Students Think the College Board Is Running a Reddit Sting to Catch AP Test Cheaters
Photo: NBCUniversal via Getty Images
On May 10, just a few days before Advanced Placement tests were scheduled to begin for high-schoolers around the world, a Reddit user, Dinosauce313, created a new subreddit, APTests2020. Its stated purpose? “A community of students taking the 2020 AP Exams and wanting to use online resources while doing so.” As a result of coronavirus, all AP testing has moved online this year. Students are taking modified, shorter versions of the traditional tests, and this year’s iterations are open-book. Using class notes, or even Googling during the test, is kosher. The College Board, the organization that administers the exams, says wasting time doing so will not ultimately be beneficial given the way the truncated tests are written. What is not kosher, however, is conferring with another person during the exam. So Dinosauce313’s proposed efforts would be grounds for consequences, should any students get caught participating in a collective testing scheme.
Some things about Dinosauce313 didn’t strike other Redditors, namely real high-schoolers preparing for their exams, quite right. The account was created at the beginning of April, just a few weeks before the subreddit’s debut, and spoke in a lexicon that read more how do you do, fellow kids than, well, “How do you do, fellow kids.” On several social platforms, a theory began brewing: Dinosauce313 was actually a College Board employee setting a honey trap to catch would-be cheaters and disqualify them. The College Board had previously announced it would be using “digital security tools to detect plagiarism,” a nebulous description that some interpreted to mean this alleged sting. “No teenager speaks like this,” one TikTok user said in a video, breaking down the College Board’s alleged actions. The same day the APTests2020 subreddit was created, Trevor Packer, the senior vice-president of Advanced Placement and instruction at the College Board, tweeted that the organization had “just cancelled the AP exam registrations of a ring of students who were developing plans to cheat, and we’re currently investigating others.”
A spokesperson for the College Board directed Vulture to the company’s policies on online testing security. There it says the College Board “will be monitoring social media and discussion sites to detect and disrupt cheating” and “may post content designed to confuse and deter those who attempt to cheat.” The spokesperson also told Vulture the College Board “is not setting up accounts and starting discussion or social-media threads encouraging students to cheat, such as the ‘Dinosauce313’ account or r/APTests2020.” Still, some high-schoolers remain unconvinced. “I know that they are tricking people with accounts they have made to click on Google forms so that it traces who was cheating,” Kayla, a junior from Texas, said of rumors she’d heard. Even if the sting isn’t real, the distrust high schoolers feel towards the College Board is — and many remain convinced the College Board is behind Dinosauce313. “Don’t even try it, y’alls curriculum literally taught us how to find all of your accounts,” one Twitter user said.
Interactions with Dinosauce313 on Reddit quickly became a resounding chorus of “okay, boomer.” That prompted the user to double down on trying to prove itself otherwise by posting Drake and Bernie Sanders memes —which only made the chorus grow louder. Seemingly no one interacting with Dinosauce313 was under the impression it was actually a student looking to cheat on AP tests. Instead, other users in the subreddit responded with their own memes and jokes, giving a digital middle finger to the College Board. “It truly is sad how it’s almost like College Board wants kids to cheat in order to fail them by making up ‘resources’ and putting out fake information online when they explicitly said that it is ok to use your class notes and even the internet during the exam,” Victor, a senior student from New Jersey, said. Another new account, fuckdinosauce313, later appeared in the APTests2020 subreddit, claiming to be trying to lead a coup to take over the community and “really fuck over the College Board.” It promised roughly the same thing: Anonymity and a way to game the 2020 AP system.
A Bernie Sanders meme posted by Dinosauce313. Photo: Reddit
One high-schooler, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said they came to the sub after learning about it first on TikTok. “I checked out their [Dinosauce313’s] posts and they definitely seemed fishy, like someone trying to sound like a teenager. I wanted to see if it was really College Board so I sent him a PM saying, ‘hey I want to join for my AP US history test, this is the link right?’” The link the user sent was a Grabify link, meaning when Dinosauce313 clicked it, the student claims they were able to see the account’s IP information. (The user’s account has since been suspended from Reddit, likely for posting said information and violating Reddit’s content policy around posting personal information.) Results of this attempt to catch Dinosauce313 and link the account to the College Board were, however, inconclusive and the alleged connection appeared, at best, coincidental. Still, these details only fueled the fire online.
