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Articles / Applying to College / Did Extra Tough December SAT I Mean Lower-Than-Usual Scores?

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

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 4, 2011

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)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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