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May 19, 2020

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.

Written by

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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