What’s up with the August 25 SAT?

In June, College Board delivered an unusually “easy” test, resulting in more students getting more answers correct. To distribute scores in a predictable manner, the curve they used to convert raw scores into scale scores was particularly unforgiving: students overall saw lower scaled scores than they expected, especially those scoring in the upper percentiles. For example, a student who got two answers wrong in June received a 750 in math, whereas two incorrect answers on a previous exam may have equated to a 770-780.

After the #RescoreJuneSAT drama, we’re sure College Board was hoping for a straightforward and scandal-free August administration. However, news has come out that the test administered on Aug 25 may have had overlapping questions with an exam taken by students in China last October. Since October 2017, these reports claimed, tutoring centers in China had been using the test in their study materials.

It’s unlikely any test-takers had answers memorized, as they could not have anticipated the repetition. Rather, the advantage depends on how recently a student reviewed the leaked test. Familiarity with a reading passage can have huge benefits for performance since a student is already aware of the context and may remember some key arguments. Thus, seeing the test beforehand can be a huge advantage on a time-bound, difficult exam.

How did College Board end up in this debacle? Jed Applerouth muses that College Board likely pulled the test it had planned to administer in August in the wake of the June test. Standardized tests are difficult and expensive to write – so College Board couldn’t write a brand new test by August 25th; instead, they chose to administer an exam they had previously administered in Asia, banking on providing a proven exam with normalized curve. However, by solving one problem, they created a host of others.

So, what now? Here are a few important takeaways:

  • Study from official materials! North Avenue education primarily use official SAT and ACT materials, including some previously administered exams. In addition to being the most reliable sources, you never know if College Board might recycle parts of an exam again.
  • Variations such as the ones seen in June and August are normal. There’s no telling how many issues like these have gone unexposed – not to mention the number of unpredictable events that can happen to individual students (e.g., poor sleep, bad mood, closed test centers, traffic-induced stress, etc). The only solution is to be as prepared as possible and make a tutoring plan that involves re-testing.
  • If indeed some students studied from the test and it worked to their advantage, the curve used by College Board may be different than it would’ve been otherwise. We can’t know exactly how it will affect the results of this test. While some students are calling for College Board to #RescoreAugustSAT, allow the option to cancel scores with no fee or penalty, or offer an added test date before Oct 6, it remains unknown what College Board’s exact response will be.
  • Jed Applerouth is probably right – the ultimate solution to the problems of leaked and recycled tests is an online, computer-based exam. ACT anticipated this issue in 2016, when it announced plans to administer computer-based exams for all international ACT test dates. It tabled that plan for a year, but sources say it’s set to follow through on the promise starting this September. We believe College Board isn’t far behind.

Scores will begin to be released on September 7th. If you took the Aug 25 SAT and are affected, we’d love to work with you to make a plan. North Avenue Education is here to help you prepare, plan a testing timeline, and be ready for any curveballs that College Board may throw your way!

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