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2020-21 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.

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 admission cycle. Applicants may submit a score if they wish, but scores are not required.

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.

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 this year 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 review SAT subject test, 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. subject tests, APs, 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.

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, new for us this year, the online Duolingo English Test, a globally accessible at-home option.

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.

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 2021?

No. Candidates for transfer admission will still need to submit either an SAT or ACT score.

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 the new ACT section tests (available in September 2020), we will factor any individual section scores into your ACT superscore. 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.