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The College Board Made a Huge Mistake on the June 6th SAT - Here's the Worst that Can Happen

Posted by Mary Ann Barge | Jun 8, 2015 9:33:00 AM
 

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If you took the SAT on June 6th, 2015, you may have noticed something different about the test. And now the College Board is dealing with a controversy that is affecting test-takers across the country.

Like many students who had sat through an arduous 3.5 hours of testing and breaks, I was relieved to begin Section 8. This was the home stretch! The proctor read the instructions, telling us that we would have 20 minutes to complete the next section, and to note that this was less time than we were given for the previous sections.

When I opened to Section 8, I was surprised to see that instead of 20 minutes, the instructions said I should receive 25 minutes to complete the section - a full 25% more time than what the proctor had mentioned. I started working, but students around the room started muttering in surprise and raised their hands to question the discrepancy.

Had the College Board made a mistake?

 

What Happened? And Who Has Been Affected?

The short answer is: yes, the College Board had made a huge mistake. 

Sometimes, despite the efforts of numerous editors, a typo gets through and doesn't get noticed until thousands of people who haven't seen the test before are taking it. And unfortunately, this was a serious error because it did not happen on an experimental section of the test.

Students across the country were affected by this mistake. The error was on the final Critical Reading section of the exam, which was either Section 8 or Section 9 of the test, depending on which version you had. This was a section that was on all of the SAT I tests given on Saturday.

So, how did it go down? In the proctor's manual/script, the instructions said to give 20 minutes each for Sections 8 and 9. When students turned to those sections, several realized that the instructions called for 25 minutes instead. Proctors responded in various ways: by sticking with what was in their instructions (20 minutes), or by going with the 25 minutes called for in the exam book, and occasionally, by doing something somewhere in between.

 

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Timing is everything.

 

Students have reported a lot of confusion during the administration of these two sections. Some say they were told 15 minutes into the section that they were being given 25 minutes instead of 20 to complete it:

One student says:

"Our center gave 25 minutes, but didn't say it until the five minute warning (at which time they said ten minutes). This led to people rushing through sections that were long for twenty minutes, and then trying to go back and fix, as opposed to having 25 at the outset and working diligently from the start."

 

 Another says:

"I saw someone on Twitter say that they're room persuaded the proctor to give them an extra 5 minutes on the second section of the 20 minute sections (I'm assuming because they took advantage of their section 8 being 25 minutes long instead of 20 because of a mistake their proctor made). This whole thing is terrible."

 

Others report the opposite, saying that they were originally told that they would have 25 minutes, and then at the last minute, given only 20.

One commenter on College Confidential says:

"In my daughter's test, the told her they said they conferred with the college board and that they had 25 minutes, then 19 minutes into the section (she still thought she had six minutes) someone came into the room and told them they had to finish it within 20 minutes...so they only had one more minute. she still had 3 questions left, as she was thought she still had six minutes."

 

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Students across the country are feeling anxious about the test.

 

Another agrees:

"In our room, our proctor put 25 minutes for section 8 and asked the coordinator about it since it clearly said it was 20 minutes in the instructions. The coordinator called collegeboard and they said it was a misprint so then our time was changed back to 20 minutes midway."

 

Students were not only affected by how much time they were given. Complaints have poured in from across the country, saying that the uncertainty surrounding these sections made them feel even more stressed out than they were already, and that they think they made more mistakes on those sections as a consequence:

"Yeah that 20/25 minute mixup happened to me in Section 8 (which was Math for me). We all had an extra 5 minutes, but I feel as though it messed me up."

 

But some are still confused about whose instructions had the mistakes - the proctors or the students. In other words...

 

How Much Time Should You Have Been Given?

One of the main complaints that is coming in from parents and students revolves around the idea that they were shortchanged. Though the test booklet said that they should have received 25 minutes, their proctors stuck to the 20 minute rule. They claim that the section was exceptionally difficult and impossible to rush through in only 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, this isn't the case - if you thought the section was particularly tough, it's because of the content, but not of the time limit. 

