Are Some SAT Test Dates Easier Than Others?
1.8 million people took the SAT in 2017, and nearly 4,000 U.S. colleges and universities required the SAT for admission.
With such high stakes, you can rest assured the College Board goes to great lengths to ensure this test remains fair—not only to avoid complaints and lawsuits but to maintain a high-quality product. (After all, the College Board is a business, competing with the ACT.)
More to the point, the main purpose of the SAT is to provide a fair, “standardized” means of evaluating students, offsetting any inherent variations among various high school class difficulty levels and teacher grading styles. To establish fairness, the SAT-makers test each question on a large group of students over time and then employ statistical methods to ensure a similar balance of “easy,” “medium,” and “difficult” questions on each test version.
Even after these extensive efforts to craft each test equally, there is naturally some variance in difficulty from one test to the next. To address this, the College Board uses what’s called an equating process. First, a student’s “raw scores” (the total number of questions answered correctly) are calculated for the math, reading, and writing sections. Then, these numbers are converted into “scaled scores” (the section scores between 200 and 800). The specific conversion will differ depending on the difficulty of each test version.
“So, for example, a single incorrect answer on one administration could equal two or three incorrect answers on a more difficult version. The equating process ensures fairness for all students.” — College Board tweet
Let’s look at an example from a couple College Board SAT tests. Compare the two conversion tables below: On test #1, a raw score of 50 for math translates to a scaled score of 700, whereas on test #2, the same raw score of 50 translates to a scaled score of 720.
In determining each “scale,” the College Board does not compare your scores to those of other students who take the SAT on the same date as you, so any rumor you may have heard about particular test dates being easier or harder is untrue.
The take home message can be summed up by this statement from the College Board: “A score of 400 on one test form is equivalent to a score of 400 on another test form.”
As a result, colleges and universities can confidently compare students’ scores from any given test date without having to adjust for test version differences.
All this being said, test difficulty is also subjective. So yes, some tests may be more difficult for you. It depends on how difficult you find the reading passages and questions on a given test version—one reason to take the SAT more than once.
Hopefully though, you can breathe a little more easily knowing that all test dates are created equal. And remember that, really, the main thing to consider when choosing a test date is how prepared you are.
(For further guidance, see my previous article When Should I Take the SAT?)
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Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.