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Why no SAT test date is harder than another

By Mark Greenstein,
Founder and Lead Instructor – Ivy Bound Tutors
Republication permitted so long as there is attribution.

Parents are sometimes fearful that their child is taking an SAT on a sub-optimal date. There are rumors that “The College Board makes the October SAT especially harder”. That is false. Say what you wish about The College Board, one thing it scrupulously attempts to be is FAIR. It would be manifestly UNFAIR to have one of seven test dates be more punitive than the other six.

More appealing is the rumor that testing on dates when more students test also gives a strong student an extra advantage. This too is untrue. The College Board does not “curve” the test results based on the population size testing that day. If on a certain test date the students are superior testers, the resulting scores will be above the average. In theory, every student could get a 640 on a section (even though the national average over the course of a year is in the low 500s).

Most appealing is the rumor that “if I test when the not-so-smart kids are testing, I’ll do better”. This would have weight if the College Board curved the SAT based on the students who test in a given day. But again, the College Board attempts to be fair, and it would be manifestly unfair to have a stronger score ensue just because a student tests with a weaker group.

The College Board sets scores well in advance of the test. If on a given day, across the nation, the average tester is especially strong, then the average scores on that day will be higher. You child’s score will be based on the Raw Score points. It has nothing to do with scores or caliber of other SAT testers.

The varying adjustment from Raw Score to scaled score (for example 42.25 net correct  640 on some tests and 630 or 650 on other tests) is an adjustment based on the perceived difficulty of the TEST, not the perceived testing strength of the students on that day.

Our prescription for nervous students (and parents):

Test when you are ready to get a great score on at least one section. Study WELL, in order to make that strong score happen; then you are not testing frivolously. All other things being equal, study early and test early.