The final 3 sections of the SAT are shorter than the rest of the sections on the test, and Sections 8 and 9 should weigh in at 20 minutes each. 

In this case, the contested Critical Reading section had only 19 questions - the same amount that is standard for a 20 minute section. In contrast, Critical Reading sections that are supposed to be completed in 25 minutes always have 24 questions.

So don't feel cheated if you were only given 20 minutes to complete this section. This is how it should have been.

 

If Nobody Had Too Little Time, Why Is There a Problem?

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Does 5 minutes really matter that much?

 

The issue now is that some people had too much time - a full 25% more than they should have had to complete this section. And even more of a problem, everyone seems to have done this part of the test differently - some with 20 minutes on each section, some with 25 minutes on Section 8 and 20 minutes on Section 9, and others with 25 minutes on both sections.

The SAT is all about standardization. The "curve" that SAT scores are based on compare how you did on the test to how everyone else did - both on the test you took, and on previous tests. They can't possibly do this if some people are given more time than others on equivalent sections.

Now some students have a distinct advantage. And when some people have an advantage, the test can no longer be "standardized."

 

How Has the College Board Responded?

The problem was reported to College Board many times yesterday by proctors around the country. If your proctor called in, they were instructed to only allow 20 minutes for Sections 8 and 9. They also were told to continue administering the test.

Today, the College Board issued an official statement:

Shortly before noon Eastern Time on Saturday, June 6, Educational Testing Service (ETS) informed the College Board that there was a printing error in the standard test books they provided to students taking the SAT on June 6 in the United States. The time allotted for a specific section, either section 8 or 9 depending on the edition, was incorrect in the student test books and correct in the script and manual provided to Test Center Supervisors. The student test books contained “25 minutes” while the manual and script contained the correct time limit of "20 minutes." As soon as ETS became aware of the error during the administration of the test, they worked to provide accurate guidance to supervisors and administrators.

The College Board understands the critical nature of this issue, and we are actively working to determine next steps to ensure the fairness of the test and the validity of the scores we deliver. We regret the confusion and concern this issue is causing for students and their families, and we will provide them and others with updated information as soon as possible. Please check back here for updates.

 You can check this page for new information.

 

What Will Happen Next?

There are several possibilities for what could happen from here on out, some more likely than others.

(Edit 6/9/15: College Board has released an official statement on what they plan to do - scroll down to see what that is. The following section is retained to show what students nationwide had to worry about for days, before College Board made their decision.)

 

The College Board could adjust the curves on these sections, depending on if you received extra time or not.

At least one proctor who called the College Board yesterday during the exam has reported that this is what she was told.

Some students think this is the right way to go:

"I wonder if they have some sort of formula they can use to predict what the people who got 25 minutes SHOULD have gotten on Section 8 (based on their answers in the other writing section). And then maybe the curve could be based on that? idk tho... the whole situation is a mess."

 

This is difficult, however, because the College Board would have to get reports from each testing center about whether or not extra time was given. Proctors are supposed to write down the start and end times of each section; however, since this relies on the proctors actually having done this, and then accurately reporting it, it leaves a lot of room for error - not to mention a lot of extra effort for the College Board to collect this information.

Another potential issue for this method will come from those who were given 25 minutes by their proctors, but who completed the section in less than 20 minutes. Should they be judged on a harsher curve because of the proctor's choice?

"No. That is not fair to me. I did not ask for those extra 5 minutes. We were all arguing with the proctor that it was suppose to be 20 minutes, but she said we all at least had to sit through the 5 minute wait even if we did nothing.... It messed me up. It is not fair...."

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We know how you feel.

 

The College Board could cancel all scores for this test.

As unfortunate as it is for everyone who gave up their Saturday to take this test, this could be a likely result. Reports are continuing to come in about just how much this error affected performance.

The College Board's Terms and Conditions have a section regarding what they call “testing irregularities.” It states:

“Testing irregularities refer to problems or irregular circumstances or events associated with the administration of a test. When they occur, they may affect an individual or groups of test-takers. Such problems include, without limitation, administrative errors (e.g., improper timing, improper seating, defective materials and defective equipment), indication of possible preknowledge of secure test content, and other disruptions of test administrations (e.g., natural disasters and other emergencies).

