'Highly Likely' SAT Grading Error Also Affected Previous Exams, Says Company That Discovered Problem

Some prospective college students received notice that their math SAT score increased because of a problem with the answer key. However, the company that discovered the error said students in previous years may have also been affected.

The SAT, one of two widely accepted college admissions entrance exams, is designed to measure a student's readiness for college. In recent years, the recycling of exams was criticized for creating an uneven playing field and in 2018, a parent filed a class-action lawsuit against College Board, the organization that owns the test, for reusing old exam questions.

This reusing of questions is something that Adam Ingersoll, co-founder of Compass Education Group, a tutoring company, told Newsweek is problematic because its implications could spread farther than just one exam date.

About two weeks ago, a Compass tutor in San Francisco discovered a non-multiple choice math question on the May 4 SAT exam did not account for all correct answers. It was reported to College Board, which investigated it and informed students on Friday if their scores were updated.

college board sat exam score corrected
Suzane Nazir uses a Princeton Review SAT Preparation book to study for the test on March 6, 2014, in Pembroke Pines, Florida. On Friday, students who took the SAT in May were informed their score may have gone up because of an error with the answer key. Getty/Joe Raedle

"It is highly likely that this mistake was on a previous exam, probably a year or two ago," Ingersoll said. "The College Board has made no statement acknowledging that possibility and its implications."

Newsweek reached out to College Board about the possibility the question appeared on previous exams but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Ingersoll added that it's "impossible to say" how many errors there have been on exams, partially because every exam isn't able to be reviewed. Exams are administered on various dates throughout the year and given that exams are expensive to create, questions are recycled. Only the May SAT is officially released publicly to all test-takers, though.

"Therefore the vast majority of tests never see the light of day, at least not officially and legally," Ingersoll said.

The tutoring company co-founder explained the College Board will use "various schemes and scheduling patterns" to try to reuse questions that maintain the test's integrity. However, SAT material has been shared on Reddit and even stolen. So, he called it "fanciful at best if not simply dishonest" to claim test reuse is fair for students who rely on officially released test material to prepare.

Each of the two required sections of the SAT, math and evidence-based reading and writing, are worth 800 points. Each answer is weighted on a scale of as many as 30 points, but most commonly at 10 points, according to Ingersoll. The scale is based on the difficulty of the exam.

"It is difficult to understand how a reasonably diligent test development process could fail to catch a mistake such as this," Ingersoll said.

Since correcting the error included adding a correct answer, the re-grading of the exam did not cause anyone's score to decrease.