Fix the SAT

Linda Qiu, Staff Writer

A standardized test is no longer standardized when different forms of the test are issued without clarification as to why. In this way, the Scholastic Assessment Test, more commonly known as the SAT, has lost its claim to standardization.

In regards to the old SAT, College Board was very transparent about the fact that there would be an experimental section on every SAT. Only students who chose not to take the essay section were given this extra section. This experimental section had a purpose—it was unidentified and designed to be indistinguishable from a regular section so that students would take it as seriously as any other part. It was given for three main reasons: to test future material, to distinguish fairness and difficulty levels, and to detect cheating. Results from this section were analyzed across race, gender, socioeconomic status, and various other factors to determine equality in difficulty for all demographics. They were also used to classify question levels—for example, if 90% of students got a question correct, then test designers could classify it as an “easy” question, helping them select and arrange questions on future tests. And if a student performed outstandingly on all sections but the experimental one, then their test could be audited to investigate for unfair advantages.

In contrast, takers of the new SAT can easily tell which section is the extra one. After a reading section, a writing section, and two math sections, Section 5 is always the extra one. Most people believe that the new Section 5 is purely experimental, just like the extra section on the old SAT—but if that was the case, wouldn’t students being able to tell which section is extra alter the accuracy of the results? College Board has remained persistently mysterious about Section 5, stating that “To allow for pretesting, some students taking the SAT with no Essay will take a fifth, 20-minute section. Any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest items.”

The 2019 SATs added a new layer to this drama. This year, starting with the March 2019 SAT, many high schoolers who took the essay still had to face Section 5, contributing to the crisis of confidence in College Board. I myself was taken aback when I took the test in August. Imagine how surprised weary students were to be given an unexpected section that may or might not have counted towards their scores.
A competent, trustworthy organization would provide a definitive explanation for such an influential standardized exam. Until that happens, future SAT takers would be wise to take Section 5 as seriously as the four before it.