Reddit wasn’t the only home of these conspiracies. Over on Twitter, theories swirled about a different account — the now-deleted @wishxart — that students believed was also the College Board masquerading as a test-taker. That account was created in May and counted the College Board among its followers, which raised suspicions for some. Its avatar photo, according to one Twitter user, was cribbed off Instagram. Sentiment toward the company among some students has grown incredibly hostile in recent weeks, creating a perfect environment for these theories to flourish. High-school students, who under regular circumstances would already be stressed out about their exams are finding themselves facing added anxieties — remote learning, confusion about what course materials would be on tests, access to appropriate technology — under the new testing structure.
To understand how these theories spread, picture a Venn diagram. On one side are teenage internet natives and on the other side are high-achieving high-schoolers. The overlap is a group of incredibly digitally literate students who are nervous about their transcripts and college futures, many of whom feel the College Board — the nonprofit organization that also oversees the SAT — is a greedy and monopolistic gatekeeper of higher education. (The base cost for one AP exam taken in the United States this year was $94, but some schools charge additional administration fees. Prices are higher for students in other countries.)
Frustrations with the College Board were only furthered by a growing number of students who faced problems with their online exams, finding themselves believing that the organization put more energy into smoking out cheaters than helping students trying to do things above board. Both Kayla and Victor told me they were among the many students who have reported technical difficulties submitting tests last week and now will be made to take their exams again later this spring. “I know of at least five students in my calculus class who had the same issue and will be requesting to retake the exam in June,” Victor said. He complained of browser lag, which made him “uneasy” while taking a timed test with a limited clock. “I tried to shake that feeling off and carried on taking the test.” When time came to submit his work on the first question, he was repeatedly greeted with an error pop-up. “I felt stressed and powerless, like a year’s worth of hard work just went down the drain,” he said.
“When we embarked on the effort to offer AP Exams online, we created tools to help guide users through this new experience. After the first few days of testing, our data show the vast majority of students successfully completed their exams, with less than 1 percent unable to submit their responses,” the College Board said, via a statement. “We share the deep disappointment of students who were unable to complete their exam — whether for technical issues or other reasons. We’re working to understand these students’ unique circumstances in advance of the June makeup Exams. Any student who encountered an issue during their Exam will be able to retest.”
“I tried calling their customer service multiple times but did not have any luck talking to a representative,” Jess, a student in New York who is scheduled to take four AP tests and, despite successful test runs, faced computer issues during her Calculus exam. “The only solution I was given online was to request for a makeup exam in June, which is unfair that I should have to wait that long, possibly forget information, and put myself through more stress because of their errors.”
Melissa Orendorff, a parent in Virginia, said her son also had problems with submitting the same exam. She’s one of over 15,000 people who have signed a petition asking the College Board to allow students to re-submit their completed exam work, with time stamps, rather than having them take the tests again in a month. “If the College Board trusts their students to not cheat on the exam that is online, the trust should also apply to the legitimacy of the time stamps,” Jess said.
Jess told me she doesn’t put much stock in the Dinosauce313 theories and has instead been focusing her energy on circulating a proposal she hopes the College Board will see, pleading the case for students, like herself, who feel it is unfair that they will have to take the tests a second time. “But I would say, if these rumors are true,” Jess added. “If they’re taking the time to make fake accounts to catch cheaters they should be making accounts to catch students in the same position that I am.”
SAT Practice Tests
Going to jump in here because I haven't seen one of my go-to resources when I was a tutor mentioned yet. I haven't checked out that Reddit link that was posted yet so there could be some overlap between the practice tests but if you haven't visited https://www.cracksat.net/index.html I would recommend checking it out. They have a lot of practice tests, including the official ones, practice tests/drills for specific sections of the SAT, SAT subject tests, and more.
I'll admit, the site is a little sketchy, but it does what you need and can help you save money from buying practice books. Although I'd also recommend picking up some books if you can afford it. The practice tests can be useful but it's also helpful to learn strategies on how to approach the SAT. Obviously knowing the material is important to score well but much of the time, at least in my experience, teaching a student how to approach the SAT to optimize for accuracy and time management led to more significant score increases than just focusing on the material.
What is reddit's opinion of The College Panda's SAT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook for the New SAT? From 3.5 billion comments As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. The following content includes affiliate links for which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
TLDR; Advice that, if you don't want, feel free not to use. But if you want it, go ahead. Break a leg.
There something called an SAT test. Given that you're 14, you've probably heard about it, but have no idea what it is.