When testing irregularities occur, ETS may cancel an administration or individual registrations, decline to score the test, or cancel the test score. ETS may do so whether or not the affected students caused the testing irregularities, benefited from them or engaged in misconduct. ETS is solely responsible for determining whether testing irregularities have occurred, and its decisions are final. When it is appropriate to do so, ETS gives affected test-takers the opportunity to take the test again as soon as possible, without charge.”

 

Many people have said that this would be unfair to students because it was not any fault of theirs, and therefore their scores should not be cancelled. However, as you can see in the Terms and Conditions, the SAT does not care if the testing irregularity is any fault of the students or not.

For example, hundreds of students who took the test in May will have to re-take it on June 20th because their test materials were misplaced.  A country-wide cancellation of scores is also not unprecedented, though in the USA it is. In 2013, the SAT scores of all South Korean students who took the May test were cancelled due to cheating allegations aimed at test-prep companies. Though there were doubtlessly many students who had not cheated, their scores were also cancelled because the College Board felt there was no other reasonable alternative to ensure the fairness of the test.

If the College Board were to take this route, they would likely offer a makeup testing date, which offers additional problems. It would be very difficult to add another national testing date this summer at such short notice, especially because many schools (which serve as testing sites) are closed and proctors (who are often teachers) are less available.

Remember, it’s not like this only affected a couple hundred or even thousand people - it was a nationwide problem.

 

The College Board could drop this section from your score and calculate your grade based on the rest of the test.

This is not terribly likely, again because the whole point of the SAT is that it is standardized. Without being able to compare your scores on this section with the equivalent sections on other tests, it would be difficult to give you a fair score.

Also, many students were not just affected in the final Critical Reading section, but also the final Math section. This means they would have to drop two sections - which would really increase the challenge.

 

The College Board will automatically give everyone a perfect score for all their troubles.

Just kidding. Dream on.

 

What if I have to re-take the test?

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No need to panic just yet.

 

If the College Board does decide to cancel these scores, they will most likely offer a re-test.

This test would probably be offered at some point this summer, and would be free of charge to anyone who was originally registered for the SAT I on June 6, 2015. Many rules apply to these makeup tests:

    1. You can only take the test you were originally registered for.
    2. You cannot register for a makeup testing date if you were not registered for the cancelled test.
    3. You can only retake the test at the testing center you were originally registered for (which is bad news for people like me who registered late and had to drive 3 hours to get to one of the only centers with available space left).
    4. Makeups are not offered on Sundays - Sunday testing is only allowed for people who have a religious reason to not take it on Saturdays.
    5. You must take the ENTIRE test at a makeup test date (so not just the sections that had the error). Why? It would be unfair and unstandardized to compare you taking 2 sections fresh-faced and bright-eyed compared to those who had to take them tired after 3+ hours of testing
    6. It may take several weeks longer than normal to score your essays. Why? Again, because these are not in the normal schedule, it would take a lot longer to find all the people needed to grade them

 

If you need to retake the test, you still have time to study. We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your SAT score. Download it for free now:

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***UPDATE (6/9/15): The College Board Responds to Their Error***

Today, around 5:30 pm, the College Board issued their official response to the test timing crisis:

On Saturday, June 6, Educational Testing Service (ETS) informed the College Board that there was a printing error in the standard test books ETS provided to students taking the SAT that day in the United States.

We apologize for this error.

After a comprehensive review and statistical analysis, the College Board and ETS have determined that the affected sections will not be scored and we will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6. We expect to deliver scores within the usual timeframe.

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.

We take our responsibility to students very seriously, and we regret the confusion some students experienced. For more information, we encourage students and their families to check back here for the latest updates.

Frequently Asked Questions for Students

Q: What happened during the June 6 administration of the SAT?

