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Interpreting the New Concordance for SAT and ACT

By June 14, 2018November 30th, 2018ACT, College Admission Requirements, PSAT, SAT

On June 14, 2018 ACT and College Board released the first joint concordance of the new SAT and ACT, replacing College Board’s interim concordance from May 2016. For students, parents, and counselors who want to see how and why the concordance has changed and how it may impact them, Compass offers both an overview and a deep dive below.

See Compass’ SAT-ACT concordance page for the full concordance tables, an interactive concordance tool, and links to distributable PDFs. Android and iOS apps are also available.

View and Download Concordance Tables

How Have Things Changed?

Different parts of the ACT and SAT score ranges saw different changes in both magnitude and direction. The exact impact at each score can be found in the full tables.

Impact on the Middle Range (40% of test takers)

More than 9 in 10 of SAT takers will see concordant ACT scores remain unchanged. For example, an 1100 is concordant with a 22. Under the 2016 concordance, an 1100 was also concordant with a 22. Students in the 19-26 ACT range see minimal changes of 0 to 20 points in concordant SAT scores.

Impact on the Lower Range (40% of test takers)

More than half of SAT takers in this group will see their concordant ACT scores lowered by 1 point. For example, a score of 950 on the SAT is concordant with a 17. Under the 2016 concordance, a 950 had been concordant with an 18. Students in the 9-19 ACT range will see concordant SAT scores 20 to 80 points higher.

Impact on the Upper Range (20% of test takers)

This pool is heavily skewed toward those applying to the most competitive colleges. The combination of concordance adjustments and score importance means that this group is most impacted by revisions. Approximately 70% of SAT takers at or above 1260 will find that their scores are concordant with an ACT score that is 1 point higher than under the 2016 concordance. The other 30% will find no change. All ACT takers in this range will find their concordant SAT scores anywhere from 10 to 40 points lower.[/vc_column_text]


Click to view detailed tables for the exact concordance values at your SAT score.

SAT to ACT – How Things Changed

If you took the SAT, find your score in the first column. The second column is your converted ACT score with the new concordance; the third is your converted ACT score with the old, 2016 concordance. The change in ACT points from old to new concordance is listed in the final column.

SATACT (2018)ACT (2016)Change

Click to view detailed tables for the exact concordance values at your ACT score.

ACT to SAT – How Things Changed

If you took the ACT, find your score in the first column. The second column is your converted SAT score with the new concordance; the third is your converted SAT score with the old, 2016 concordance. The change in SAT points from old to new concordance is listed in the final column. Scorers at the ends of the range tended to be more affected by the new concordance than those in the middle.

ACTSAT (2018)SAT (2016)Change
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There are many questions about concordance changes that Compass hopes to answer and possible misinterpretations that we hope to dispel. We will be monitoring reaction to the release of the new concordance and responding regularly on Facebook and Twitter. Parents and counselors with specific questions can also contact Compass via phone or email.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve heard that SAT scores are going up (down) with the new concordance. Is that true?

A concordance is only a way to compare scores from different test types. No one’s SAT or ACT score or percentile rank is changing. The revised concordance does change — mostly in small ways — how SAT and ACT scores “stack up” to one another.

  • Most high-scoring SAT students (1260+) receive a modest advantage relative to concordant ACT scores.
  • High-scoring ACT students (25+) receive a modest disadvantage relative to concordant SAT scores.

Why are ACT/SAT students being penalized/favored?

The revised concordance is not designed to penalize or favor a particular type of student, although that could be its impact. The new concordance study was designed to address the shortcomings in the temporary derived concordance that College Board issued in 2016. The recent study involved almost 600,000 students who actually took both exams, something that wasn’t possible when the SAT debuted. The study used a technique known as equipercentile concordance to align score ranges across the two exams.

One problem in understanding the construction, purpose, and limitations of concordances is that concordances are rarely encountered. Most everyday comparisons involve either equations — ounces to gallons or Celsius to Fahrenheit — or qualitative match-ups — sandals versus flip-flops or Android versus iPhone. The ACT and SAT are highly correlated, but “measure somewhat different educational constructs.” (ACT). It’s incorrect to say that a 30 ACT equals a 1370. Instead, what is true is that among students taking both exams in the study population, approximately the same number of students scored 30 or below as scored 1370 or below (that’s the equipercentile part of equipercentile concordance). This distinction is often glossed over in colloquial usage, but it is a reminder that concordant scores are not identical and therefore do not need to be used identically. In practice, many colleges do treat concordant scores as interchangeable.