Basically, its a 3 hours long test that scores you on maths, reading, and writing. Given your age, you should expect taking it within the next two years--either freshman or sophomore year of high school (for practice SAT).
The test is highly valued in our society (and for good reason), so you best score well on it.
Scoring well on the test equips you with the foundational knowledge needed to succeed anywhere in life (SOF, astronaut, etc) [this, given that you're not a pretentious asshole coming out of high school].
A good foundation in Maths (which is tested on the SAT) will help you very much. Scores from the SAT correlate well with the ASVAB. If you score a well on the SAT, chances are you'll score perfect on the ASVAB (because the foundational math you learn for the SAT is universal, and HARDER than what you find on ASVAB).
(unrelated: companies like spaceX ask for SAT scores in their application process)
Scoring perfect on ASVAB allows you to choose basically any career you want--and gives you ALOT of wiggle room with PST requirements and obtaining a contract. Don't be a knuckle dragger. Physical fitness is not the only thing you should be focusing on. Become smart of useful to others.
The entire test has five components;
A multiple choice Reading Test (65 mins, 52 questions)
A multiple choice Writing and Language Test (35 mins, 44 questions)
A math test WITH CALCULATOR (55mins, 38 questions)
A math test WITHOUT CALCULATOR (25mins, 20 questions)
AND AN OPTIONAL ESSAY TEST (where you write an essay responding to a prompt. 50 minutes)
All these tests combine into one, called the SAT.
If you want to score perfect on the SAT, listen to my advice, and use it:
1.) BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING: Watch this video about math (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMubSggUOVE). It'll teach you much of what you need to know (multiplication, division, how to add large numbers, subtract them, etc.)
2.)After learning the concepts in the video, take a practice SAT test. You can download an official one here.
3.) Figure out where you stand (score wise, after taking test). I, for one, score 1000 on my first try (which is shit).
4.)Start learning the knowledge needed to improve the scores.
a.) for math, buy this book (https://www.amazon.com/College-Pandas-SAT-Math-Advanced/dp/0989496422) and study the hell out of it (4 weeks of review, then take practice SAT tests and review questions that you get wrong). [Note: This book takes time to understand. So, when you're stuck, use YouTube to fill in GAPs). When the test rolls around, you can score a perfect score-- and that should guarantee you a good career in SOF--even maybe an astronaut later on--really depends on what you want to do in life (which is, really, only for you to decide).
b.) If you can't afford it, try to find a library that has the book. Also, buy or check out a Princeton review SAT 2021 book.https://www.amazon.com/Princeton-Review-Premium-Prep-2021/dp/0525569340 This book helps very well with understanding the outline of the test.
There are many books that help you learn the knowledge needed to score well on the SAT. Search YouTube videos for good recommendations. The one's I've provided helped me, but may not be the best out there.
One more thing:
When High School comes, join AP classes. They teach you how to study.
In middle school, I had straight F's (no shit). In high school, I had straight A's.
The deciding factor between my success and failure was knowinghowto study. AP classes (hoping you have good teachers) teaches you how to study.
If you want an understanding in what numbers are, why we use them, etc (which helps you understand the purpose of algebra, and why in the fuck we combine letters and numbers, etc), I've attached a PDF primers on numbers (basically explains what numbers are, usual notations used, and what they stand for--the ones you see in PHD papers, that look really complex and hard, but are really not.). After watching the video I linked, try and read some of these PDFs in the order I supplied. I got them from an MIT class I attended last summer, and they were very helpful in my understand of numbers. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Qb-sclxrolPa9zjGBdDeTEiBfv1oxW_7?usp=sharing
Right now, I'm on my GAP year. I have plenty of time, so feel free to reach out with any questions.
I made $1,000 an hour as an SAT tutor. My students did better without me.
Melissa is a 17-year-old high school junior. She's bright, hard-working, and ambitious. Her parents, both extremely successful entrepreneurs, have enlisted me to help Melissa raise her SAT scores. Their only goal is to get her into her dream school: the University of Southern California. The problem, they say, is that Melissa is "a bad tester" — she might have a 4.0 GPA and a slew of extracurricular achievements, but when it comes to standardized tests, she's helpless.
The real problem: The whole idea of a "bad tester" is bullshit, but almost every parent I've encounteredbelieves it.
