How are tests used in admission decisions?

There is a lot of conversation about how standardized tests fit into the admission decision process, and for good reason! For decades, the ACT and SAT have been discussed and debated in regards to how they are used to select students for an incoming class.

One helpful thing about these tests has to do with the word “standardized”—they give us a chance to see at least one thing among all our applicants that is without variation. By contrast, we know that while the grades on your high school transcript reflect your understanding of each subject, they can also be influenced by local grading practices. Standardized tests give us a way to measure something about your potential that we can compare equally across all applicants.

Looking at it from the other direction, though, some think that standardized tests are too rigid. Instead of giving students a way to show strengths that might not be apparent on their transcript, there is concern that a test score could simply reflect how good a student is at taking tests. Other research shows that tests might sometimes favor students from different socioeconomic or racial backgrounds more than others. From this perspective, standardized tests present us with a fuller picture for some applicants, but might actually limit or skew our understanding of others.

Each of these viewpoints have their merits, which is why Oregon requires scores as part of the application, but we never let them be the guiding reason for an overall decision – just part of the picture. We do have score minimums as a part of several freshman scholarships, which helps make things more predictable for recipients. But for admission itself, no test score will ever singlehandedly determine whether a student can be admitted.

So, remember to turn in your scores, and know that strong ones can definitely help you. Even if you aren’t thrilled with your scores, submit them anyway and make sure the rest of your application shows your strengths through transcripts, essays, and other materials.

Standardized tests do change from time to time, and applicants should know they can submit scores from the new test or the older version. No matter which versions you submit, Oregon will use the scores in a way that ensures equity across the various options. We will do our best to ensure that no test type is advantaged over the other, even if the numeric scores are slightly different.


Which test do you prefer?
We don’t have a preference—US applicants can submit the ACT, the SAT (new or old), or both, and we’ll look at where you did your best.  International applicants are not required to submit either of these American tests, but you can choose to provide SAT or ACT scores instead of TOEFL or IELTS for proving English proficiency.

What about superscoring?
Superscoring refers to combining a student's best section scores from one test date with another. The UO uses superscoring for both the SAT and ACT in consideration for admissions and scholarships. With the SAT, we are only able to superscore for the same exam type. For example, if you provide two different scores from the new SAT, we’ll use superscoring, but will not superscore between a sitting of the new SAT and the old one (meaning earlier than March 2016).  

The ACT superscore is the highest of each section of the ACT used together to create a new composite score. We need to receive all of the sections of each ACT (English, Math, Reading and Science) in order to provide a superscore. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you have your scores sent directly from the resting agency.

Example: The Duck takes the January 2018 SAT and gets a 640 Math/540 Reading-Writing, for a total of 1180. Then, he retakes the SAT in May 2018. This time, he gets a 630 Math/600 Reading-Writing, for a total of 1230.  While the Duck’s best total is 1230, we superscore the 640 and 600 to use that total of 1240 in our admission and scholarship decisions.

Example 2: The Duck takes the January 2018 ACT and gets scores of: English 28, Math 28, Reading 29, Science 30 and Composite 29. Then, he retakes the ACT in May 2018 and gets scores of: English 26, Math 30, Reading 30, Science 28 and Composite 29, While the Duck's best composite is a 29, we superscore the English 28, Math 30, Reading 30 and Science 30 to give a new composite of 30.

What about the essay?
The ACT and SAT both make the essay portion optional, and we will not require it of our applicants. Throughout the U.S., this is a decision other universities will each make individually. You are welcome to provide scores that include the essay, knowing that we will not let a low essay score disadvantage you in the Oregon admission process in any way. We will store the result, though, and may use it in research that helps us understand the possible future value of those scores in freshman advising and course placement. Meanwhile, the College Board makes it easy to see which institutions do require or recommend the essay portion on their website.

Someone told me I should take one of these tests instead of the other because it’s easier. Is this good advice?
No, we don’t have any data showing one test is better/worse or easier/harder than the other. In fact, simply taking the first test can help you feel more experienced so that you do better the next time you try one. Our longtime general advice is that any applicant should consider taking both tests, or retaking the same test once or twice, to see if you can improve – but not at the expense of your schoolwork or other planning. Again, aside from certain scores making you scholarship-eligible, it’s just part of the puzzle.

I’ve taken both the new and old versions of the SAT. Which one helps me more?
There’s no advantage either way. Students who would have gotten a 1200 (CR+M) on the old SAT can expect to get a 1270 on the new SAT. So, if you only took the new one and got a 1270, it's projected you would have gotten about a 1200 on the earlier version. Don't think of this as one test being easier or harder than the other. For now, just think of it as a different scale—like using Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. We will keep a close eye on this throughout the next few years, and won’t let differences among the tests unfairly advantage certain students.

How should I prepare for these tests?
Oregon wants you to do well on the SAT or ACT, but remember that it's only one of several factors that we consider in our holistic review. So do your best, but don't get too stressed out.  If you feel like you need to brush up on your skills before a test, the College Board—the company that administers the SAT—has partnered 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! Meanwhile, the ACT offers its own resources on their site, and while many for-profit companies will offer courses on preparing for either test, make sure you consider your free and lower-cost options, too.

What sources should I use to keep up to date on information about the admission process?
If you're a student considering application to the University of Oregon, join our mailing list to have information like this sent right to your inbox. We also recommend that you connect directly to any other college you are considering for the best information about how they use these tests in their decision processes.