Preparing for College

Did Extra Tough December SAT I Mean Lower-Than-Usual Scores?

Question: My son, a junior, took the SAT I in Dec. 2010 and thought the test was far more challenging than the College Board's blue book practice. He scored very well in practice (CR 720, M 800) When he received his scores, he was shocked to find CR 660, M 690. Some say the test was the "hardest in history". Also the "curve was insane". Your thoughts please?

I’ve actually received mixed reports on the December SAT I, with the most frequent assessment being that the vocab was harder than usual but the rest of the test was easier. Of course, such remarks are quite subjective, and I’ve also heard other dissenting opinions.


I must admit that my eyes glaze over when I try to read about statistics, but here’s a document that explains the way “Raw” SAT scores are “Equated” into the final scores to adjust for variations in test difficulty: http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/pdf/rn14_11427.pdf (Maybe you’ll have more luck plodding through it than I did.) This tome seems to point out that “The harder the test, the higher the final score.” (In other words, a “hard” test provides more wiggle room for wrong answers without sacrificing score points.) So, as counterintuitive as this may sound, what it means is that, if the December administration really was tougher than others, this should not have torpedoed his expected performance.

However, it’s been my experience over many years that the vast majority of students tend to do worse … sometimes significantly so … on the “real” tests than they did in their practice rounds. So my best guess is that your son is a victim of this common syndrome. Moreover, December is early for a junior to take the SAT I for the first time. I’m not sure why he didn’t wait until spring. (What’s the rush?) I suspect that with even a few months of “maturation” and one SAT session under his belt, he will fare better on his next try.

(posted 1/4/2011)