FAQs

The SAT Curve

At least once a week, someone asks me some variation of: “What’s the best month to take the SAT?”  “Aren’t some tests harder than others?” “Shouldn’t I steer clear of October because that’s when all the smart kids take the SAT?” etc. etc. etc.

Without really knowing why I’m saying this, I always respond, “Don’t worry about it.” (Somehow, this just-above-average-SAT-math-scoring-brain knows, that’s why they call it “a curve.”)

I know, I know…there are some months when the test is easier or harder, and Erik the Red has posted everything there is to know about the history of such months, though I can’t find any pattern….

Personally, I don’t think it’s a good use of one’s most precious SAT resource (i.e. attention).

That said, I did take the time today to plot my SAT scores from 2011 on “the curve,” to see if there was any light to be shed from firsthand experience.

The short answer is, there isn’t (though if you see something relevant that I missed, please let me know).

Red is hard. Yellow is medium. Green is easy.

The little red boxes are my 2011 SAT Scores.

WRITING:

READING:

MATH:

And if you still need more convincing about this curve thing, read PWN the SAT’s post on the matter.

Incidentally, 1982 happens to be the nadir of SAT scores, as well as the year I first took the SAT in high school (twice).  Erik the Red suggested that maybe I brought down the curve.

Haha.

Possibly.

But, my first thought was, “I knew it; I was hampered!” (Though hampered by what, I have no idea.)

I’m really looking forward to reading this College Board report about the score decline this evening to see what they have to say about the matter.

From the top of page 44, (the summary chapter):

“If you turned to this concluding section for a quick and easy understanding of the panel’s views on the decline of test scores, you are indulging in a practice like some of the educational shortcuts that may have contributed to the decline.” 

(I believe that might be a little bit of College Board humor, no?)

llustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Posted 3 years ago
  • Anonymous

    Debbie, this is very interesting. Coincidentally, or not, I took the SAT in 1981. Twice.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      I can’t stop thinking about that report. I feel like it explains so much of who I am today.
      I hope you weren’t as affected by the 1982 zeitgeist as I was… ;)

  • http://www.excellenceforcollege.com/ Amy Martin Rodriguez

    I just couldn’t resist asking where your comment “I feel like it explains so much of who I am today” comes from. It sounds like you weren’t happy with your SAT score back then but you are clearly an intelligent successful person with a wonderful family. So I am just really curious about how you think that score affected you. My curiosity comes from the fact that I hear this a lot from parents and college students – wishing that they had done better on the SAT when they obviously have done awesome things with their lives and I can’t really imagine how their life could be any better if they had gotten a higher SAT score.

    BTW, Is is proper etiquette to reply here in the middle of a discussion? I need to get up to speed on blog etiquette!

    • http://www.excellenceforcollege.com/ Amy Martin Rodriguez

      Oh! It didn’t show up in the middle of your discussion with bonnerj after all, so I guess I don’t need to worry about the etiquette problem :)

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      I’m going to write a whole blog post answering that question!  I can’t do it tonight — but hopefully tomorrow or Sunday.
      I feel like I was the product of the decline in American culture and education — but I have much more to say….and specifics referring to parts of Section 4 of that report.

      And yes…it’s proper blog etiquette to jump into the conversations in the middle.  If you want to respond to one comment in particular (such as I am doing right now), hit reply to that comment.  Otherwise, you can start a new thread, as you did.

      Thank you!  Stay tuned.  I’ve been mulling over that report all day long…lots of food for thought.

      Starting with…where’s part 2?  I need the update!

      • Amy Martin Rodriguez

        I’m looking forward to your long response!

        Would you believe that I have no idea what my SAT score was? I remember thinking it was OK but nothing exciting. Do you think that it is possible to find out somehow? I was on the upswing from the nadir at 1986.

      • Amy Martin Rodriguez

        I’m looking forward to your long response!

        Would you believe that I have no idea what my SAT score was? I remember thinking it was OK but nothing exciting. Do you think that it is possible to find out somehow? I was on the upswing from the nadir at 1986.

        • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

          I should put the “How do I find out my SAT scores from long ago?” on the FAQ page — because I get asked that question all of the time, and every time it takes me FOREVER to find again (the CB site can be so unnavigable).  

          Anyway….here it is: http://sat.collegeboard.org/scores/send-old-sat-scores  

          You can order them!

