Scores for the June 2018 SAT have been released and high-scoring students are not happy.  The curve on the Math section was really unforgiving to high-scoring students.  The test is a reminder that students should be ready to retake the SAT and ACT and that no one actually wants an “easy” SAT.

UPDATE (7/12):  Some material has been added to this post to explain why we classify the June SAT Math sections as “easy.”

In recent months, the College Board has been sending a survey to students asking them which test the think is easier, the SAT or the ACT? Here is a screenshot of a survey I received after taking the March 2018 exam. (Apologies for the grainy quality.)

March 2018 College Board Survey for SAT Examinees

It is hard to imagine why the College Board would ask this question unless it wanted to change the image of the test in order to make it more popular among states, school districts, and students. For years, the ACT has had the reputation of being an easier exam, so perhaps the College Board wants to reverse that image.

The problem is that an easier test is no good for students or for colleges using test scores to evaluate applicants.  To explain why, we need to discuss one of the fundamental aspects of standardized tests:  equating.

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For a standardized test to be of any value, it needs to be possible to compare the scores of someone who took the test in June 2018 to someone who took it in March 2018, June 2017, October 2016, etc.  College Board cannot just give the same test at each administration, and it’s really hard to make each test exactly as hard as every other test.  As a result, test makers need to adjust the scaled score, which is based on the raw number of correct answers, on each test to make sure they’re comparable.  Here’s how ETS, which used to write the SAT, explains equating.

Statistically adjusting scores on different forms of the same test to compensate for differences in difficulty (usually, fairly small differences). Equating makes it possible to report scaled scores that are comparable across different forms of the test. (ETS website)

For the most part, equating works really well, in part because there are not large differences between the tests.  Most test makers have been doing this for a long time, and they are good at doing what they do.

College Board took over the responsibility for writing the SAT from ETS when they redesigned the exam.  The roll-out, as Reuters noted in a series of stories on the new SAT, has not always been smooth, particularly with respect to the math section of the exam.

In a nearly 5,000-word letter from August 2014, one reviewer told College Board officials that he had “never encountered so many seriously flawed items” in the 20-plus years he had been screening math material for the organization. (Reuters, 2016)

Despite these early jitters, things seemed more or less fine with the new test’s Math sections. Until today.

June 2018 SAT scores came out, and students took to Reddit to decry the Math curve for the exam.  Students who got fewer questions wrong on the test than on previous attempts woke up to lower Math scores. Here are the Math scales for the SAT exams that have been released by the College Board, including 4 tests from the Official Guide.  Tests 1-4 were never used for an official testing date, so we excluded them.  Tests 5-8 were.

Math Raw June 2018 Math Scaled March 2018 Math Scaled October 2017 Math Scaled May 2017 Math Scaled April 2017 Math Scaled Official Guide Test 8 Official Guide Test 7 Official Guide Test 6 Official Guide Test 5
40 640
41 640 650
42 640 640 640 650 660 640 640
43 650 650 640 650 670 650 650
44 660 660 650 660 680 640 660 660
45 670 670 660 670 680 650 670 660
46 680 680 670 680 690 660 670 670
47 690 690 680 690 700 670 680 680
48 700 700 690 700 710 680 690 690
49 640 710 710 700 710 730 680 700 700
50 650 720 720 710 720 740 690 710 710
51 660 740 740 720 730 750 700 720 710
52 680 750 750 730 740 770 720 730 720
53 690 770 760 740 750 780 730 740 730
54 700 780 780 750 770 790 740 760 750
55 720 790 790 770 780 790 760 770 760
56 750 790 790 780 790 800 770 780 770
57 770 800 800 790 800 800 790 790 790
58 800 800 800 800 800 800 800 800 800

The explanation is equating.  The June Math was easier, and as a result, the curve was harsher than usual.

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Difficulty, to be sure, is in the eye of the beholder.  Many people (e.g., me) will think knitting is exceedingly difficult, but some people (e.g., my wife) think it is easy and fun.  Some, or perhaps most, students were bound to find the June Math sections to be difficult.  When we call the Math section “easy” we do not mean that everyone should have found it so.  We mean that the scoring curve indicates, objectively, that students tended to get fewer questions wrong than they did on other SATs.  That made the curve less forgiving.

It’s worth noting that the College Board’s own difficulty ratings for questions, found in the Question and Answer Service (QAS) and Student Answer Service (SAS) forms that students can order for their tests have been very unreliable for the revised SAT.  Their ratings should be, in a word, ignored.

