PIEDAD: SAT curve subjectivity proves detrimental




Saturdays are normally for short-lived breaks, but as I exited the doors of Rocklin High School under the dripping December 7 rain, I realized that my break is nothing but a tiny light at the end of the miniscule tunnel.

That was my third attempt at the Scholastic Aptitude Test, dubbed the “SAT” when it originally came out. I was apprehensive at first at taking it more than twice, until I saw that my second attempt came out worse than my first. It was then I realized that that wasn’t a hill I was willing to die on.

The news of my second performance took a while for me to process. It took most of my will power to actually study and prepare for it beforehand. Despite this, receiving a score that was 50 points lower than my empty-handed first attempt didn’t sit too well with me in terms of my academic profile and my personal emotions.

Having to cope with the already impressive lack of clarity the College Board provides for the metrics in the scores, I had to arrange a spreadsheet that tracks down the differences in every part of both of my scores, hoping to see the weak link that I could reinforce before I take on the beast a third time.

Instead, I realized that it had its own tricks up its minted sleeves. My first attempt resulted in a math score of 660, compared to my second with 640, despite having two more correct answers in the latter.

This is the direct result of the significant adjustments to the test in 2016, where the point scale returned to a maximum of 1600, a “rights-only scoring” that prevents penalties on guessing, and a formula that translates raw score to the new scale, allowing total scores to change even with the same number of correct answers.

In the words of the College Board: “This [conversion] process ensures that no student receives an advantage or disadvantage from taking a particular form of the test on a particular day; a score of 400 on one test form is equivalent to a score of 400 on another test form.”

On paper, it does seem like a reasonable method of balancing the results of an already varied “standardized” test. The difficulty of the questions changes in every test, so the final scale should accommodate for that.

But that’s exactly what the root of the issue is. Why does a test that’s highly regarded as the standard for college admission have this as a variable? Standardized tests are meant to be “administered and scored in a consistent, or ‘standard’, manner.” The conversion process to adjust completely negates that, having to rely on the variance of the questions instead of doing something about the questions themselves.

What’s the point if a section that people see as “easier than usual” only invites dread of a steep curve that punishes those who chose that specific day for the test?

The students already have to go through curves in the test, but the scoring curve is not something anyone can possibly factor into their academic results.