SAT Myths and Misconceptions

In my 20 years of teaching the SAT, I have encountered many misconceptions and SAT myths spread by parents and students alike. Let’s clear up some of these mistaken notions, so you don’t start to panic the next time the rumor mill starts.

Myth 1

The SAT is harder or easier in certain months

One of the SAT myths that just won’t go away is that the October test is hard or the May test is easy. This comes from a misunderstanding that a student’s score out of 1600 is a different measurement than his or her percentile. The score out of 1600 is based on the number of questions answered correctly adjusted by a curve based on the relative difficulty of the set of questions. The College board mostly decides this before you take the test.

For the test to be able to be used as a comparison with other test takers on different days a 1400 on one test must be equivalent to a 1400 on a different test on a different day. However, your percentile is measuring you against all the other students who took that test that day. So if you score in the 95th percentile, you did better than 95 percent of other students. This percentile doesn’t affect your score out of 1600.  Also the international test is not easier or harder than the U.S. test. The only reason there are different tests given on the same testing day is to reduce cheating. The U.S. test is often reused as an International test on a different testing day.

So don’t worry about which month you are taking the test in and ignore the rumors that one test is easier or harder than another because the curve adjusts for these differences.

Myth 2

The SAt just tests how well you take the SAT

Well…every test tests how well you can take that test. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t ALSO testing the skills and knowledge you need to do well in university. Test prep is often focused on understanding the structures and systems of the test itself. Students who have strong skills can take an SAT with no preparation and do well on the test. This is one of those SAT myths that sounds logical, but it often just an excuse for poor performance.

Myth 3

It is better to leave a question blank than to guess

Prior to 2016, the SAT had a wrong answer penalty. If you got an answer wrong you lost ¼ point. But this is no longer true, so you should attempt to answer every question and guess if you are running out of time. BUT guess strategically. Choose one letter to be your default and use it consistently if you are not completing many (more than 5) questions.

Myth 4

You can’t improve your SAT score

This SAT myth is a holdover from when the SAT was marketed as a test that definitively identified students based on their “scholastic aptitude.” The idea was that you take the test once and then get a score and then apply to schools in that score range. I can definitely tell you that YOU CAN improve your score. But it will take effort beyond a few tips and tricks.

Myth 5 

Test scores DON’T matter

Schools use the SAT score as a sorting metric. Your score matters the most at the beginning of the process when the admissions officers are sorting through thousands of applicants. This is one of the reasons that the SAT and ACT still exist. The score provides a useful piece of data for the schools. Later in the process, when admissions is deciding among a few candidates, the score is not a deciding factor. So a student with a 1470 is not automatically chosen over one with 1450. But to get to this point, you need a good score.

Myth 6

The SAT is harder than the ACT

Which test you find harder is subjective. The ACT might have more straightforward questioning, but the time limitations are rigorous. This SAT myth is based on limited data. Students who do well on one test over another proclaim it to be easier. It was, for them. Additionally the scoring system makes the ACT a little harder to achieve a perfect score. The best choice is to try a practice SAT and ACT (on different days) and see which one you like taking more. 

Myth 7

I can only take the test 2 times (or 3 times)

Many people thought that if you took the SAT once and got a great score that you would have an edge on someone with the same score achieved after he/she took the test several times. This is not the case. Many schools superscore and no school has stated that they prefer a student that has an immediately high score. A more important factor is the cost of taking and retaking the test and the time investment in preparation. Most students today take the test 2-3 times over the course of a year. The universities are looking at your potential, not how you performed on a single day, but still these SAT myths persist.

Myth 8

A great SAT score will guarantee you admission to any school

A great SAT score (1500+) will guarantee admission to some schools, but not to any school. Some parents believe that a perfect 1600 will make their son or daughter stand out and be instantly accepted over those lowly 1570s.

But this isn’t true.

The universities are looking for more than just test scores and while a perfect score is great it needs to be backed up by grades, personal achievements and application essays. In the past, a top score could get you into a top school, but the competition for those spaces was much lower with admissions rates of 70% in the 1970s for top schools such as Harvard and Yale.  There are a number of factors that contributed to this including the fact that you had to hand write (type) each and every application. So students applied to far fewer schools. Also students tended to take the SAT once and applied with that score. Oh yeah, women were first allowed into schools like Princeton and Yale after 1968…so that might be a factor as well.

Bottom line. If you are applying to top 50 schools in America, there is no SAT or ACT score alone that will guarantee your acceptance because the competition is too great.

Myth 9

Rich students have an advantage on the SAT

Strictly speaking this isn’t an SAT myth. Here’s a secret….rich students have an advantage in every aspect of life. This is why everyone is striving to be rich. But correlation does not equal causation. The test is not designed with secret math and grammar that is special for rich kids. It is slanted towards students who have had a rich educational background with solid math and reading skills. Kids with rich parents tend to be given more opportunities to engage in activities that offer benefits. But that doesn’t mean that if you are poor it is impossible for you to score well on the SAT. Khan academy’s free resources are an excellent base for developing skills and this website has been developed to help disadvantaged students to benefit from my experience and the lessons I teach “rich kids.”

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Myth 10 

More studying=higher score

What do you mean by studying? For many students, preparing for the SAT is merely completing as many practice tests as possible. And Reddit is filled with their complaints that they “studied” for 8 hours a day for 6 months and their scores didn’t improve. To improve your score, you MUST understand why you are getting questions wrong and take steps to change those tendencies. It is one of the most common SAT myths that you just need to do more practice questions to get a perfects core.

If your reading score is weak, doing hundreds of SAT practice tests won’t improve your score. You need to improve your reading skills. You need to know the grammar and style rules, not just be able to guess at what “sounds okay”

Do you have any other myths that I missed? if so comment below with them and I will confirm of deny these pesky rumors.

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