Score equating is done before the test is ever given, so it’s worth saying that the actual performances on test day did not affect the curve.  College Board knew it was going to administer an easier test, which meant more students would get more questions right, and the scale would need to undergo adjustment.  As a result, small differences had a larger impact than usual.

To a degree, this is how it should be.  A student who misses two questions on an easier test should not get as good a score as a student who misses two questions on a hard test. Equating takes care of that issue.

However–and you knew there was going to be a “however”–the equating applied to the June 2018 SAT suggests that the College Board made the test far too easy to distinguish among high scorers who received a score of 650 (86th percentile) or higher. That is a problem for those colleges who treat a 650, a 700, a 750, and an 800 as accurate indicators of real differences in Math ability.

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It is a problem, too, for high-scoring students who make the occasional careless error or who mis-bubbles on questions that they are quite capable of answering.  With a typical curve, there’s some cushion to mitigate the impact of such errors.  There was no cushion on the June 2018 SAT.

It might be fair to say that the most accomplished students shouldn’t make those kinds of errors, but is that true?  Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the most accomplished test takers don’t make those kinds of errors. Small mistakes under time pressure can make a big difference in life, no doubt, but doing well in college tends to be about doing well over time with the possibility to revise, rethink, and do better.

The students shocked by the June 2018 SAT will have a couple more chances to retake the test.  But what if the same thing happens in October or November, when seniors often take their last shot at the exam? We have to hope that this exam is an anomaly, and the College Board won’t be administering too many more “easy” tests.

The fact that two Reading questions and two Writing and Language questions were omitted from scoring on this same exam does not inspire much confidence.

We would be completely and utterly shocked to see the College Board rescale the exam, as many students and families are demanding. It is important to note that college admissions officers are not going to weigh how how many questions a student got wrong. They will look at the scores.  Nor will they discount a June 2018 SAT score as somehow compromised. If a student did well on the June exam, she or he should be proud and not worry at all about admissions officers thinking that the June test was a bad one.

Our Director of National Outreach, James Murphy, will be hosting a Facebook Live event on our Facebook page on Monday, July 16, 2018, to answer your questions about what happened with the June 2018 SAT and to advise you on what to do next. Follow us on Facebook and join us there on Monday at 3:00 pm Eastern time!

Got questions about test prep?  We’ve got your answers here.

42 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Want an “Easy” SAT

  1. Can you guys please include in your blog post to voice your concern using #rescoreJuneSAT on Twitter? We want to get it trending and so far we’re close. We need some more people though to help and get it trending. Please use #rescoreJuneSAT on Twitter, one more time.

    1. I finally got a score that I can be proud of. What happens if a rescue happens and my score gets worse? That would be awful and I would have to take it again

      1. Congrats on getting a great score, Morgan! And don’t worry. College Board is not going to change your score.

      2. From what I understand of all this, all scores would only go up (or stay in place) but they can’t go down. Logically no score would go down. (I might be wrong!)

  2. For high scoring students, this type of thing is extremely frustrating. I attained a score of 1550 on the August, 2017 test and decided to retake for a higher score on the essay and a chance at the beloved 1600. On that test, I missed 8 questions total – 2 on math for a score of 790, and 6 on reading and writing for a combined 760.

    On the June test administration, I missed 3 questions, all on the Reading and Writing portions. This was justification for a 750, apparently. There was no cushion whatsoever, with -1 on reading being a 390. Combined with the fact that there were two omitted questions, this is pretty upsetting. The writing was no better, with one simple missed question being 380!!! and two missed questions 360. Only by grace did I find a way not to make a simple mistake on math, in which one question would have brought the math score to a 770. I got the same score, 1550.

    I went from missing 8 questions to 3 questions and achieving the same score. Now, was the test easier, particularly on the math section? Sure. However, I don’t feel this justifies the harshness of the June curve. Some students improved by 10 or even 15 questions, only to see a score increase of 10 or 20 points. This discourages test takers and severely reduces our, the students’, confidence in the SAT as an objective and credible measure of our scholastic aptitude.

    Overall, I am just disappointed in the CollegeBoard for releasing this test, knowing the harsh scoring. This is compounded by the apparent errors that resulted in 4 questions being removed from the test. This article is 100% correct – nobody wants an easy SAT.

