Monday, February 11, 2019

The True Story about College Board’s SAT “Curve

On the national news this past summer, students were televised protesting their SAT scores. They didn’t feel they had been graded fairly on the June 2018 SAT exam and they called on everyone from Donald Trump to Ellen DeGeneres to intercede on their behalf. In looking back on their scores, in comparison to those of students who performed in a similar manner on other SAT exams, the power of the SAT curve is undeniable.

Twins who took different SAT exams reported that one sibling got five math questions wrong on the March 2018 exam and earned a score of 760.  Her sister missed six math questions on the June 2018 exam and earned a score of 670.  The question raised was, “How can one wrong answer result in a score 90 points lower?”

Two young men whom I personally prepared for the SAT each answered 56 of the 58 math questions correctly on their respective exams.  The student who accomplished this feat on the June 2018 exam scored 720, while the student who did the same on the August 2018 exam scored 790.  When the goal is to gain acceptance to an elite university, a 70 point “discrepancy” can have a profound impact.

The problem is the curve, although College Board doesn’t call it a “curve,” but rather an “equating system.”  Students taking the SAT get one point for each correct answer. (No points are deducted for incorrect or blank answers.)  The points are totaled for each test section, giving students a raw score for Math, Critical Reading, and Writing & Language. Then, a “Conversion Chart” is used to change a raw score into an actual test score.  But the Conversion Chart is adjusted for each test, based on the number of questions that all test-takers answered correctly. So if a certain SAT exam turns out to be unusually easy for students, or the test-takers a certain month are unusually smart, then students need to answer a greater number of questions correctly to score a 700, for example, than they would have on a different SAT exam.

What can students do to make the best of College Board’s equating system?  They can take the SAT several times in order to have the best chance of getting in on a favorable curve.   And they should never have their test scores sent to colleges until they are sure they have taken the SAT for the very last time.  Then, students can pick and choose exactly which scores to send – disposing of any that were negatively impacted by the curve.

Susan Alaimo is the founder of SAT Smart. For the past 25 years, SAT Smart’s Ivy League educated tutors have prepared students for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, AP courses, and all high school subjects. Visit or call 908-369-5362.

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