I've spent a decade tutoring the SAT. In that time, I've developed a reputation forefficacy. My students routinely improve their scores by more than 400 points, and wealthy parents desperate for a solution to their test prep woes have no problem paying me what most would consider outrageous rates: up to $1,000 an hour. I work from home, I make my own hours, and I have a job that a friend of mine describes as "cushy beyond belief."
Commanding these rates for a profession as simple as tutoring should have been a dream come true. Yet as I accumulated experience working with hundreds of students around the country, the situation soured. I realized that as a nation, we've created a monster: a generation of disempowered, directionless, and overburdened students who work harder every year, yet continue to see their SAT scores decline. And I was becoming a key part of the problem.
The myth of the "bad tester"
Nearly every student who came my way was, apparently, a "bad tester."
What do most parents mean when they refer to their children as bad testers?
Bad tester (n.): A student capable of keeping a 3.9 GPA at a competitive high school while participating in four extracurricular pursuits who is nonetheless incapable of learning the small set of math facts, grammar rules, and strategies necessary to get a high SAT score.
How is it possible that a student who can ace his trigonometry tests and get an A+ in English can't apply those same skills to the SAT? On the surface, it seems unlikely. But as I learned, parents and students around the country have been conned into thinking that it's not only possible but standard.
The first thing you need to know in order to understand the illegitimacy of this entire concept: The SAT isn't particularly difficult.
What do you need for a perfect SAT score? A thorough knowledge of around 110 math rules and 60 grammar rules, familiarity with the test's format, and the consistent application of about 40 strategies that make each problem a bit easier to solve. If you can string together a coherent essay, that's a plus.
Before you accuse me of being pompous, a quick bit of backstory:
I got a 40th percentile PSAT score. I don't have the "innate" ability to get high test scores, and few others do.
As a result of my low PSAT scores, I spent months studying for the SAT like a man possessed (with more than a bit of encouragement from my mother). When I took the actual SAT, I got a 99th percentile score.
So did I become a "good tester"? Did I magically activate my innate inability to perform well on standardized tests by getting struck by lightning? Or did I just learn what I needed to learn by studying the relevant material over a long period of time? The answer, I hope, is obvious.
The entire notion of the "bad tester" is ridiculous. So is the notion of a "good tester." Good testers are kids who study the relevant material until they know it by heart. Bad testers are the kids who don't. Kids who can walk into the SAT and get high scores on their first attempt are just the rare few who already have most of the requisite knowledge at their disposal.
So why the hell do we use this as an excuse?
Why we think "bad testers" are real
Our culture demands immediate, effortless gains. We want seven-minute abs, 10 Minute Managers, and overnight real estate millions. Here's an actual conversation I had with a friend of mine:
Friend: Man, I'm so bad at golf.
Me: What do you mean?
Friend: Every time I play, I stink. I can't drive the ball straight, I'm horrible at putting, and don't even get me started on my fairway game.
Me: How often do you play?
Friend: I dunno — maybe once a year?
Here's the issue: My friend isn't a bad golfer. My friend doesn't play golf.
There's a big difference between being bad at something and not practicing it. I would never say that I'm "bad at German" or that I'm "horrible at putting together Rubik's cubes." I've never tried to do either. I simply don't speak German, and have never learned how to spin the blocks in the right direction in the right sequence.
I believe our nation's inability to grasp this difference is directly responsible for our plummeting SAT scores. Many of the parents I worked with expected their children to ace the SAT without instruction, effort, or practice. I was seen as a last resort — a necessary curative to their children's lack of innate testing ability.
There's a disconnect here. The parents I worked with were smart, and they cared about their kids' success to a degree that you might not believe. So how could a logical, intelligent person be led to such an erroneous belief?
Standardized testing voodoo
In my experience, people see the SAT and ACT as "magical." In most people's eyes, they're not just tests of material; they're weird, they're tricky, and they're impossible to beat. There's a certain je ne sais quoi to these exams that separates them from the otherwise manageable academic tasks facing the American high school population.
Ask the average high school girl to use the Pythagorean theorem, to summarize the main idea of a paragraph, or to correct the comma usage in an English sentence, and she'll have no problem. And if she can do these things, she's already on her way toward a perfect SAT score. Yet if you ask the same girl what she thinks about the SAT, she'll have a panic attack.
Why? Why are otherwise capable students so petrified of a test that, upon inspection, is relatively straightforward, predictable, and manageable?
