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SAT Scoring Errors

or How the CollegeBoard got Schooled

"It looks like they hired the people who used to do the books for Enron. My next question is what other surprise we're going to hear about next."

Bruce J. Poch,
Dean of Admissions,
Pomona College
The New York Times
March 23, 2006

The College Board errors in scoring the October 2005 SAT upset admissions officers late in an admissions cycle.

Four disclosures of large numbers of understated test scores, some by 450 points, from one test date in 2006 has shone a light on the risks of using standardized tests to determine who is qualified to enter college.

The scope of the testing errors has widened. Many admissions officers and counselors, high school and independent, are worried that the processes, and the processing firm that was sub-contracted by the College Board, have used these same systems and procedures in scoring SAT I tests since the new test format was introduced in March 2005.

Four rounds of SAT scoring errors may weaken the SAT's role in college admissions.

Implications for You

The scope of the scoring errors that have come to light has important implications for how you and your family should handle your own test taking and applications. We're happy to give detailed advice in your situation. Get in touch with us if you have gotten revised scores from the SAT or have a complex decision to make.

For most families, the steps to take are clear:

  1. Take scored practice tests. Take as many practice tests as you need. You'll find a number of tests available free on the Web here, here and here. The CollegeBoard's own 'official' practice test is here. Keep track of the scores. You'll improve your test-taking skills and get a sense of the range of scores you should expect.

  2. Get your answers. When you register for the test, check the box for getting your actual answers from the test. You'll get your answers and the right answers. First, you'll know. Second, you'll get a read on which of your answers might have been scored incorrectly.

  3. Get mistakes reviewed. Remember, the only way the CollegeBoard learned they had a problem with a scoring subcontractor was that two students asked to have their SAT results scored again by hand. They had 400+ point errors in their scores. If the errors you find are not in your favor, get your results rescored. That small fee is low-cost insurance.

  4. Get a second opinion. As long as the SAT's credibility is vulnerable, any opinion about your application that reflects an SAT score will be an uncertain opinion. Take the ACT. It's a different test entirely. It's harder to improve your scores through coaching. So, good ACT results get a lot of respect from admissions professionals. For some time, it will get substantially more respect.

  5. Don't worry. Apply where you want to go. The broadening scope of the scoring errors will undermine the impact and reliability of SAT scores in any given application. Don't let disappointing SAT scores keep you from applying  where you want to go. Admissions officials are well aware of the SAT's imperfections. If you have an otherwise solid application folder and it makes the case for your admission to your dream school, apply there. Now more than ever, weak SAT scores are likely to be discounted by admissions officers.

  6. If you're male, worry even less. There's been a lot of recent press about the under-representation of male students on many campuses. Few commentators have gone to the next step and asked what colleges are doing to attract qualified male applicants. The answer is a lot.