      • Elise

        Ooooh, I hope you do get a chance to write that blog post today.  I would be looking forward to the part about the decline in American culture and education.  I really have a lot of conflicting ideas on that.  In general I think that our school district is above average but many students don’t take advantage because they don’t want to do the work.  Our high school actually has a new engineering program that I have involvement with.  I almost bowed out for reasons related to how I see engineering but after a discussion with one of the teachers, not only did I decide to stay involved, she also benefited from our discussion.  First and foremost, getting a degree in engineering is A LOT of hard work, however, it seemed as if our school’s administration was fluffing over that fact and making the kids believe that it’s all about fun experiments.  My argument was that is a bait and switch and the kids would never make it through if they thought it was all fun and games.  After our discussion, this teacher had a renewed perspective and decided to NOT give in to the students laziness.  She said they always want to work on the computer (easy) instead of doing the hard math problems.  It may be a teachers job to motivate the kids but it’s hard to listen to whining everyday:)  She had been trying to figure out why this particular group of students did not want to do the work…maybe her and I can figure that out together.  I am a believer that short term happiness does not bring you long term happiness.  Hard work can give you a happy life but how do we get that across to these students?   

        • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

          Oh Elise, I so agree with you re: how do we get this message across to kids? I was looking to YOU for advice, because you seem to have done such an amazing job with your own kids.
          I’ve done an ok job with my own kids — but I don’t think I realized early enough how important it was, that they were getting different messages at school, from each parent, etc. It’s seriously exhausting to be the “enforcer” all of the time when I feel like so much is working against me.I’m not going to get to my full response to this today…hopefully tomorrow…but I’ve got a ton of stuff to get done first before I can give it the full response that it deserves.

  • Alisahk

    Hi Debbie,
    My son is taking his SAT in January for the second time. It will be interesting to see how he scores and what the curve is. The critical reading section he took in November I think the collegeboard’s curve was easy however, he felt it wasn’t. He has taken many practice tests and has consistently scored the same number wrong. I think for him a hard or average curve would result in a higher score. However, I think in the end, if the passages you are reading in the critical reading section are familiar to you or are of interest to you then it is easy,regardless of what the collegboard comes up with for their curve.
    Another thought….. Have you ever considered taking the PSAT to see how you would do , especially in the math. The Perfect PSAT Score Project!

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      I’ve taken all of the PSATs I can get my hands on (i.e. quite a few). Anecdotally, I found them harder than the SATs I took — but, I think this leads back to the earlier part of your comment: i.e. so many different, unavoidable things play into ding well on this test that it’s hard to even predict based on the variables coming from the College Board end (i.e. how hard the test is).  I think the more vocab, you know, the better; the more full timed practice tests you do, the better, etc.

      My scores on the curve showed me that the curve didn’t play into how well I did at all.  As time went on, I got better regardless of how hard the tests were  – except for the math ;(

      Are you seeing something in there that I’m not?

      And here’s another weird thing: I think that my ability to focus on a particular day was more important than how hard the passages were, and how much I enjoyed them. Sometimes I’d ace a science passage — if I could focus — and bomb a fiction section (which I usually liked more than the science passages).  

      What was going on for me that day (and/or the days leading up) seemed to play a role in how well I did. I remember that my son and I had a huge argument one evening and then I went into the city to do a timed/proctored practice test, and I bombed the reading because I had a whole other conversation going on in my head about what I was going to say to him after the test was over.

      But, I think that if I’d practiced more (and practiced focusing more), I would have been more consistent.

      I always say, I let a lot of interference into my head.  It’s very hard for me to tune it out.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      I’ve taken all of the PSATs I can get my hands on (i.e. quite a few). Anecdotally, I found them harder than the SATs I took — but, I think this leads back to the earlier part of your comment: i.e. so many different, unavoidable things play into ding well on this test that it’s hard to even predict based on the variables coming from the College Board end (i.e. how hard the test is).  I think the more vocab, you know, the better; the more full timed practice tests you do, the better, etc.

      My scores on the curve showed me that the curve didn’t play into how well I did at all.  As time went on, I got better regardless of how hard the tests were  – except for the math ;(

      Are you seeing something in there that I’m not?

      And here’s another weird thing: I think that my ability to focus on a particular day was more important than how hard the passages were, and how much I enjoyed them. Sometimes I’d ace a science passage — if I could focus — and bomb a fiction section (which I usually liked more than the science passages).  

