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2020–22 Testing Policy

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the standardized testing landscape?

In response to health and safety concerns caused by the pandemic, the College Board and ACT canceled most test administrations in spring 2020.

Further, in early June 2020, the College Board acknowledged that fall test dates may not be available to all students who wish to register, especially in densely populated areas hit hardest by the pandemic, where social distancing measures will limit capacity. They also announced a hold on plans for an “at-home” test option, as it would require internet capabilities beyond what many students have available. In light of these hurdles, they called for colleges to be flexible.

Indeed, the pandemic has posed ongoing challenges to standardized testing throughout 2020 and into 2021. Given these continued limitations, Northwestern will extend its test-optional policy for first-year applicants into the 2021–22 admissions cycle. 

How is Northwestern adjusting its standardized testing policy in light of this landscape?

Until now, Northwestern has required undergraduate applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score to be considered for admission. Given test cancellations and anticipated registration challenges caused by the pandemic, we will adopt a test-optional policy for first-year applicants in the 2020–21 and 2021–22 admission cycles. Applicants may submit an SAT or ACT score if they wish, but these scores are not required. Whether or not a student chooses to submit an SAT or ACT score, that student may submit additional, optional forms of testing (e.g. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate scores) for consideration in the review process.

Even though test scores are not required, is it advisable for applicants to send them if they are able to sit for a test?

We recognize cancellations and registration caps have disrupted study schedules and limited students’ ability to test multiple times. So even if a student is able to take an SAT or ACT, they may feel disappointed with their score and prefer we don’t consider it as part of our application review. Our process will respect that preference; there is no need for applicants to report scores.

That said, if you have test scores you feel duly reflect your academic potential, we welcome them.

For applicants who choose to report scores, will they still play a role in Northwestern’s application review?

Yes, if an applicant chooses to report scores, we will continue to weigh them alongside all of their other application materials as part of our holistic review.

For some background on how we use scores, and why we have required them in the past: While high school grades are a strong predictor for academic success in college, the combination of grades and standardized test scores has been shown to strengthen that prediction. (Scores alone do not predict academic success with the same reliability as grades.) So while we feel confident that applications can stand strong without test scores this year, we will still find value in scores if you choose to send them.

For applicants who choose to send scores, will Northwestern offer flexibility for scores received after application deadlines?

For Early Decision (ED) applicants, you may submit scores from October or November test dates after our November 1st, 2021 ED deadline. Please self-report your scores on your applicant portal as soon as they become available, and no later than December 3, 2021, to ensure we can review them prior to our mid-December decision release.

Likewise for Regular Decision (RD) applicants, if scores from December tests arrive after our January 3rd, 2022 deadline, you may still self-report them via your applicant portal no later than February 19, 2022. 

Please note, admitted students who choose to enroll, and who included test scores as part of their application, will be required to submit official SAT or ACT scores that correspond to the highest self-reported test scores prior to matriculation.

How will Northwestern review applications that do not include test scores?

With or without test scores, we will continue to evaluate applicants’ academic and intellectual fit for Northwestern as we always have: through a holistic assessment of grades, course rigor, recommendations, academic honors or awards, personal essays, and other information specific to your own experiences and high school setting.

We recognize that transcripts and extracurricular activities may look different in light of the pandemic. Our holistic review process always foregrounds context, so we are well prepared to assess applications fairly in light of the many challenges and disruptions students have faced in recent months.

Will Northwestern require or recommend additional materials for students who apply without test scores? For example, will Northwestern treat Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) scores any differently in light of this modified testing policy?

No, we will not require or recommend any additional materials for students who apply without an SAT or ACT score. As in the past, we will treat subject-based external test results (i.e. APs, SAT subject tests, supplemental IBs, etc.) as useful but optional information, knowing these exams and curricula are unavailable to many students around the world. For students whose secondary school completion is contingent on external exam scores, we will continue to require them.

Note: in January 2021, the College Board announced it will discontinue SAT subject tests. Should applicants wish to submit subject test scores taken prior to discontinuation, we will review them as we do any optional, supplemental information. 

If I choose not to have an SAT or ACT score considered in my application review, can I still submit other forms of testing (e.g. SAT Subject Test, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate scores) as part of my application?

Yes. Students who do not wish to have SAT or ACT scores considered as part of their application review can still submit other optional forms of testing, and these scores may be self-reported on the application or through the Applicant Status Portal. 

Please note that the application question “Do you want us to consider SAT or ACT scores in our review of your application?” refers only to SAT and/or ACT scores. Students who wish to apply without SAT or ACT scores but do plan to self-report other forms of testing considered should respond “No” to this question. 

Note: in January 2021, the College Board announced it will discontinue SAT subject tests. Should applicants wish to submit subject test scores taken prior to discontinuation, we will review them as we do any optional, supplemental information. 

I chose not to have scores considered when I initially submitted my application, but wish to include scores after the application deadline. May I change my status and report those scores?

Yes. Applicants may change their status in the applicant portal to include scores as part of our application review. Please change status and self-report your scores as soon as they are available, and no later than December 4, 2020 for Early Decision and February 19, 2021 for Regular Decision.

Note: we will update these deadlines for the 2021–22 admissions cycle later this year.

Does Northwestern accept self-reported scores?

Yes, we will continue to accept self-reported scores from all applicants (with the exception of English proficiency scores). In order to enroll, admitted students who self-reported SAT or ACT scores will need to send official scores that corroborate their highest self-reported scores.

Does Northwestern allow for score choice?

Yes, Northwestern allows for score choice. That is to say, applicants who choose to submit certain scores are not obligated to report all scores from all test dates. Given our modified testing policy, this now means a student could choose to submit only SAT subject test scores. (Please note subject tests have long been strictly optional in our process.)

If an applicant submits more than one SAT or ACT score, will Northwestern continue to superscore?

Yes, for applicants who submit scores from multiple test dates, we will continue to superscore both the SAT and ACT. (Applicants should not calculate their own ACT superscore; our system will calculate it for them.)

Will Northwestern still require English proficiency scores from certain applicants?

Yes. International applicants whose first language is not English, and whose high school courses were conducted in a language other than English, will still need to submit one of three English proficiency exams: the TOEFL iBT, IELTS (both of which are offering online, at-home options in light of the pandemic), or the online Duolingo English Test, a globally accessible at-home option.

Will certain Northwestern programs continue to require test scores?

Yes. Students applying to the Integrated Science Program should refer to the program site for specific testing requirements.

Will this modified testing policy extend to transfer applicants in spring 2022?

Yes. Submission of SAT/ACT scores will be optional for transfer candidates applying in 2022. If you have questions or concerns, please contact transfer@northwestern.edu.

Will Northwestern receive my test scores automatically?

If a student chooses to submit results from an SAT or ACT, scores should be sent directly from the appropriate agency or via self-reporting.

Reporting ACT scores
  • For students who take new ACT section tests (initially planned for September 2020 but since postponed), we will factor any individual section scores into your ACT superscore. When it becomes available, you may utilize ACT’s new superscore reporting option to report an official superscore.

Self-reporting SAT and/or ACT scores
  • Students may self-report all SAT and ACT scores, but please do not calculate your own ACT superscore—report your highest ACT section scores and your highest composite score from a single test date, and our system will calculate the ACT superscore. Admitted students who choose to enroll will be required to submit official SAT or ACT test scores that confirm highest self-reported section/composite scores prior to matriculation.

Testing codes
  • The Northwestern SAT Reasoning Test code 1565.
  • The Northwestern ACT code is 1106.