  3. That’s all well and good but a large portion of the students who sat for the March SAT and the June SAT did not find the June SAT to be easy or easier than March. Most felt the verbal section was quite hard and the math section, while it had several of the same types of graph questions, was also quite challenging. I’m sure for various reasons the curve is accurate but you’re doing a huge disservice to the students (whether they did well or not) by characterizing the June SAT as “easy.”

    1. Hi Ellen. Difficulty is always going to be in the eye of the beholder. I find knitting almost impossibly difficult, but that doesn’t make it objectively hard or easy. In characterinzing the June SAT Math as easy we are relying on the evidence of the curve, which shows that you needed to get significantly more questions correct to get an equivalent score in the 650-800 range when compared to previous exams. The curve is what indicates that the Math section was (too) easy, not any one person’s or persons’ opinion.

      1. Hi James. Thanks for the answer. I don’t know how they settle on a curve. Is it possible the test was re-normed and this contributed to a negative curve? It just seems like calling it an “easy” test is oversimplification of how they determine grading. For example, if the math section had a lot of the same types of questions but they are difficult questions then it’s not easier than a more varied test. I’m just not sure you can say the curve is determined by ease of questions when other factors like variance of question types or renorming could have played a role. Thoughts?

      2. The scale used to convert raw scores to a 200-800 range are created before the exam is given, which makes us wonder why College Board released a test with such an out-of-whack scale. They knew it would look like this, but they went ahead with it all the same. It *is* possible that College Board adjusted the curve after students took the test, especially since they take a longer time to return scores for the June exam, but that would be even more concerning. It would suggest that the College Board’s own psychometricians don’t know how hard their tests are.

      3. Thank you again for your thoughts. Some students may have done well enough not to want to retake despite the weird curve. Will universities generally look beyond the score and look at the number of problems missed to assess a student’s performance? Do you know?

      4. No one in admissions is ever going to look beyond the score received on the Math section and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section. That is all that will be considered.

  4. Not only is this a lost opportunity for a high scoring student who was trying to bring their score up from the March test, but we also had to pay for the opportunity to take this test. I am out $70 plus & I have to pay for my daughter to retake it in August. Plus, now there is more stress of prepping for another test at the beginning of her senior year. Now, how do you think Collegeboard will respond to this? Will they make the August test extremely hard and these same test takers are again penalized because they don’t seem to know what they are doing. This situation is so disappointing!

    1. The same for my son!!! This was supposed to be the end of his testing!! Now we go into senior year with the stress of re-testing. And I’m out additional funds as well. This is ridiculous!

  5. This Sat,June 2018 is totally frustrating. We want College board to take step and recalculate the score.Its future of students who relied solely on SAT not other standardized tests specially for rising seniors.My son doesnt have any dates as 2 remaining are registered for SAT subject test. College borad , please come forward and reconsider .

  6. Count us in as another family who had a horrible experience with the June SAT. Exactly as described by so many others…scores dropped significantly. Very disappointing, frustrating, and a big waste of time and money.

  7. I’m starting to think my son is on the only person that took the SAT in June 2018 that is happy with his score. He took the SAT in June 2017 and again in June 2018 and his score went up 140 points. In June 2017 he got 43 questions on the math section correct, and his score was 640. In June 2018 he got 51 math questions correct and his score was 690. Based on his questions correct and his scores, they don’t seem out of line to me. Maybe I’m missing something though. We were happy with his score and were prepared to be done, but given all the chatter about the harsh curve, I wonder if he should take it again and if he would go up even more???

    1. Hi Stacey, It’s awesome to hear your son got a great score! That’s a terrific improvement. It’s hard to say whether someone should retest without knowing the particulars of his or her case. Feel free to call The Princeton Review (800-2REVIEW) to chat more about your son’s story.

      It *could* be worth taking one more crack at the exam if only to get both scores in the 700s. In the world I think we should live in, no admissions officer would treat a 690 as any different from a 700–or a 720 for that matter. I don’t think we live in that world, and humans are woefully susceptible to the power of numbers, and some admissions officers might think of a double 700s as stronger. I wish it were not so.

    2. Assuming your son didn’t prepare a lot for the June test, I would guess the test was just more in his wheelhouse. He probably does better on the average to somewhat above average difficulty questions and worse on the most difficult questions, and this test had more of the former and less of the latter.

      Presumably there are quite a few students with happy experiences like your son’s. Roughly, if 50 points are lost by someone who expected to score near 800, those 50 points were redistributed to other students. But people don’t make a fuss when they’re happy. I imagine this test was more favorable for people like your son.

