There is a myth that the SAT® is curved. But is it really? The answer is a lot more complex than a simple yes or no.

According to the College Board, the SAT® is “scaled”. But what does that mean? And how is a scale different from a curve?

 

Demystifying the SAT® Scale

The purpose behind scaling is to make sure an SAT® from a certain test date is as equally difficult as an SAT® from another test date. As a result, a scale was created. Of course, its impossible to make every SAT® perfectly equal. In fact, if you had one students take four different SATs®, I’d imagine that student’s score to range by 20-60 points.

 

“Easy” vs “Hard” Tests

Certain SAT® scenarios will favor certain test takers over others, depending on whether you received a “hard” test or an “easy” test. A “hard” test will most likely have an easier, more forgiving curve, perfect for test takes who don’t know some of the material covered. An “easy” test will have a harder curve, which favors students who know all the material covered but tend to make careless errors. If you’re aiming for a perfect score, you would want to take an “easy” test.

 

How does the College Board Create this Scale?

The scale was developed in 2014 by testing a group of 15,000 student volunteers across 400 schools. However, the main critique of this experiment was that they were all volunteers and not motivated to try.

As a result, the College Board added a fifth section to the SAT® to experiment on real test takers. On this section, students have 20 minutes to complete any number of reading, writing, and math questions. These are all questions the College Board doesn’t have data on yet.

From there, the College Board analyzes the questions uses three factors:

  1. What was the probability students got a question right?
  2. Where the questions bias demographically (ex: did students from suburban areas get certain questions right more than students in urban areas?)
  3. Was there item discrimination (ex: where the students who were hard getting questions correct scoring better overall on the exam?)

After analyzing the data, the College Board will then assemble the next SAT and distribute it to the next round of test takers. Then, thousands of students will take this SAT® and the data collected from this is called operational data. The College Board then analyzes the operational data to create the scale for that particular SAT® (which is why is takes a few weeks to get your score back). So while there is no “curve”, there is a lot of time research that goes into creating this scale.

 

The Problem with the Scale

Like everything the College Board comes up with, there’s bound to be issues.

Because of the scale, when you take the SAT® can impact your score. From our experience, the October exam is harder for students to receive a high score than the March or May test.

Who is taking the test in October? Mainly seniors or students who are taking the test for their second or third time. This impacts the curve and puts students who are juniors and/or taking the test for the first time at a disadvantage.

 

Final Thoughts

So, is the SAT® curved? Technically, no.

But, is there a curve-like scale? Yes.