Shortly before noon Eastern time on Saturday, June 6, Educational Testing Service (ETS) informed the College Board that there was a printing error in the standard test books ETS provided to students taking the SAT® on June 6 in the United States. The time allotted for a specific math or reading section — either section 8 or 9, depending on the edition — was incorrect in the student test books but correct in the script and manual provided to test center supervisors. The copy in the student test books indicated “25 minutes” while the manual and script indicated the correct time limit of "20 minutes."

As soon as ETS became aware of the error during the administration of the test, it worked to provide accurate guidance to supervisors and administrators.

Q: Will my scores be available and still be delivered to colleges and universities?

After a comprehensive review and statistical analysis, the College Board and ETS have determined that the affected sections will not be scored, and that we will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6. We expect to deliver scores within the usual time frame.

Colleges and universities will know these scores are valid.

Q: How is it possible to not score a whole section and still have valid scores?

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.

We have deliberately constructed both the Reading and the Math Tests to include three equal sections with roughly the same level of difficulty. If one of the three sections is jeopardized, the correlation among sections is sufficient to be able to deliver reliable scores.

Q: When will I get my scores?

We expect to deliver scores to students within the usual time frame.

Q: Who does this affect?

All students who took the SAT on June 6 in the United States are affected. This does not affect students who took the SAT on Sunday, June 7, or any SAT Subject Test offered that day.

 

How Are People Reacting to This?

Understandably, students are going to have a lot of questions about this decision - including why, if these sections of the test are not essential, they are included at all. While many students are relieved that they will not have to re-take the exam, they are also questioning if this is really a valid decision, and why the College Board has come up with this decision.

 

"In test:
Hmm, I felt like I did well on the last 3 sections. That's great!

Goes home:
-oh wait a misprint and posts all over CollegeConfidential...oh, no...it's a nation-wide problem-

Now:
Aaaaaaaand there goes my scores. Gg. Thanks a lot, Collegeboard. Please learn to proofread on a a test with sections upon sections about proofreading."

- College Confidential

 

Others are even more confused, because when many of them called the College Board help line (before the official announcement was posted) they were told various things, including that there would be a re-take offered on June 20, and that the scores would be curved depending on how much time each student had received on each section.

"How will this even provide us with an accurate representation of our scores?! There were always 3 sections to provide some sort of balance to students! Taking out an entire section is going to screw some students up completely! I'm very shocked because I called the college board yesterday and they told me that they were more than likely going to give an optional retest on June 20. I wonder what made this dramatic change! I'm extremely disappointed in the way the college board handled this. Now the students who felt they did well on reading are going to be punished more severely because there's going to be a smaller margin for error!"

"I called SAT and tried to clear up the confusion with their announcement. The guy who answered me, appeared to be reading from a script, and told me there will probably be a retake on June 20th. When I pressed for more information, he tried to refer me to Escalated services, but I declined the offer...."

"When I called College Board, they said they were just going to divide up the test-takers into those who had 20 minutes and those who had 25 minutes for the sections in question, and grade each group. They told me the proctors are required to report each student who received extra time, so they could identify who got extra time and who didn't. I don't understand why they didn't do that. They could look at the distribution of scorers in each group to ensure the distribution is normal as well. What they have proposed is really unfair to those who took the test with the correct amount of time. It means that the margin for error is far less than usual because mistakes in the earlier sections are weighted more heavily. CB should be required to identify those who received extra time and given the normal scores to those who took the test normally, and offer a retake to those who didn't."

 

Therefore, it does seem that the College Board at least considered other options before taking the route they decided on. Which makes us wonder why they didn't stick with either of them. And there is only one reasonable answer: the time and money expenditures would be enormous.

In order to arrange a new nationwise testing date for free, the College Board would have to pay a tremendous amount of money. Similarly, it would take a lot of time and manpower to collect the information from each proctor about how much time was given on each section, and then to create and apply two curves. Finally, if students were graded on different standards, there would be a continuous uproar throughout the summer about test scores as students compared their curves - and College Board likely just wants this controversy to die down.

So in many ways, the College Board has come to the solution that is easiest - for them.

 

How Does This Affect You?

Basically, instead of your scores for the Math and Critical Reading sections being spread out across three sections, now only the first two (longer) sections will be counted. Incorrect answers from these first sections will now have a greater weight on your score than they otherwise would have.