      Since I’m not in the test preparation business, I won’t advise on whether to retake, though.

      1. My son did prepare more for this test than the first time he took it. He took several of the free practice tests on the College Board site and reviewed the questions he missed. Of the 140 point improvement, 90 points were on the reading/writing section, which he is weaker in than math.

      1. It is important to note that there were several forms administered in June. Most students got the ”
        easy” SAT, but not everyone did.

  8. I remember that when people got out of the testing room everyone was talking about how easy it was and how they were going to get a high score in the 1500s or even a 1600. This was for every section, not just math. I agree that -1: 770 is extremely harsh, but consider this: every question in math could be done IN YOUR HEAD. Now, you definitely have to give a harsh curve if these questions are the questions that are tested on. Yes, collegeboard made a mistake giving out such an easy test, but the anticurve was to make it more fair for those that took much harder tests, such as August. It’s a little ironic how people are starting to complain that the June test was actually harder than the March test… when it was quite the opposite in the weeks following testing.

    1. I agree that many people did initially find the June test to be easier than the March one. However, the omission of 4 “unscorable” questions, in the reading and writing section, that the college board put in, were unprecedented and counted against students. These questions were removed because they were flawed, yet the students were charged with the mistake. Also, since these questions were removed, students spent time on problems that would end up being taken out anyways. It doesn’t seem to be as consistent as they tout, considering that almost none of the tests in the past 6 months included “unscorable” questions.

      1. Are you sure students were “charged” for questions that were removed from the Reading and Writing sections? That would really surprise me, and it would be incompetence by the College Board. But I am pretty sure they just scored the section based on the remaining questions, and one could get 800 by getting all the remaining questions right.

      2. You are correct. Omitting the 4 questions on this test shrank the number of questions, not the scale.

  9. Can you explain why that SAT removed two Reading questions and two Writing & Language questions? Have they done this before?

    1. Hi Cooper,
      The quick answer is we don’t know. Questions have been omitted from scoring on several previous exams, although I do not know of a case where 4 questions have been omitted. It’s usually one or two. Questions get omitted for two basic reasons: they are flawed or students did not perform as expected on them. An example of a flaw would be that there might be two possible correct answers. An example of unexpected performance would be a question that many more people get wrong than should be expected or vice versa. In the past, the College Board has never provided an explanation for omitting a question. Don’t expect them to do so this time either. The good news, if there is any here, is that the ERW curves were not nearly as off as the Math curves. It looks like the Writing curve might have been a little harsher than usual, but not nearly as harsh as the Math.

  10. The College Board has not been fair with the high scored students that wanted to improve their score and at The June test got a lower score with less amount of wrong questions. What kind of curve did they use? They should be egalitarian and not discriminating on the different tests and curves, students should have the confidence that they will be scored fairly on every single test! The College Board becomes liable and unreliable with the June scores and Colleges should look into this. Besides, why to bother on paying again for another fraudulent test? They should definitely re-score the June test if they want to regain reliability!

  11. Based on the College Board’s Twitter Statement on June SAT test, the “equating” is used when some tests are easier or more difficult than usual.

    My question here is what standard College Board used to judge whether a test is easier or harder. I assume the College Board used the test takers’ scores to judge the difficulty of the test. If it is true, I have to say the College Board’s statistic process is neither scientific nor objective because they did not take the distribution of the test takers into account

    The College Board should also statistically analyze the constituent and distribution of test takers by dividing them into groups and subgroups, such as first test takers, repetitive test takers, test takers with high AP scores, test takers with average AP tests and test-takers without AP test). Then, analyzing the correlation between the distribution of scores and the distribution of the test takers. If it is a positive correlation, then test takers play the role in the high scores. This is to say more high scores was because more experienced and intelligent students took the test and it has nothing to do with the difficulty of the test, therefore the “equating ” should not be used. Moreover, as a test of long history, I am sure the test makers are capable enough of remaining the consistency of the difficulty of the test.

    Let’s take the Olympic 100-meters race for example. Even the last athlete reaching the final line can run much faster than students taking the same race on a school sports field. We cannot draw a conclusion that the Olympic 100 meter race is easier than the school 100-meter race because Olympic athletes’ score is better and it will be ridiculous to use an “equating” to lower the Olympic Athlete’s score because all of them run faster.

    As we know, the analysis cannot be objective to reflect the truth if we do not take important factors into account when doing a statistic analysis.
    Therefore, I strongly advise the College Board to re-exam your “equating” to see if it is scientific and objective to truly reflect test takers’ performance

    I am not a native speaker, so my expression may sound award. Please focus on my opinion, instead of the language.

