SAT Test Information

A new SAT test was introduced in 2016. Get the facts about how the old test compares to the new version and find out how your test affects the admission process.

Exam paper and pencil

In March 2016, the College Board launched a redesigned SAT. For more information about the redesign—what they’ve changed, and why it matters—please visit the College Board website.

Applicants for 2017 or later should take the new test, however scores from 2016 or before will still be accepted. Even if the numeric scores are slightly different, Northwestern will ensure that scores are evaluated equally. (To see how your old scores will look compared to the new ones, check out the College Board score converter.)

What is new about the test?

The redesigned SAT has two 800-point sections instead of three. The math section has not changed, but components of the critical reading section and writing section will be used to create the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score. Also, the essay portion will now become optional, and will not be a factor in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section. (To see how your old scores will look compared to the new ones, check out this score converter from the College Board.)

Will Northwestern accept the old test?

We will accept both old and new test scores. You can use the SAT Score Converter to compare old and new SAT scores. It uses a method called concordance to estimate how you might have scored on a different test.

What about the essay?

The redesigned SAT makes the essay portion optional, and we do not require it for our applicants. This is a decision each university makes individually. You are welcome to provide scores that include the essay, and know that a low essay score will not count against you in the admission process in any way. We will document the result for possible research that helps us understand the value of those scores for freshman advising and course placement. The College Board makes it easy to see which institutions require the essay portion on their website.

How are scores used in the admissions process?

Test scores are now optional for domestic undergraduate students. SAT or ACT scores could help give us a consistent measurement of college readiness for our applicants. In that regard, scores are helpful, however tests have limits. We place a greater emphasis on your high school work—including the grades you earned and the classes you chose to take.

Should I take the ACT instead since the SAT is changing?

All applicants should consider which test is right for them. There is no evidence that one is easier or harder than the other, and the decision can go either way for different students. This advice will not change with the new test.

How do I prepare to do well on the tests?

There are a number of great low-cost or free test-prep resources available online or through your school and libraries. Expensive test prep classes may be offered to you, but carefully consider the cost and benefit of pricey prep tools that may not substantially affect the outcome. The test score is only one of several factors that we consider in our holistic review. (Besides, we’d rather see you spend that money to make a great visit to our campus and make sure Northwestern is right for you!) College Board partners with Khan Academy to offer free test prep services for the SAT. If you try this, let us know your feedback on whether it helped!


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