Why is the new concordance different than the 2016 version?

The concordance released by College Board in 2016 was a “derived concordance.” It did not involve a direct linking of performance on the new SAT and the ACT. Instead, it combined the old SAT to new SAT concordance that College Board developed in 2014-2015 with the old SAT to ACT concordance that had been released by ACT and College Board in 2008. ACT criticized this at the time as a misguided shortcut. While College Board challenged that criticism, it was acknowledged by both testing agencies that a full, proper concordance study was needed to reflect the new SAT test content and to account for the changes in student population and testing habits that occurred between 2008 and 2018.

Since both testing organizations were involved in the new concordance — with the NCAA playing a critical role as intermediary — it provides fairness to a wide audience.


I’m in the class of 2019 and planning my final testing for the fall. How does this impact my plans?

It depends on your test scores thus far and on your target colleges. In most cases, your fall plans – whatever they had been – should probably remain in place, based on factors you had considered prior to the new concordance. You have not moved in terms of relative standing among other test takers of the same test (SAT or ACT), but if you were to concord all scores from a given college’s applicant pool to one scale or the other, you might slightly gain or lose ground. Looking at your score that way may prompt you to consider one more sitting if time allows. Especially if you have only tested once and were not entirely satisfied with your score, you should re-test. Most students are better off re-taking the test they have already taken rather than jumping to a different test. Contact your Compass director to discuss your specific case if you are unsure.

How does this impact a student choosing between SAT and ACT?

The new concordance hasn’t made either test easier or harder. It hasn’t even made attaining a given score on either test more or less common. It has simply made the highest SAT scores slightly more valuable than they had (erroneously) been in terms of ACT scores. The changes in value are small though, and limited to only part of the scale. Other factors related to test content, structure, and pace could have a greater impact on performance differences. Students are still advised to try a practice version of each test and compare results; just be sure to use the new concordance tables when comparing. We expect the same overall distribution of roughly 50% falling in “Judgment Call” range and about 25% leaning slightly toward one test or the other.

Why does each ACT score correspond to a range of scores? For example, scores of 1570, 1580, 1590, and 1600 now all concord to a 36.

The simple answer is that the SAT scale has more possible scores than the ACT scale. There are 121 values between 400 and 1600. There are 36 ACT Composite scores. It’s not surprising, then, that each ACT score corresponds to 3 to 4 SAT scores.

Why are there different tables for comparing SAT scores to ACT scores and ACT scores to SAT Scores?

While there is always a single concordant ACT score for a given SAT score, an ACT score is concordant with a range of SAT scores — a result of the scoring differences mentioned above. In some situations, it is easier to have a point-to-point concordance. For example, a 36 ACT is concordant with an SAT range of 1570-1600 or, as a single score, a 1590.

Do colleges translate SAT scores into ACT scores or ACT scores into SAT scores?

Either, neither, and both. ACT and College Board do not provide guidance to colleges on the subject. Concordances are created to allow students and colleges to view things in either direction.

In holistic assessment of a student’s testing record, colleges are often looking at more than just an overall score. So even if a college determines your “best score” via a concordance, it may still look at your English, Reading, Math, and Science scores.

Colleges can also develop their own concordances or decide that admission offices should weigh scores without the need of a concordance.

Will colleges adopt the new concordance?

ACT and College Board have said that the new concordances should be the definitive source starting with students applying for terms after fall 2018, and we expect that most colleges will follow this advice. ACT, College Board, and the NCAA have worked hard to produce a definitive concordance, so there is little reason to stick with something outdated. ACT and College Board cannot enforce this practice, however. There have always been some colleges that claim to go concordance-free or that develop concordances based on their own applicant population, but these are the exception.

If colleges use “cut scores” for admission or honors programs or scholarships, will they update them for the class of 2019?

We won’t know the answer to this right away. While we expect most colleges to incorporate the concordance immediately for admission, there is no assurance that cut scores will be changed for the upcoming applicant class.

