11 May 2017

Is The SAT Curve Getting Harder?

The day after the SAT, I’ve always had students complain about the difficulty of the test. Usually, I just write it off as students being students. After all, we usually perceive tests to be more difficult than they are and we end up doing better than we think (though the opposite does happen too). Lately though, the complaints have been more than usual and I’ve even had many top students talk about how much more difficult the test has been compared to previous tests. After some thought, I’m now more inclined to agree.

How The SAT Is Scored

First, let’s have a little discussion about how the SAT is scored. The SAT goes through extensive testing and for the most part, different SAT tests should be relatively similar in terms on difficulty. However, you can’t account for this perfectly, so there must be a way to deal with the discrepencies. That’s where the curve comes in. The SAT takes into account all scores and uses the average as the 500 score. The score of every student is then determined by how much higher or lower they score from the average. Now here’s where it’s a little bit tricky. You might then ask “how come the average score as reported is sightly higher than 500?” That’s because 500 is the benchmark score derived from the average raw score of students. For example, a raw score of 22 on the Math Section is the average of all scores, so that’s the 500 benchmark. Then depending on how much better you do than 22, you’ll receive a certain score. However, those in the top 1% do very well so they pull the final average up slightly highly. Overall, that’s a very long discussion on scoring to get to this point: for the past year, the raw score for the benchmark has been too high. In short, the SAT has been too easy.

What Should An SAT Test Do?

Since my brain is all over the place today, I want to add an aside and point out that the word “an” in the subtitle above is not a typo. However, I’ll leave it up to my adoring fans to discuss whether I’m correct or not. Now, back to our discussion.

In looking at whether the SAT is harder or not, let’s look at the motivation for the existence of the SAT. Its main purpose is to distinguish students from one another so that colleges have a standardized criteria in which to reject students (and make them feel bad). So if a college is to successfully do that, they can’t have too many students scoring 1300+. So the logical conclusion would be to make the test more difficult so that the average score for the benchmark would go down AND there would be more variance among the students. As I’ve explained on a previous post, it’s logical that the SAT would eventually get to this point.