  12. There is a serious disconnect between taking note of the College Board’s (continued) difficulties in writing the math exam and also noting that the College Board’s difficulty ratings for questions are “very unreliable” — but then rather blithely accepting the College Board’s particular equating process applied to this exam.

    At the very least, given the inordinate skew to those in the 86+ percentile this particular version of the equating process puts the lie to the predictably sanctimonious response by the College Board folks that “The equating process ensures fairness for all students.”

    Maybe this will blow over, and like good lemmings everyone pays their money yet again to the College Board people to retake the test. But then again, all it will take is one lone college admissions dean to clear their throat in public about how these particular test results will be viewed and this could quickly become a well-deserved mega-debacle for the folks at College Board.

  13. I remember hearing that in the March 2018 test, students who did not take the essay were held to take an extra unscored section. They were told that this was unscored, at least at our school, and they were tired by then, so I expect they didn’t do as well as they normally would. And students were reporting that these extra sections, math and verbal, were very easy (but their performance probably didn’t show the full easiness, due to tiredness and knowing it wasn’t scored.)

    Now, a few months later, we have an easy SAT. How many of those questions were validated during that extra session in March? If any, how many kids had already seen the questions back in March?? College Board might have been shocked at how high the raw scores were, hence the delay as they worried about what to do. In the end, they had no choice but to follow their usual “equating” process.

    College Board has a problem. It’s been a long time since, as far as I know, they’ve validated any new questions, but they’ve been publishing almost all their old questions as practice New SAT tests. They can go for a while perhaps, but eventually they would run out of unused validated questions. That moment might be now, and I vaguely suspect they didn’t plan ahead well for this moment. Now we see them scrambling to catch up.

  14. If it was such an “easy” test, then why is everyone complaining since students’ scores should be higher and scaled accordingly? By taking the August SAT, students’ scores will improve significantly if this was an anomaly as claimed.

  15. How about refunding everyone their money since it appears most of the students plan to take the test over since their scores are not what they hoped they would be? This test was a waste of time and money.
    I also think using the word easier is unfair. You make it sound like they took a grammar school math test. By making it an “easier” test you didn’t allow these students to show their true abilities or lack of abilities. My son got the majority of the harder math questions correct but still was penalized by the scoring. Now students are going into a test having to second guess themselves wondering if questions are harder or “tricky”. I think if the test had been scored differently my son would not be taking the test again.

    1. I half agree with you and half vehemently disagree. You have no idea if “most” will retake the test. Apparently, this grading curve only really affected the top end, and you’ll only hear from the people who were negatively impacted by this June test. The sample of people complaining is not representative.

      1. New Jersey is almost completely booked for August and we have to travel over an hour to take the test in August. My son did in the middle and the amount he got wrong this time would have been a higher score in March.

  16. The three-step solution is simple.

    First, all students who took the “easy” math SAT should be given two free retakes and allowed to take the highest score of the 3. Obviously, the fee for tests must not be increased. The students taking subsequent tests should not have to subsidize the SAT.

    Second, the SAT needs to explain to the public (in English not legalize and not complicated math) how the scores are calculated, the role of equators and when questions do not count.

    Third, the experience needs to be used to improve the SAT both for test takers and those who use the test to determine college readiness. The public needs to be told of these efforts and final results in English (as stated above).

  17. First of all, English is not my first language. I will try to express my opinion as best as I can.

    I think College Board should change the formula they used to adjust their scores. OR someone should sue them.

    From what I read, they did not consider the difficulty on the high end enough.
    Let’s say there are 3 very difficult level questions on 2 differently test date. For the rest of the questions, one test date is easier (like June 2018) than the other one. Assume, this one high scoring student was able to do 55 questions correctly on both test, but can never get the last 3 right. Again, they are the 3 same level of difficulty questions.

    The current way of adjusting the score, College Board way penalized this kid on the easier test, while he should have got the same score. Right?

    If College Board insists not to rescoring and insists that Jun 2018 is way too easy (deserve almost a hundred points adjustment comparing to base form), somebody should sue them for administrating too easy test. It’s standardized test that does not meet the standard.
    This Jun2018 test is administered when they already knew most of the kids would get low score. This test costs money, waste study time, causes mentally exhausted, etc. I heard that it’s last chance for some kids to get into their dream college or get financial aids.

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