Posted by Izanna Levintova on July 31st 2018
As the June 1018 SAT scores rolled in on July 11th, countless students sat there staring at the computer screen, frantically scrolling through the details of their score reports and wondering what went wrong. It is well known that this standardized exam is graded on, what the college board refers to as, an “equating” scale or more universally known as a “curve.” For those unfamiliar with what a “curve” or “equating scale” is, let’s take a look at a particular scenario.
Picture yourself inside a classroom with the teacher in the front of the class slowly and methodically walking around the room, handing back the exam grades from a test you took last week. When she finally comes around to you, she says with a smile on her face, “Good job!” and hands you an exam grade of a 45! At first you think that this is somehow a cruel and manipulative joke by this unseemly instructor and you have a piece of mind to tell her exactly what you think of her class! But, before common sense strikes, you begin to look around the room, and like our instincts dictate, begin to compare. It seems as though everyone did significantly worse than even you did. After the remainder of the exams have been handed out, the teacher stands in front of the room, and admits to the class that there were numerous questions on the exam that she deemed as unfair and were too difficult. Thus, she has established a curve to help with the adjustment. Anything above a 40 become an A, a 30-39 is a B, and 20-29 is a C, and anything below that is failing.
While the situation mentioned above, may seem “unfair,” it is a grading system that is used throughout the country in many universities and is a good and consistent measure of the effectiveness of any exam.
The incredible decline in most students’ scores has people questioning the purpose of the exam altogether; how can there be such a drastic shift in a grading scale that is known to be a standardized measurement of one’s testing ability? Students spend months, even years, preparing for the exam that will determine which college or university they will attend. Although, the grading scale may seem out of control, students need to remember that the only control that really matters is the one that they have over their knowledge and education.
At JM Learning Prep in Brooklyn, NY, we understand that the grading scale might be fair or unfair, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t want our students, and outside students to take this to heart. Your hard-work is not overlooked. We do not want you to feel discouraged or feel as if you failed; we want you all to keep your heads held high. We’ve received questions such as, “How can this exam compare students who have taken the exam in May to those who took it in June with such an increased shift in the grading scale?” We understand that it might seem as though the exam is losing its validity, but the best way to overcome this obstacle is with a calm state of mind and realize that many colleges will be looking at the percentiles more than the score itself.
A student tutored for SAT prep at JM Learning Prep, Son**, (the entire first name and last name will not be mentioned to maintain some anonymity) was one of the people affected by this downward curve. Taking a look back at her past SAT scores, the numbers just don’t add up for her June 2018 SAT. When she first started with JM Learning Prep, she scored an 1110 on her first exam and sky rocketed quickly past the 1400 on almost every practice exam she took. Even scoring a few 1500’s along the way. In April 2018, Sonia scored a 1430/1600 with 6 incorrect questions in Math, 4 incorrect in Grammar and 8 incorrect in Reading; placing her in the 94th/95th Percentile, fairly indicative of her practice exams. Now in June, her score was a 1460/1600, with 3 incorrect questions in Math, 2 incorrect in Grammar and 2 incorrect in Reading; placing her in the 99th Percentile - not indicative of her practice exams, but on par with how many questions she gets wrong per section. The problem becomes her percentile: to be placed in the 99th Percentile of the SAT Exam, a student would have had to have scored at least a 1560...so why do the numbers not add up? Sonia has always been a dedicated student, striving for success every chance she got. After asking Son** about her tutoring preparation, she described how she would attend SAT lessons three times a week and take practice tests at JM Learning’s testing center. She also mentioned that on her free time she would read books above her grade level to familiarize herself with the complex vocabulary used in the grammar section of the SAT exam and how JM and its tutors helped throughout the entire process to create an effective study plan.
Another student tutored for SAT prep at our educational facility, Mel****, went through a similar shock as Son**. Similarly, to Son*** Mel*** started with a 1070 and quickly rose past a 1300, completing our level 1 program and transitioning into a semi-private. In March 2018, Mel*** scored a 1370/1600 with 9 incorrect questions in Math, 4 incorrect in Grammar, 13 incorrect in Reading: placing her in the 96th Percentile. In May, however, she scored a 1400/1600 with 5 incorrect in Math, 8 incorrect in Grammar, 12 incorrect in Reading; placing her in the 97th Percentile. Lastly, in June 2018, Melanie received a 1340/1600 with 4 incorrect in Math, 6 incorrect in Grammar, 9 incorrect in Reading; placing her in the 94th Percentile. Again, do these calculations make sense? Mel*** described the private lessons she had with one of our SAT tutors/CEO, Jonathan Milman, and how even when she couldn’t make it to the tutoring facility, Jon would send her work to do at home, checking up on her regularly and even answering questions outside of her lesson plan (our tutors are very dedicated because we believe that the students results are indicative of the tutors’ results). Mel*** would practice every single night, spending 45 minutes on Reading, 45 minutes on Grammar and 1 hour on Math. She explained how after attending her first crash course at JM Learning Prep, she went over all the types of Math questions that could possibly be seen on the SAT until she knew each and every question.
This downward curve affected some students more deeply than others. A dedicated JM Learning student, Dan***, started attending tutoring lessons in February of 2016. His first ever diagnostic exam score was a 1040, however his most recent one was a 1500. Amazing right? Dan*** explained how he would study an SAT packet a day, even spend around 8 hours practicing and reviewing in our tutoring facility. He attended SAT private lessons twice a week for 4 months. Looking back at his actual exam scores, in April 2018 Dan*** scored a 1290/1600 with 12 incorrect questions in Math, 12 incorrect in Grammar, 7 incorrect in Reading: placing him in the 90th Percentile. Now in June 2018, he only scored a 1370/1600 with 3 incorrect questions in Math, 8 incorrect in Grammar, 3 incorrect in Reading: placing him in the 96th Percentile. After all the time and effort that he put into preparing for this exam, he felt as though he was scored unfairly. This bump in the road did not slow him down though; Dan*** is back at JM Learning Prep, preparing for the next SAT exam.
The number one suggestion that we urge our students to follow is to not be hard on yourself. Moving forward, there are a few steps that can be taken to recover from the blow that was the June SAT: pay $50 to hand score your exam or retake the exam in August, October, November or December (most schools accept scores until December). As stated earlier, a lot of Universities and Colleges are looking at percentiles instead of scores from such downward curves. Hold on to this positivity.
Unfortunately, the dedication that Son**, Mel*** and Dan*** express toward their education is not something that the SAT exam measure, but it is also something that cannot be taken away from them. These three students, alongside even more JM Learning students know that they did not deserve the scores that they received in June, however they are still planning on taking the exam again. We encourage all students to maintain this type of forthrightness. Regardless of the circumstances, no student should feel as a failure. A bit of tenacity mixed with the right SAT preparation will prevail and despite the circumstance, overcoming difficulties is always the best lesson learned.