American academic culture has taught students that the SAT is a reflection of their own innate abilities, despite all evidence to the contrary. They're given unrealistic expectations about its difficulty, about the steps necessary to master it, and about the timelines they'll need in which to do so. And they're given the stark impression that any efforts they take to understand it are futile and misguided.
Because we've taught them that they can't study for the test, they don't — and if they do, they do so in the most cursory, ineffective manner possible. When they take the SAT, they get the poor scores reflective of non-study and inattention, yet they feel that their results are a reflection of their own inherent inability to take the exam in the first place, reinforcing the initial fear and inertia that prevents them and their peers from studying for the next round. And around and around we go.
The SAT isn't easy, but it's extremely doable. The only problem: You'll never be able to do well if you don't think you can in the first place.
Just pay attention, young man!
The College Board repeatedly promotes its exam as a simple reflection of standard American high school curriculum; if you take tough courses and excel in school, you'll do well on the SAT. Because my experience hasn't reflected this notion, I advise most families to begin prepping during their freshman or sophomore year instead.
Starting early gives students more time to prepare. It allows them to study slowly and consistently, the way the human brain learns best. And it allows them to rip away their false notions of impossibility surrounding the SAT.
The students who tackle the SAT earlier on are more confident, more capable, and far less stressed. Yet the vast majority of parents and students wait until their junior (or, god forbid, senior) year to prepare, mostly because they believe the false idea that it's better to wait than it is to start studying.
Where else in the world do we recommend delaying a course of study in order to become better at anything? We're training our students to be as helpless as possible. Why would we do that?
It's not us, it's you
The College Board strives to be seen as a meaningful indicator of student readiness and academic achievement, and its messaging to parents, students, and schools echoes this sentiment ad nauseam. The backs of its own SAT prep books are plastered with language reflecting this idea (even as the board encourages you to purchase its books and get additional prep on top of your schoolwork).
However, in my experience, a student's grades in school have very little to do with his SAT performance. In fact, the majority of my SAT students had little if any trouble with their schoolwork; these were smart kids with good grades. They were mastering their coursework — supposedly the only thing necessary to getting high SAT scores — yet their SAT scores were in the 40th percentile. I found this interesting, to say the least.
Few understand that the SAT requires specific, school-independent training. Instead, they assume that if their children do well in school and poorly on the SAT, they are bad testers. And that's where I come in.
Hiring my score
Most of the students I worked with were delightful. Some were not. Those who weren't all had one thing in common: a complete, ingrained, and thoroughly taught lack of personal responsibility. In these cases, the attitude of both the parents and the students was clear: "I wrote you a check, which means that the scores should start improving on their own."
"Michael hasn't been doing any of his homework," one parent once wrote me, "so what am I paying you for?"
Michael wasn't doing his work, and I was being blamed.
When I told the parent in question that it was Michael's responsibility to do his work, and that I couldn't monitor his day-to-day schedule, she requested a refund.
When you buy a Bowflex machine, it's not the machine itself that gets you in shape — it's the use of that machine. But as many dusty Bowflex machines will attest, not everyone shares this attitude.
My job as a teacher was to show my students the path — but it was their job to walk it. I could clear up difficult challenges and prescribe the best possible coursework for the days ahead, but my students were the ones who had to do the work. If they didn't, the results they'd get from my teaching were marginal at best.
Yet in many cases, my clients assumed that the sessions with me, rather than the work done as a result of those sessions, was the antidote to misunderstanding. But without the challenging, time-consuming, and often frustrating ritual of internalized, independent study, true understanding is almost never possible.
At a certain point, I realized that my tutoring was becoming as much an excuse as it was an enabling mechanism. By acting as the standalone expert on the SAT and ACT, I was preventing my students from thriving nearly as much as I was allowing them to excel.
By relying on an instructor, a classroom, or a series of online videos, instead of on focused, weakness-targeted labor, students are hamstringing themselves and their own ability to learn.
And I, as a one-on-one tutor, was part of the problem: a culture of experts-as-roadblocks baked into the fiber of our educational culture.
The solution to this problem was so glaringly obvious, yet so widely disregarded, that I've devoted the past year of my life to promoting it.
The wake-up call
In late 2012, the demand for my services outweighed my ability to deliver them. Even as my rate skyrocketed to $650 an hour, I was turning down potential clients left and right. I couldn't tutor more than eight to 10 students in a given quarter, and as many families were knocking on my door each month.
