With the next SAT test just a few weeks away, I wanted to take a moment to discuss this infamous test many of us have to take. Sure, a lot of students are not fond of sitting in a room for 4 hours on a perfect Saturday having to take a test that seems like a waste of time; however, my issues with the SAT are far deeper. For starters, the test is not run by the state or even the national government, but is instead administered by The College Board. a supposed non-profit with revenues of over $1.12 Billion last year. The College Board is also responsible for your AP tests, the Common Core Curriculum, and the standardized state test we are given every spring. Minus the ACT (the company which run the ACT Test, an alternative to the SAT), The College Board is basically the company that controls your college future. And for this altruistic goal, their CEO was paid over $1.3 million in 2018, a hefty sum for a non-profit.
My issues with the SAT don’t revolve around the test itself, but rather the company that administers it, and how they control much more of your college plans than you may know. Instead of a group of altruistic educators focused on helping students, many reports have indicated that recent changes in the test are geared more to making a profit than helping out students. Business Insider found that the growth in popularity of the ACT, the increase in the number of Universities that are now “test optional”, and an overall decrease in the number of students taking the SAT has significantly hampered The College Board’s revenue potential. To combat this, they have one weapon- to make you have to take the test multiple times in order to achieve the scores you would like.
So how do they do this? Quite simply, a curve. Most students are familiar with the concept of a curve in their classes. The teacher takes all the scores on a test and essentially assigns them a placement on a “bell” curve where a certain number of students receive an A, while the majority earn a B, with a few of the lowest performers getting a C. Although one could argue the merits of a bell curve, the benefit is that you are being compared to actual students that took the test. Let’s compare that to how The College Board “curves” the SAT. For starters, the curve is predetermined from a sub set of students who take the test months prior to administering it. The number of students used is ambiguous, with some reports placing it at as few as 50 people. The explanation for this process is to ensure that each SAT test is weighted to ensure they are all equal. In other words, if you took a test in May and another in October, your scores would be based on the tests being as equal in difficulty as possible. Since it’s impossible to make equally difficult tests, the College Board curves the SAT in order to achieve this “equal” test. The challenge with this process is the lack of information on how the curve is achieved and what criteria is used. If it truly is such a small subset of applicants that determine the weight, the sample size could drastically alter the scores of any given test.
And that’s exactly what’s currently happening. This predetermined curve is applied to the tests to create drastically different results. For instance, students who took the test in May if 2019 who got 6 questions wrong in the math section received a score of 720. In the August version of the test, the same 6 wrong answers would have netted a score of only 680. The message boards are loaded with complaints from students who studied for an entire summer, got as many as 5 more questions correct and still received a lower score in August than they did in May! This alteration of scores is exactly what the College Board wants, however, as it forces you to take their test multiple times, netting the non-profit more money.
So where does that leave us? For starters, the SAT is only one piece of your application. Many colleges and universities are using a holistic approach to the application process, meaning your scores are only a part of the application process. Also, don’t judge your success or failure on a given test until you look at how it was curved. You may learn that you actually did better than you thought. This doesn’t mean that The College Board will give you a higher score, but at least you know the reason.