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This morning, the College Board announced that two sections on the June 6th SAT will not be scored due to a misprint regarding allotted time.

What was the misprint?

The 20-minute critical reading section had incorrect directions indicating that students had 25 minutes to complete it. Half of students experienced this critical reading as section 8 and the other half as section 9, but all students received the incorrect directions.

What happened during the exam?

Some proctors were familiar enough with the exam to know that 25 minutes for sections 8 or 9 must have been a typo and made the decision to only offer 20 minutes. Other proctors stuck to the book and allowed students an extra 5 minutes to complete the section. The one constant was confusion in every single testing room in the country — a big problem, as students are already nervous and racing to finish each section without distractions!

How is the College Board handling this discrepancy?

While it’s quite ironic that the College Board – which requires such a high level of precision from its test takers – made such an egregious error, this is no laughing matter. The College Board has stated it will not be scoring any affected sections. Since it is mixed as to which students had math versus critical reading, any students who were given 25 minutes by the proctor experienced an unfair advantage. The College Board has not specified if “affected sections” extends to those who received the math section, but it stands to reason that it should.

Why does the College Board think discarding two sections is a solution?

The SAT consists of 3 math and 3 reading section. The College Board believes that dismissing a section from math and reading, leaving 2 sections left to score of each, does nothing to lessen the overall efficacy of the test.  The following is taken directly from their website:

“To accommodate the wide range of incidents that can impact a testing experience, the SAT is designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an additional unscored section. From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not.”

What is the problem with this solution?

28% of the 67 critical reading questions will not be scored. In fact, the most difficult part of the critical reading section is the long two-passage comparison which is in the 20 minute section that is not being counted. This may give students who took the June 6th SAT an advantage by not having a challenging section counted.

30% of the 54 math questions will not be scored. The math test on the SAT has a very harsh curve. Even just a single question wrong reduces a student’s score by 30 to 50 points (a 750 to 770 out of 800). If a student performed particularly well in the 20 minute section, this would have a very beneficial impact on their score. To not count this section means it would be very hard to come up with scores which are completely valid and equivalent to other SAT test administrations.

I have scored many students’ formal practice exams over the years, and I can personally vouch that students rarely perform at the same level on all 3 math sections or all 3 critical reading sections on any given exam. Sometimes students have a “good” section where they score more points than usual and other times they have a ‘bad” section where they don’t score as many points as they typically do. By not counting 1 out of 3 sections, there is a very high probability that students will not receive the same score they would have if all the sections were counted.

What should the College Board do instead?

The College Board is in a tough position, and they are in full blown damage control mode. While not counting these sections is a flawed solution, it’s hard to imagine an easy fix. Should every student be allowed to retake the SAT at no charge? Could you imagine the uproar from students who had spent months preparing for the June exam – who were psychologically in the proper state on that exact day? This terrible error will hardly inspire confidence as we get closer and closer to the Redesigned SAT the College Board will be rolling out next spring.

Perhaps the College Board can take a lesson from test prep company The Princeton Review which atoned for an error in one of their books by giving out tickets to Taylor Swift.