A number of scholarship programs also use the concordances to create cutoffs. For example, the University of Alabama offers excellent academic scholarship opportunities and uses the 2016 concordance in an effort to be fair to ACT takers and SAT takers. A Presidential Scholar needs an ACT score of 33 or higher or an SAT score of 1490 or higher. The new concordance, if implemented, would expand the SAT range to 1450 or higher or would involve moving the ACT score higher. Scholarship programs with similar cutoffs exist at dozens of universities and will need to be updated. The timeline for such updates is uncertain.

Will the NCAA be updating Full Qualifier index based on the new concordance?

The NCAA played a critical role in developing the new concordance and will almost certainly be using the new study. The exact how and when is still to be determined. Traditionally, the NCAA has used a sum of the four ACT test scores (4-144) rather than the Composite, so its table is not identical to the 2016 concordance. Given the movement in the concordance in the under 900 range of the scale, SAT takers may actually need higher scores after adoption of the new concordance. For example, an SAT taker is currently a Full Qualifier with a GPA of 2.5 and an SAT score of 900. The new concordance implies that the student would now need to achieve a 920. Given the possibility of moving the goalposts on students who had already been thought to have qualified, it will be interesting to see exactly how the NCAA implements the new concordance. We will update this information as soon as it becomes available.

Will colleges superscore across tests now that ERW to E+R and Math to Math concordances are available?

College Board and ACT specifically instruct colleges not to superscore across exam types — sometimes called super-duper scoring — but colleges are not required to follow this advice. Only a handful of colleges currently super-duper score. We are not yet aware of any colleges changing policies at this point. The subject level concordances are more commonly used for placement purposes or for institutional research.

Will this mean a change in reported score ranges for colleges?

No. Colleges report SAT and ACT scores separately. The new concordance does not raise or lower either set of scores.

Will it raise or lower colleges' scores in the future?

This is only answerable if some simplifying — and perhaps unrealistic — assumptions are made. If the concordance change were the only variable — i.e. no change in student or college behavior — then the revised concordance would likely lower average SAT scores slightly at the most competitive colleges and put upward pressure on ACT scores. The reason the assumptions are unrealistic is that students and colleges have been undergoing a rapid adjustment to the new SAT. The concordance is only one of many moving pieces. At colleges admitting students primarily across the 900-1300 SAT range, it is unlikely that the concordance change will impact overall class composition. The new concordance itself may also affect student testing behavior.

Keep in mind that a student’s relative standing within a test type is unchanged. A student with a 90th percentile score on the SAT will still have a 90th percentile score on the SAT and will be in the exact same competitive environment with fellow SAT takers pre- or post- new concordance. It is only across test types where the balance shifts slightly.

Why wasn’t the new concordance developed and released sooner?

Developing a solid concordance requires lots of data from a representative sample of students taking both exams. Since the new SAT only became operational after the old SAT had been sunset, College Board had to use a more limited pool of approximately 5,000 pilot testers to create the old SAT to new SAT concordance. This provided enough information in the center range — where most students score — but fell short at the tail ends of the curve.

Had College Board and ACT collaborated prior to the release of the new SAT and immediately started putting operational data to use, it’s possible that a concordance could have been released last summer. ACT, of course, had no interest in smoothing the way for the new SAT. Only pressure from colleges and the involvement of the NCAA — the neutral data intermediary — allowed the new concordance study to move forward.

In the long run, it’s best that the concordance was done right. The class of 2018 was the first full cohort to operate (almost) completely in the new landscape. Students were not split between the old SAT and new SAT as they were in the class of 2017 and balance had largely been restored to the ACT/SAT universe.

Why didn’t College Board “get it right” the first time? Does this mean that College Board got the old SAT to new SAT concordance wrong? Will it be replaced?

College Board will not be revising its old SAT to new SAT concordance. Counselors wishing to compare scores should continue to use the 2016 concordance.

There are several reasons that would explain why the 2018 SAT/ACT concordance differs from the 2016 concordance. The original derived concordance depended on 3 assumptions:
The 2008 ACT/SAT concordance developed by ACT and College Board was still valid.
The 2016 old SAT to new SAT concordance developed by College Board from pilot data in 2014-2015 was accurate and applicable to the full testing population.
Chaining together the concordances in (1) and (2) could produce a concordance between ACT and the new SAT.