      What was going on for me that day (and/or the days leading up) seemed to play a role in how well I did. I remember that my son and I had a huge argument one evening and then I went into the city to do a timed/proctored practice test, and I bombed the reading because I had a whole other conversation going on in my head about what I was going to say to him after the test was over.

      But, I think that if I’d practiced more (and practiced focusing more), I would have been more consistent.

      I always say, I let a lot of interference into my head.  It’s very hard for me to tune it out.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      It’s so hard to even predict based on the variables coming from the College Board’s end (i.e. how hard the test is).  I think the more vocab, you know, the better; the more full timed practice tests you do, the better, etc.

      My scores on the curve showed me that the curve didn’t play into how well I did at all.  As time went on, I got better regardless of how hard the tests were  – except for the math ;(

      Are you seeing something in there that I’m not?

      And here’s another weird thing: I think that my ability to focus on a particular day was more important than how hard the passages were, and how much I enjoyed them. Sometimes I’d ace a science passage — if I could focus — and bomb a fiction section (which I usually liked more than the science passages).  

      What was going on for me that day (and/or the days leading up) seemed to play a role in how well I did. I remember that my son and I had a huge argument one evening and then I went into the city to do a timed/proctored practice test, and I bombed the reading because I had a whole other conversation going on in my head about what I was going to say to him after the test was over.

      But, I think that if I’d practiced more (and practiced focusing more), I would have been more consistent.

      I always say, I let a lot of interference into my head.  It’s very hard for me to tune it out.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      I was having trouble posting response to your comment and I just realized that some of it got cut off when I finally got it to work.

      I took all of the PSATs I could get my hands on.  Anecdotally, I thought they were harder than the SAT (though shorter is easier!)– but, see my comment below for explanation that I don’t’ think the issue is necessarily on the test end.  I think it was more about me and the space I was in at the times I took them.

  • Guest

    Despite not getting the Math Score you wanted, your Total Score is good!! I’m struggling with  Coordinate Geometry, and I was wondering if you an easy and “effective way for solving these kind of problems? I’ve read about the slope formula were you write m= y1-y2 divided by x2-x1 ; but I have no idea it will work for the Sat Blue Book Math Problem I’m trying to solve.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Thank you!!!

      Which Blue Book Problem?  

      I always said, I have coordinate geometry dyslexia…and my son said back to me “everyone does.”

      I think it’s one of those things that you need to practice practice practice practice ….and then practice 20% more than that, kind of things.  I’m serious.  Maybe 40% more

      Send me the kind of problem though.  I want to know!

      For practice problems — Erik the Red has problems on his site for free : http://www.erikthered.com/tutor/#satmathsec  

      And I’d also recommend PWNtheSAT’s site for such matters: http://blog.pwnthesat.com/#uds-search-results

      And PWN’s book http://blog.pwnthesat.com/2011/12/pwn-sat-math-guide-is-now-available.html#.TxTibmPC5uo 

      As well as Philip Keller’s book: http://www.amazon.com/New-Math-SAT-Game-Plan/dp/098158960X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326768920&sr=8-1

      • Guest

        Thanks for the help, I’ve tried Philip Keller’s book and some how I still don’t understand coordinate Geometry…. I have to admit that sometimes I find the remainder problems a pain.
        The problem is in  1st Edition Blue Book, Test #3   Section 8, page 549.
        ha ha That’s funny :)   I suppose that most of the people do have Chronic coordinate Geometry Dyslexia !!

        • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

          How much time do you have?  Can you do a crash course in Kumon?  Seriously….they will give you a test to see where you are…and remainder problems come up pretty soon.  If you’re a sophomore, DEFINITELY look into. If you’re a junior, might take too long to get there (esp. with the geometry).  

          But if you’re a sophomore and can devote some love to Kumon over the summer (an hour a day?), I think it could help with both of those.

          I can’t wait to ck that problem out.  Running now…but will do later tonight or tomorrow.

        • Guest

          no I’m not in High School anymore, but my current Sat scores are an embarrassment  and I want to transfer. I’m taking the exam in 2 months… Thanks again for the help :)

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  • Kileyathanasiou

    Debbie,  where can we get the charts for the curves of past tests?  I searched everywhere on college board and I couldn’t find it.
    Thanks for your help.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Here’s a link to past curves from @ErikTheRedTutor:disqus  ‘s site: http://www.erikthered.com/tutor/SAT-Released-Test-Curves.pdf

      Hi site is FILLED with great info, btw. He’s culled down the good stuff from the CB’s site.  I can never find a thing on there.