Throughout the long, twisted history of the SAT, the section devoted to testing reading and language skills has evolved dramatically. What was once simply the Verbal section gave way to both Critical Reading and Writing sections, which have currently been combined to create the inelegantly-titled SAT Evidence Based Reading & Writing section, called EBRW for short. While most attention focuses on how these periodic revisions affect test takers, high school counselors, and even parents, we sometimes neglect a critical class of stakeholders: colleges.
College admissions counselors rely on SAT and ACT scores to help make smart admissions decisions. However, these additional data points only help to the extent that colleges understand what they mean. During the years before and after a major test revision, excessive uncertainty pervades the admissions process; applicants don’t know what scores schools want, while the schools aren’t all that sure themselves.
Confusion over desired test scores can be exacerbated by outdated or conflicting information. A big offender right now happens to be the College Board itself, which not only authors the SAT but also compiles score requirements, among other information, for all colleges and universities. If you would expect anyone to be on point about SAT scores, it would be the College Board. And yet, as of January 2018, we have to struggle to understand what information like this excerpt from the College Board page for SUNY Cortland means…
SUNY Cortland is a popular school choice among Upstate New York students, so many families I speak to review the school’s admissions requirements. But the College Board page for SUNY Cortland raises a question most applicants would have never expected:
Does this school really ignore the Writing and Language component of SAT EBRW and just look at Reading?!?
Obviously, anyone relying on the College Board listing for this college–and many others–would get that impression, which is why going straight to the source usually delivers the most reliable information. The SUNY Cortland page for Freshmen Applicants offers a very clear benchmark for SAT scores, one that doesn’t even address specific section scores:
This brief nugget is actually SO clear and concise that I had to call to confirm. “Yes,” an admissions counselor assured me, “SUNY Cortland looks at the full Composite score for the current SAT.” Not only do they not tease just the Reading out of the EBRW, they don’t even care about the EBRW score except as part of the Composite.
Why does the College Board site get such an easy and obvious detail wrong? Read the fine print. Below the box containing SAT score data for a school, the following disclaimer appears: For the new SAT, we don’t yet have information on the percent of freshmen in each score range. We’ll post that information when it’s available in spring 2017. Perhaps they meant spring 2018…
That said, we need not be too hard on the College Board for their generally effective commitment to providing college admissions resources to the masses free of charge. At the same time, college applicants should always seek out and prioritize information from the most credible sources. The College Board is the definitive authority on the SAT itself, but when you want to know how a college looks at test scores, ask the school.