 

Will this actually provide accurate scores?

For some students, it undoubtedly will. As the College Board says, all three sections of Math and Critical Reading have similar difficulty levels - meaning that each contains questions that range from easy to very difficult. If you are the type of student who would have scored fairly evenly across all of these sections (regardless of if that would have been low, average, or high scoring), then your overall score should be a good approximation of how you would have done with the missing sections included.

This is what the College Board is banking on - after all, it is a standardized test, and they know that there are not normally massive discrepancies from one section to another.

 

Who Will Benefit From College Board's decision?

The students who will benefit the most from this are those who would have scored badly on the final sections of the test for any reason - including increased stress or fatigue from multiple hours of test-taking.

Others who will benefit will be those who have a particular weakness that was covered in these sections but not in the other parts of the test. Though each section contains easy questions and tough questions, it is quite normal for the tough questions to cover diffferent concepts. So if your particular weakness - say, coordinate geometry - was featured on the deleted section, you are in luck and may get a higher score than you otherwise would have.

 

Who Will Suffer From College Board's Decision?

The people who will suffer the most from the deletion of the sections are those who were potential high-scorers. The curve on the SAT is always the toughest on the highest scores (especially on the Math sections, where a single wrong answer can disqualify you from an 800).

Reducing the test scoring down to just two sections increases statistical variance because the test collects much less data about you. It's like flipping a coin - if you flip it 1000 times, you'll see that it's balanced between heads and tails. If you flip it 3 times, you might get all tails and make the wrong inference.

So If you made a couple of mistakes on the earlier sections of the test, but scored perfectly on the latter sections, your score will likely be lower than it otherwise would have been.

 

Who Will Lose out the Most?

The obvious major losers in this are the College Board and the SAT, who have done a lot to destroy their own credibility.

They have officially said that they can easily drop 2 sections of the test, with no effect on the outcome. While the validity of this statement is questionable, it does nothing to help their reputation, and many students are now wondering why those sections are on the test at all.

The College Board's decision to not re-test shows that their bottom line is more important than accuracy of scores, which is making a lot of people wonder why they are bothering with the test in the first place.

And others are frustrated that a test that seeks near-perfection from its takers doesn't hold itself to the same standard:

"When a test can have such a profound impact on one's future, there simply can't be any room for such huge mistakes. Mistakes are becoming habitual for CB now for a extremely important test, which is unacceptable."

This is one more item on a string of bad news for the College Board, which has been struggling to maintain its relevance in the face of the ACT's becoming more popular and in the wake of multiple cheating scandals.

 

Final Thoughts

If you feel that you were very negatively affected by the upheaval during Saturday's test, the deadline to cancel your scores is this Wednesday, June 10

If you get your scores and do not feel that they are an accurate reflection of how you would have done with the two cancelled sections added in, plan to re-take the test in the fall if it's possible for your schedule. Use the SAT you just took as a guide so you know where you can improve. 

And if you, like some others, are not feeling too charitably towards the College Board at the moment and want an alternative: unfortunately, it is too late to register for this month's ACT test. However, see our guides for the ACT to start preparing now for this fall's tests.

 

What Should You Do Now?

If you do have to re-take the test, use this as a learning opportunity. You just got to take the ultimate practice test. Think back to what sections you struggled with. Use this to target your studying so that you can rock it the next time around.

Read more about College Board's recent cheating scandal in the US.

Read our 11 top last-minute, must-read guides to prime yourself for the very next test.

Learn expert strategies to improve your SAT Reading, SAT Math, and SAT Writing scores if you're scoring below a 600 on any section.

Have problems with SAT Reading, the section under consideration? Find out how to stop running out of time on the passages.

Aiming for a top score? Read our guide to getting a perfect SAT score, even if you're frustrated by this event.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get Sample Lesson

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Mary Ann Barge
About the Author

Mary Ann holds a BA in Classics and Russian from the University of Notre Dame, and an MA from University College London. She has years of tutoring experience and is also passionate about travel and learning languages.



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