What Is the SAT Experimental Section? – Solving The SAT Conundrum

Preparing for the SAT and taking the test is no less a roller coaster ride. Now that the dust has settled upon what kind of passages and questions you see on the test, the College Board has come out with more ploys to keep the test-takers on their toes.

The earlier version of the SAT had an experimental section that was used to pre-test questions. The College Board decided to reduce the time of the SAT and removed the Experimental section and with the removal lost a potent way of pre-testing its questions using a large sample of students — the test takers.

To salvage the situation, the College Board reintroduced the experimental section on the test only for students who didn’t take the Essay. This meant that the students who were targeting colleges that demanded essay scores were not part of the survey. Also, if a student knew that the experimental section wouldn’t affect the score, the student could skip the section or might not take it seriously.

The end result of this botched up experimental section or pre-testing of questions was an easy June 2018 test in the US. The end result was a steep scoring curve for the math section and a widespread criticism across social media.

In December 2018, the students were told that not all the questions in the 5th section were experimental, some might contribute towards the scores, and some questions from the previous sections would not count towards the scores.  Since the introduction of the new SAT, the College Board has never been transparent about the experimental section. The only source that talks about the SAT experimental section are the counselor’s guide which says:

The SAT will be given in a standard testing room (to students with no testing accommodations) and consist of four components — five if the optional 50-minute Essay is taken — with each component timed separately. The timed portion of the SAT with Essay (excluding breaks) is three hours and 50 minutes. 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 March 2019 test-takers in the US witnessed another gimmick. Even the students who took the SAT with Essay were made to take the experimental section. The fine combing of the Spring and Summer 2019 The SAT and SAT Subject Tests Supervisor Manual, could have alerted the students about this impending change. The Manual said, “If you are administering an additional section after the Math Test – Calculator section, all students testing under standard conditions, whether taking the SAT or the SAT with Essay, will complete the extra section.” 

If this makes you think that ACT is better, you should be informed about the TRYOUT section on the ACT.

Till such time the College Board gives some clarity on this section, the students should take the section 5 seriously and treat it like the other scored sections on the test.

By: Priya N, Master Trainer

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