Preparing for College

Which SAT Test Date Means Higher Scores?

Question: Which SAT exam sets the curve for the year? Someone told me that my daughter should take the December SAT and not take the January SAT because the January SAT is when all the private school kids take it and they have been fully prepared by their schools. Is there a difference?

I've heard that theory is floating around, and it's absurd. SAT's are not marked on a curve. The scores are based on the total number of correct, incorrect, and omitted responses. So a student's score is never affected by other test-takers.


Those who circulate these rumors are probably focusing not on the scores themselves but on the percentiles, which do compare students with their peers. But, even so ...

#1. Percentiles are not calculated by test date. Here's how the College Board explains the calculation of percentiles:

Percentiles compare your scores to those of other students who took the test. Say, for example, your critical reading score is 500. If the national percentile for a score of 500 is 47, then this means you did better than 47 percent of the national group of college-bound seniors.

Percentiles are based on the most recent scores earned by students in the previous year's graduating class who took the SAT anytime during high school. For the SAT, percentiles are given both for the nation and for your state. Your percentile changes depending on the group with which you scores are compared. Because the national group is larger and more diverse than the state group, your national and state percentiles may differ. (See http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/scores/understanding/percentiles.html )

As you can see, percentiles are based on results from throughout the previous year ... not from your child's actual test date or from any one specific date.

#2. College admission officials don't care about percentiles or pay attention to them. They focus strictly on the scores themselves.

So that theory about choosing a particular test date to improve SAT scores is pure hogwash.