Will scores be any lower this year?

My son took the ACT early in his junior year without real prep, as a baseline score, and got a 32. (This annoyed his sibling, who studied a ton and never got that, but that’s another story.) Then he didn’t get to retake it or take the SAT because of COVID. (He’s noting this on Common App.) The schools he’s applying to all superscore ACTs.

He’s pretty sure that if he’d taken it again after studying, he’d probably have gotten better (though no guarantees) or at least benefitted from superscoring. We’re thinking a lot of other students are in a similar situation??

So we’re wondering if the test scores applicants submit this year will be slightly lower–so if, as long as he’s within their 50% median range (presumably of superscored scores), he can take last year’s range with a slight grain of salt. Admissions offices don’t directly answer this question, just remind him that they’re test-optional.

He’s applying to places like Tufts and Washington University as reaches and others as targets and safeties. (His grades are great but extracurriculars, demographics, etc., are not noteworthy. ) His main concern is whether he should do a last-minute look for more targets and safeties–he applied Early Action everywhere he could, but the “target” schools that would’ve given him a sense of things won’t announce their decisions until after Regular Decision deadlines.


I would expect that students would look at the median score for past years. Those who have lower scores will not submit them. Those who have higher scores will submit them.

To me this implies that schools that have gone test optional are likely to see an increase in their median test scores.

I do understand that this is unfortunate for students who do very well without any prep as a baseline, and then do not get to take the test again due to the pandemic. I think that we all just need to do as well as we can under the circumstances.


Thanks! Yeah, I just don’t know. If a school has a median 31-34 and someone with a 32 doesn’t submit, maybe the school will assume (consciously or subconsciously) that the score was even worse?? I guess the choice depends how strong the other parts of the application are… I’m thinking we won’t really know until this year’s median scores come out. That’s adding to the many things we just don’t really know… Best wishes to your family with all this!

My experience as a test prep tutor leads me to believe that in general, many students received lower scores this year.

This might be due to a number of factors:
-students don’t feel quite as committed to the tests as in previous years because they know so many test dates have been cancelled.
-most colleges have dropped test requirements for this application season and students know this, so there is a general sense that colleges don’t care so much about test scores.
-Covid has disrupted so much of students’ learning, routines, activities, and so on that many just haven’t felt that motivated to put so much effort into test prep.
-many kids plan to take the test at least twice, knowing that if they don’t do well, they can try again. But that didn’t happen for a lot of kids, so they might be stuck with a lower score than they intended.

You said “maybe the school will assume (consciously or subconsciously) that the score was even worse?” No, they won’t do that. They can’t, because students literally have no control over the situation. Again, as a test prep tutor, I worked with many kids this year who had a number of test dates unexpectedly cancelled. Some only got one test in, and not the two that they planned. I had students show up the morning of a test, only to find it cancelled with no notice. This happened all over the country, with both the ACT and SAT.

Having said all this, we might not ever know. I guess we have to wait and see if College Board and ACT publish data to support the idea that scores will overall be lower this year. Will students have scores to submit, or choose to submit them? I expect we will find out in due course.

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Actual scores may be lower, but to OPs point, I think submitted scores will be higher.

If applicants look at past admitted student statistics and only submit scores that are above the median, then the average submitted score will go up significantly. Even if the received scores of the applicants is lower. The lower scores simply won’t be submitted.

I would stick to this advice - submit if it’s at or above the midpoint of the 25-75 range.

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Yup, you were right, RichInPitt: submitted scores were way higher. Case in point: this year (fall 2021), for accepted students, Boston University’s median ACT was 34 (middle 50% was 33-35). Niche says middle 50% is 30-34. I don’t know what year Niche used, but I recall that it’s at least a year behind schools’ websites (when we looked at BU’s data for fall 2020, it was also higher than Niche’s). I guess the take-home messages are: look at the actual schools’ websites for up-to-date score info, and stick rigorously to the “submit only if midpoint or higher” rule.

BU’s CDS has the 30-34 interquartile data on their latest published report, which is the 2019-2020 class (one year behind), so Niche’s data matches that.

Where have they already published the 2021-2022 class data? Only ~50% of schools have published a 2020-2021 CDS. (Fwiw, I find the data published on many schools’ web sites to not match their CDS published numbers).

Telling next year’s class to only submit above the median of accepted scores will result in an interesting feedback loop, spiraling to only perfect scores.

Also distinguish between admitted student data (which is all schools have so far for fall 2021, college class of 2025) vs enrolled student data (what is reported in the Common Data Set). As for most colleges, BU’s enrolled data will be lower than for admitted.

The 2019-2020 CDS contains enrolled student data for fall 2019 freshmen, class of 2023. The 2020-21 CDS will have data for fall 2020 enrolled freshmen, class of 2024, though many schools, including BU, have yet to post their 2020-21 CDS.

Data posted in a college’s class profile on their admission website might be admitted data or enrolled - there are no standards. The CDS makes for better apples-to-apples comparisons, though there is a time lag.

Good points! Yeah, it was the school’s website about students admitted for fall 2021: Academic Profile | Admissions

It would seem that even if CDS makes for better comparisons, students would do better to look at stats for admitted students, since that’s the group they’re competing to be in…though schools generally care most about whatever #s they report publicly, so maybe enrolled students would the ultimate cohort after all.

And it’s often struck me that “test-optional” policies have long been a way for colleges to inflate their scores, alongside more noble rationales. Covid has just made this more extreme. 58% of BU’s accepted students submitted scores this year; who knows which of the other 42% didn’t have scores vs had undesirable ones.

Admitted data is rarely available and non-standard, so CDS standardized data is somewhat the default.