Was the SAT more difficult in March?

After a parent posed the aforementioned question to me for the 100th time, I decided it was a good topic for this column. The answer is…maybe. The March SAT may have also been “easier.” Each SAT, just like every other standardized test (the NJGPA, the ACT, the GRE, the LSAT, and the MCAT) is “equated.”

Unless you are a psychometrician, you may have heard that the SAT is “curved.” This is not exactly true. A 10 point curve, as we’ve always understood it in school, is what happens when the best score in the class is a 90. The SAT is scored out of 1600, but there are not 1600 questions on the test, nor is the score reflective of the percent of questions a student gets correct.

First, the SAT is centered, or scaled so that the mean (average) score is about 1060. In 2021, the average reading and writing and language score was 523 and the average math score was 528. The standard deviation (which is a calculation of the difference in scores) is about 100 points.

The SAT is scored comparatively, that is, each score represents a percentile. For example, a 1400 is the 94th percentile. Although the College Board tries to make all tests of equal difficulty, inevitably, there is some variation. As a result, on some tests, getting 19 questions wrong is a 1400, while on others, getting 21 wrong is a 1400. Simply put, on a harder test a student could get more wrong and get the same score as a student who gets more right on an easier test. In the end, it is a wash.

It is poppycock that the SAT is more difficult in any given month. The March test is released to the public every year. It is equated differently every year…and I can tell you from personal experience that sometimes my students perform better on the March test, while other times they do not perform quite as well.

Special thanks to Aaron Golumbfskie of Prep Matters, Mike Bergin of Chariot Learning, and Amy Seeley of Seeley Test Pros for the information that made this article possible. Check out Aaron featured on Mike and Amy’s podcast, Tests and the Rest, at https://gettestbright.com/how-the-sat-is-actually-scored/

Suggestions for a topic? Contact Paul Pscolka at Paul.Pscolka@ivymasters.com 732-485-6480