The March SAT Will Include an Experimental Section!

A little discussed detail about the upcoming new SAT exam is that it will include an experimental section. This information has been hiding on the College Board’s website in the Advising and Admissions Handbook, which states:

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.

This wording may seem a little ambiguous, so let’s break it down. “Pretest/pretesting” does not mean “before the test,” but rather refers to experimental questions, which do not count towards a student’s score, as opposed to the “operational” test items, which are scored. The wording in the counselor’s guide might lead one to believe that any section of the test could contain “pretest items” (experimental questions). However as one Testmasters staff member pointed out, the College Board will be making its “Question-and-Answer Service” available for the May test, meaning when you register for the exam you can choose to order a copy of the test to receive after your test is scored (which we strongly recommend). Historically, this service has not included the experimental questions, as they are not scored and are typically used on future tests. Therefore, it would logically follow that the extra twenty minute section is indeed the only experimental part of the test so that this portion can be easily removed later for score reporting and Question-and-Answer Service purposes. Again, to be clear, the experimental section of the test will not be scored and will not count toward your total SAT composite score.

If you are worried about the experimental section, don’t be! The experimental section has been on the SAT for decades.  This section of the exam has served as a reliable way for the College Board to ensure its tests are largely error-free and statistically robust. If you were to take two official SAT exams, it is highly likely (without preparation in between) that your scores would be largely comparable. Surprise?  Not really – the College Board really tests questions before publishing. Given that experimental sections are so helpful to ensuring a consistent product (i.e. the SAT), it is no surprise that the College Board is reluctant to let go of the technique. On this note, even if you are able to deduce that section of the exam you are completing is the experimental section (after all, it will be the only section of the exam that is twenty minutes long and it comes at the very end of the exam… as if the SAT wasn’t long enough), you should still try your hardest on it as this experimental section is extremely important in the creation of new SAT exams.

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Don't freak out!
Don’t freak out!

So what’s the moral of the story? If you’re taking the New SAT this weekend without the essay, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to complete an extra 20 minute section that you weren’t planning to see. The real moral of the story is that when deciding on whether you should take the SAT with Essay or SAT without Essay – there is now one more reason to do the SAT with Essay since you really won’t be getting out of the SAT that much earlier.

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