uses superscoring? 

RC: If a college superscores for both SAT and ACT, those are the numbers you should be comparing on the concordance table to see if you have a tie or if one is higher. Some schools superscore the SAT but not the ACT, so you have to check carefully to make sure you are comparing the right two numbers.

CC: When should you send in both scores? 

RC: Actually, quite often -- if you can afford to, that is! In general, colleges are trying to see you in the best light possible, and we really don't always know how they analyze the scores. What if Zoe's overall SAT shows up as better than her composite ACT on the table, yet her terrific math score of 35 on the ACT is way more impressive than her 680 for math on the SAT? That could be significant information to a given college that is looking for females who are strong in math. Additionally, since merit aid at public universities is often awarded based off a grid of test scores/GPAs, sending in both scores could get you a higher award. Colleges change their cutoffs for merit aid each year, and there can be inconsistencies that you have no way to anticipate, so why try to second guess?

CC: How does the new concordance table affect me?

RC: One peculiar thing about this year is that the concordance table changed in June of 2018. We're expecting all colleges to be using the new one in the 2018-19 application season, but it's entirely possible some will still be using the old one that was in effect for the last few years. The new table slightly upgrades the value of a higher SAT score (relative to the ACT) and slightly pushes down the value of a higher ACT score. This is true only for the upper range, above about 29 and 1400, the region where competitive students are scrutinizing their scores.

If you are looking at a printout of the table, how can you tell if it's the new one? The old table shows only one score at the top: 1600 = 36, immediately followed by 1590 = 35. On the new table, 1570, 1580, 1590 and 1600 all correspond to 36.

CC: What if a college I am applying to is still using the old table (from before June 2018)?

RC: In the earlier example, Sarah would still have been better off sending in her 32 ACT, as last year a 1420 was actually equivalent to 31. But Justin might have opted to send his ACT rather than his SAT, because until a few months ago, 1440 was at the top end of the 31 ACT band, so technically his 32 would have "looked better."

Adding the slight uncertainty of the new table to the other variables around superscoring and merit aid, this year, I think I'll advise students to send in both their best SAT and their best ACT – if the scores are close to each other on either the new or old table. Fortunately, there's also a place on the Common Application to report your highest scores from both tests, whether or not you pay the money to send them in officially. To make sure they are added to your official file by the college, you should send them in through the College Board or ACT. But colleges also notice them as reported on the Common App. By sending and reporting both scores when they are similar, there's not much to lose and there may be a lot to gain.