It was frustrating to turn down both the students and the potential revenue. To keep everyone happy, I came up with a solution: If I couldn't work with someone personally, I'd simply give him or her access to my Dropbox folder full of lesson plans and strategies — free in the case of friends and family, and a few hundred dollars for those I didn't know.
Over the years, I'd been documenting the specific strategies, tactics, and drill sequences that I knew worked. While I was and still am constantly making tweaks to my methods, there were certain "set in stone" methodologies that worked on all of my students. To save time, I'd document them and provide them to my students upfront, rather than delivering these lessons during paid hours.
Most potential clients were less than thrilled by the consolation prize. They wanted me, the "expert," to tutor their children — not just a folder full of readings. There was something wrong with their kids, and only the guru could fix it.
However, a small percentage of the families actually did read through the lesson plans and strategies and followed them to the letter. And something funny happened: I started getting letters telling me their kids were doing better than my one-on-one students — much better, in many cases.
At first, this didn't make any sense. How could a simple folder full of assignments and readings be outperforming me? Wasn't I, as a one-on-one teacher, supposed to be more effective than a folder of assignments I'd created? My rate suggested as much, but the results were saying otherwise.
As the testimonials for my Dropbox folder kept pouring in, I started to suspect that my own involvement in my students' process might have been hampering, rather than improving, their performance. The results I was getting were impressive not because I sat with the kids, and not because of my magical teaching abilities, but simply because I'd figured out a rigorous and tested study plan, and I was forcing my kids to work through at least a portion of it.
When you removed me from the equation, the lesson plans and strategies stood on their own. There were no missed sessions, no forgotten assignments, and no excuses. You either did the work or you didn't — and the kids who did do the work got the predictably good results that any devoted, consistent course of self-study would provide.
I decided to turn the folder into a proper online program. I hired a programmer and some graphic designers online, worked through months of glitches and nightmares I wasn't prepared to handle, and launched it to the public in January of 2013. It was and still is incredibly bare-bones, but with an improved interface, some slight modifications, and the complete lack of my interference in the process, the students using the program have continued to excel.
For nearly two years, I hung on to my one-on-one practice even as the online program continued to thrive and evolve. As word of the program's results spread, so did new opportunities for exposure and word of mouth, and my one-on-one practice thrived along with the program. I raised my rate to $1,000 an hour, partially in an attempt to create an obvious apples-to-oranges comparison, yet despite the fact that my own published results were practically identical to those of my program, customers kept knocking on my door.
In early 2015, I made the decision to stop providing the one-on-one option altogether. Giving up the $1,000-an-hour tutoring gig was difficult (perhaps the understatement of the century), but after spending another 18 months watching my simplified curriculum outperform my own hands-on instruction, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was doing as much harm as good.
I'd personally witnessed a patched-together computer program routinely outperform "the SAT tutor to the 1%," and I've spent the past year obsessing over ways to get it into more students' hands.
American students have become far too reliant on everyone and everything but themselves. When our children don't excel, we sign them up for classes, hire tutors, and, if all that fails, administer them amphetamines like M&Ms. Plummeting SAT scores stand as a blaring testament to the fact that this approach isn't working.
Kids are remarkable learners. If we give them the tools they need to study, the belief that they can learn on their own, and the gentle support necessary to encourage the process, they'll accomplish remarkable things.
On the other hand, if we put the power of education in the hands of figureheads, externalized structures, and programs that dictate what students are supposed to learn, when, where, and how, American students will continue to flounder.
I've seen what students can do and learn on their own, and I've seen how students act when someone else is given the reins. I prefer the former.
Anthony-James Green is the founder and CEO of Green Test Prep, an online SAT and ACT practice program. He has more than 14,000 hours of experience training students to master these exams, and was recently called "America's top SAT tutor" by Business Insider.
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Everything you need to know about the SAT
Scores for the August 2019 SAT have been released, and high-scoring students are not happy with the math section's unforgiving curve. They're concerned that they will not compare as favorably to those who have taken other SATs, even though they may have gotten the same number of questions right. Situations like this one are a good reminder that no two SATs are exactly alike, and that you might not want an "easy" SAT.
As it turns out, an easier test is no good for students or for colleges using test scores to evaluate applicants. To explain why, we need to discuss one of the fundamental aspects of standardized tests: equating.
How Does the SAT Curve Work?