There is reason to believe that the first assumption was flawed. Both testing organizations saw large increases in test-taker numbers over the last decade, but the growth has not been constant across the tests or across the scale ranges. The number of students taking the ACT grew by 56% between 2007 and 2017, for example, but the number of perfect scorers increased ninefold. Disproportionate growth was also seen at the low end of the scale, as more states required the ACT for all students. This unequal growth did not guarantee a drift in the concordance, but it made it far more likely. In other words, an updated ACT/SAT concordance was probably overdue.

If there was a new concordance in 2016 and a new concordance in 2018, how do I know that there won’t be another concordance in a couple of years?

Developing concordances is a lengthy and expensive process. And, quite honestly, College Board and ACT don’t like working together. Concordances are usually updated only when there is a significant content change on one of the exams. The recent situation was unique because of the fact that the SAT was overhauled entirely. The 2016 concordance was really just a spare tire that needed to be replaced as soon as a full concordance could be completed. We shouldn’t have to worry about this for another decade.

Questions from Counselors

Does this explain why my class’ SAT scores have gone up (or down)?

It’s complicated. The new concordance adjusts the way that SAT and ACT scores are compared. It does not in any way change a student’s or class’ scores. In theory, SAT scoring has been stable since the new SAT was first offered in March 2016. Forms are carefully equated to one another. The old SAT to new SAT change did, of course, shift scores. High schools can use the College Board’s concordance table in an effort to restate a student’s old SAT scores for comparison purposes.

In analyzing score changes at high schools, we have found that the likely suspects involve changing student behavior (self-selection bias) and profiles. The mix of SAT and ACT takers at a school plays a large role, and that mix has been a moving target. We have seen high schools that went from 90% of its students taking the SAT in the class of 2016 to 10% taking it in the class of 2017 to 50% taking it in the class of 2018.

At many schools, students in the class of 2017 avoided the new SAT by finishing testing early with the old SAT or moving to the ACT. The decisions were not spread uniformly and had unintended consequences. For example, the highest-performing students — ones who often finish testing early — were more likely to opt for the old SAT.

More and more students are at least “sampling” each exam. A student might take an SAT in fall of junior year but then decide on an ACT path. That student’s SAT score would be lower than had they continued on an SAT path. Many high schools compute their average SAT scores by simply averaging their students’ performances (or best performances). This can have the effect of making average SAT scores — and ACT scores — look lower.

The natural fluctuation of class size and composition can easily be mistaken for test-related score changes.

If the concordance wasn’t completely accurate, why should I trust SAT scores to be accurate?

The process of concordance is different than that of equating — determining comparable scores on different forms of the same exam. First, equating different SAT forms avoids the biggest shortcoming of concordances — the fact that they involve different educational constructs. The other major problem with the 2016 concordance is that it had to be based on pilot study data. New test forms, on the other hand, can be developed by linking to operational exams. A given SAT date may see 100,000 to 500,000 students. That provides a rich source of data. Compass has been critical about the mishaps that occurred in the new SAT rollout, but we believe that keeping scores consistent is a core skill maintained by College Board.

Does the revised concordance indicate that previous applicants sent the “wrong” scores when choosing their best efforts?

Not really. The key is that students and (most) colleges were working off of the same information. A student interpreting his 27 ACT score as higher than his 1270 SAT score (concordant to a 26) would have been correctly interpreting the concordance. And an admission office would have interpreted things the same way.

Does the new concordance affect Score Choice or self-reporting decisions?

The new concordance does not change the decision-making process, but it is critical that students understand which concordance is being used by a college. Websites or old forum posts can sometimes provide misleading information. Please contact Compass if you need any assistance in getting your students new materials.

Does the new concordance also apply to the PSAT and PreACT?

The PSAT and PreACT use common scales with the SAT and ACT, respectively, to allow students and counselors to directly compare scores. For example, a 1000 means the same thing on the PSAT as it does on the SAT. So while the PSAT and PreACT were not part of the concordance study, the same set of tools can be used to gauge a student’s relative standing across test types.

While PSAT and PreACT scores can rely on the new concordance tables, you should factor in the datedness of scores from 9th and 10th grade. What may appear as performance disparity across tests may have less to do with test differences and concordance updates and more to do with improving skills over the passage of time.

Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.

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