Are some SATs / ACTs Easier Than Others?
Yes. But not in the way that you think.
Many students try to identify which month reliably offers the “easiest” test sitting— is it late fall when seniors are scrambling for a last minute boost or is it in winter and early spring? While some tests are considered “easier” than others (and this has all to do with the curve), the reality is that there’s no pattern as to when these “easier” tests are administered!
Why are there “easier” tests?
Each test administration is substantially different. As such, they have significantly different curves. For example, on CollegeBoard’s SAT #4, a student could have missed 15 math questions and score a 700. Conversely, on the October 2018 SAT, a student could only miss 6 for that same score (yes, this data is from actual CollegeBoard rubrics!). On the August 2019 test, 7 questions missed resulted in a 600! This kind of variation can make scores difficult to predict.
This variation also exists for the ACT, especially among top scorers. Some ACTs allow students to miss a few (1 or 2) questions per section and still score a perfect 36. However, on another test, you miss 2 questions and you’re down to a 33!
A student might leave the test feeling great— and then get a score way lower than expected. Conversely, a student might leave the test feeling awful about it— and might score much higher than expected.
So when students wish for an “easy” test, what are they really asking for? Do they want a test that feels easy, but ends up having a nasty curve? Or do they want a test that feels hard, but ends up having a forgiving curve?
Obviously, there are pros and cons to each situation. The best way to manage either scenario is to enter the test prepared for whatever might come your way.
What does this mean for you?
- Expect to take the test multiple times: Given that there is no way to predict which test administrations will be “easier,” we encourage all students to take the test at least twice. There is no downside to retaking the test (some students take it four or even five times). Almost all colleges superscore the SAT and most colleges superscore the ACT. As such, taking the test multiple times not only allows you to optimize your section scores across tests, but also allows you to take the tests with different curves.
- Be aware that not every test will allow you to reach your score potential: The way a student “feels” during the test can certainly affect their performance. Further, a student might think a test went well, only to see their score and end up disappointed. This disappointment might turn to confusion when they realize they didn’t actually miss many questions— the curve was just unforgiving. One bad test score won’t change your life!
- Be strategic and recognize the kind of test you are taking: If a student has the ability to recognize a “hard” test, they should be willing to skip around, especially on the harder questions, knowing that the curve will be more forgiving.
So although many students feel that taking one test date over another gives them an edge in scoring, the real edge is in knowing that every test is different.