For a standardized test to be of any value, it needs to be possible to compare the scores of someone who took the test in June 2019 to someone who took it in March 2019, June 2018, October 2017, etc. The College Board cannot just give the same test at each administration, and it’s really hard to make each test exactly as hard as every other test. As a result, test makers need to adjust the scaled score, which is based on the raw number of correct answers, on each test to make sure they’re comparable. Learn how the SAT is scored.
When the August 2019 SAT scores came out, students took to Reddit to decry the Math curve for the exam. Students who got fewer questions wrong on the August test than on previous attempts woke up to lower Math scores.
Difficulty, to be sure, is in the eye of the beholder. Some, or perhaps most, students were bound to find the August Math sections to be difficult. When we call the Math section “easy” we do not mean that everyone should have found it so. We mean that the scoring curve indicates, objectively, that students tended to get fewer questions wrong than they did on other SATs. That made the curve less forgiving.
Score equating is done before the test is ever given, so it’s worth saying that the actual performances on test day did not affect the curve. The College Board knew it was going to administer an easier test, which meant more students would get more questions right, and the scale would need to undergo adjustment. As a result, small differences had a larger impact than usual.
To a degree, this is how it should be. A student who misses two questions on an easier test should not get as good a score as a student who misses two questions on a hard test. Equating takes care of that issue.
Why Easy SATs Can Hurt High-Scorers
1. It's Tough for Colleges to Evaluate Their Scores
The equating applied to the August 2019 SAT suggests that the College Board made the test far too easy to distinguish among high scorers who received a score of 650 (86th percentile) or higher. That is a problem for those colleges who treat a 650, a 700, a 750, and an 800 as accurate indicators of real differences in Math ability.
2. No Room for Errors
It is a problem, too, for high-scoring students who make an occasional careless error, like improperly calculating a result or misbubbling their answer for a question they’ve otherwise correctly solved. With a typical curve, there’s some cushion to mitigate the impact of such errors. There was no cushion on the August 2019 SAT, and the last time this happened was on the June 2018 SAT .
It might be argued that accomplished students shouldn’t make those kinds of errors, but is that true? It’s more accurate to say that accomplished test takers don’t make those kinds of errors (that's why we at The Princeton Review spend so much time focusing on modeling successful test-taking strategies). Small mistakes under time pressure can make a big difference in life, no doubt—but doing well in college tends to be about doing well over time, with the possibility to revise, rethink, and do better.
Next Steps: Should You Retake the SAT?
The students shocked by the August 2019 SAT will have a couple more chances to retake the test. View upcoming SAT test dates. But what if the same thing happens in October or November, when seniors often take their last shot at the exam? This is why we recommend taking the SAT as soon as you feel prepared, so that you leave yourself leeway to retake it, especially in the case of something outside of your control like a too-easy administration. Furthermore, most colleges either take your best score or superscore your results, so allowing enough time to take the SAT at least twice can only help your chances at admission. (In fact, at the most competitive schools, most students have taken the SAT or ACT at least twice!) That said, you should know that there have been roughly ten different SATs (including US, international, and School Day administrations) between the last time this occurred in June 2018 and this August 2019 occurrence. As always, we at The Princeton Review will follow these changes and provide the most up-to-date information available.
Based on how the College Board has responded to instances like this in the past, as with the June 2018 test, it is highly unlikely that the College Board would rescale the exam. It is important to note that college admissions officers are not going to weigh how how many questions a student got wrong. They will look at the scores. Nor will they discount an August 2019 SAT score as somehow compromised. Students who did well on the August 2019 exam should be proud and not worry at all about admissions officers giving it any less weight.
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The Reddit Connection That Got Me Into College
I met him online. He texted me on Christmas. Two weeks later, we met in person at a Barnes & Noble.
This is the story of an internet connection that has nothing to do with romance. At 22, I was lost and living at home. I wasn’t looking for a date. I was trying to ace the SATs.
It was 2011 and I had recently dropped out of a Maryland rabbinical seminary and moved back into my parents’ house in Brooklyn. Although I was back in the community I grew up in, I felt different from everyone I knew. I was depressed and friendless. The internet provided solace and distraction, a community of fellow lonely people. I was particularly drawn to Reddit, which is essentially a mix of popular, crowdsourced links and conversations. The site has everything, from photos of the cutest kittens to long posts by NASA engineers about designing vehicles for the International Space Station.
