What The New ‘Adversity Score’ Means For The SAT

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The College Board, which administers the SAT exam, has announced a new rating for the standardized test in hopes of creating a fairer admissions process.

The “adversity score” will consider students’ educational and socioeconomic backgrounds in addition to the traditional scores of math and verbal skills. It’s a move that comes amidst a huge college admissions scandal that highlights the large advantage wealthy applicants can have over others in higher education admissions.

“The purported goal of the SAT’s new adversity score is to provide greater context around students’ test performance, enabling colleges and universities to take socioeconomic factors into consideration when evaluating an applicant’s SAT score,” Sam Pritchard, director of college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep, says.


The adversity score will be given on a scale of 1 to 100. According to The New York Times, an average score is 50, with higher numbers meaning more disadvantage. Some of the factors taken into consideration include the quality of an applicant’s high school and the overall crime rate and the poverty level of an applicant’s neighborhood.

Applicants won’t be able to see the score as it will only be reported to college admissions officials as data.

“One key point students should know is that the SAT itself is not changing,” Pritchard says. “The adversity score is not part of the SAT test taking experience — it’s essentially a data point come to by the test maker to provide general context for how colleges can look at how the student performs on the test.”


It’s important to note that colleges have a choice in factoring in the new adversity score in admissions. According to Pritchard, the new adversity score most likely won’t carry as much weight as traditional factors, such as GPA and SAT test performance score.

“It’s an additional data point that colleges can either ignore it or use it,” Pritchard says. “To that end, it remains to be seen how admissions officers will evaluate an adversity score relative to the more traditional admissions factors.”


Supporters of the new score say that it will bring more fairness into the admissions process, especially during a time where colleges are under increased scrutiny regarding fair admissions.

“Those who will benefit from the adversity score are happy about it,” Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted, says. “They say it is leveling the playing field and reducing the disparities caused by wealth and accidents of birth.”

Yet, Abraham says the new score might not be a healthy shift for college admissions.

“It ignores adversity and advantage that the adversity score can’t measure,” Abraham says. “Has the upper-middle-class child whose highly education parent(s) suffered from substance abuse faced more or less adversity than the child from a poorer working-class family whose parents were loving, supportive, and emotionally healthy?”

There’s also skepticism around how the score is actually calculated.

“It would be helpful to students, their parents, high school counselors, and colleges to better understand the College Board’s research behind the scoring system,” Pritchard says. “There’s also something disconcerting and reductionist in putting a numerical value on socioeconomic and environmental issues.”

Regardless of the new adversity score, Pritchard says, applicants should not change how they prepare for the SAT. At the end of the day, he says, it remains to be seen how the score will actually impact college admissions in the long term.

“Students should still try to do their best and be ready for the exam rather than counting on an adversity score they won’t know to improve their chances for admission and scholarships,” Pritchard says. “In response to some criticism, the test maker says it is considering making the score available to students, but it’s not certain.”


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