One day I came across a post that caught my eye: “IAmA SAT/ACT tutor at the top end of the market in Manhattan. AMA.” AMA, in Reddit-speak, means “Ask Me Anything.” This generous citizen was answering questions in real-time about how he tutored the best and brightest of the Manhattan prep crowd. He framed the SAT not as a test of knowledge but of “college readiness,” and wrote about his strategies for, say, making “Beowulf” relatable to a high schooler. He charged almost 300 dollars an hour, but he got results: Some students added over 700 points to their exams. I was fascinated. Here was someone who held the logical keys to a foreign world I aspired to succeed in: college.
I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community going to a Yeshiva high school where we got three hours of secular studies each day. Most of our teachers were never formally trained and some were community members who were between jobs. After grade school, I went to seminary both for self-edification and because it was what was expected of me. It’s not that college was ever off-limits. I just had no idea how to get there.
But peering into the world of this competent stranger on Reddit, I was overwhelmed by a mix of desperation and hope. I sent him a private message and asked for an hour of his time, but I was upfront about the fact that I couldn’t pay. I knew it was a really long shot — his time was clearly very valuable — and I didn’t expect him to respond.
But on Reddit, sometimes magical things happen. Although the community is a disparate group of millions of users all around the world and there are plenty of trolls, the website fosters real human connections between strangers. I once received a hand knit scarf and a random assortment of local beer from a Secret Santa whom I never met. Another time, when I expressed interest in astronomy on another conversation thread, someone sent me science textbooks.
So, hoping for the best, I reached out to the SAT tutor, and a few days later he texted me back, introduced himself as James, and we made an appointment to meet.
On a clammy and cloudy Tuesday, I found James in the stacks of Barnes & Noble, wearing fancy boots, jeans and a plaid shirt. He was tall, confident and extremely articulate.
“So, why did you drop out of rabbinical school? Crisis of faith?” he joked.
I told James that I was completely lost about how to get to college. My younger sister, a first-year student at the University of Chicago at the time, was an inspiration, but I had seen how hard she worked to get there, studying for her SATs since the seventh grade, diligently reading daily emails from the College Board with prep questions.
At 22, one glance at the college essay prompts would plunge me immediately into self-doubt. But I passionately wanted to go to school, to foster a curiosity that could not be sated with Talmud. I imagined being mentored by men in tweed jackets sitting in oversize armchairs, our faces illuminated by a crackling fire.
And James was supportive of that (although possibly amused by my vision of college). He spent hours with me that day demystifying the test-taking and application process and sharing study tools that I still find useful. He taught me the tricks to multiple-choice, and how to strategically answer math questions that I didn’t recognize. He walked me through my difficulties with subject-verb agreements and showed me how to “hack” large passages of text in order to answer reading comprehension questions.
At one point, we moved our study session to a nearby diner and James talked while I furiously scribbled notes in the back of an old SAT book with yellowing pages. He told me a little bit about himself: He had gone to the fancy prep school where “Dead Poets Society” was filmed and had taken four years of Latin there.
At one point, through bites of bacon and eggs, he started speaking in a strange dialect.
“What are you saying?” I asked when he stopped for breath and another slice of bacon. I was never that close to bacon, and it was distracting: It smelled like pastrami but was a little off, like being on a blind date with someone who is charming and likable but there’s no romantic spark.
“That’s Chaucer. ‘Canterbury Tales,’” he said. “We had to memorize it in high school.”
Through our conversation, I felt James’s confidence rub off on me and my fear of failure dissipate. I sat higher in my chair. When I went to pay for the breakfast, however, my credit card was declined and I was mortified. A perfect stranger had given me hours of his professional time — free — and I couldn’t even pay for breakfast. But he brushed it off, as if it was a nonissue.
For the next two months, I studied incredibly hard. I’d spend long afternoons and evenings at Starbucks, doing practice tests in a zombielike state. The night before the SAT, James sent me a good luck text and reminded me to eat a light breakfast, and bring snacks, a clock and extra pencils. I don’t remember much of that day. I hit the ground running and didn’t think. Eight weeks later, I received my score. I had jumped 400 points from my original test, and my writing section was in the 95th percentile.
I thanked him profusely, but didn’t see James again for another four years or so. By that point, I was a senior at Hunter College, pursuing a degree in history and minors in linguistics and English. My research on Yeshivish, a dialectical English spoken among sections of Orthodox Jews, had won an award at a conference and I wanted to tell James about the wild success story that had come from his act of charity, and buy that breakfast I owed him.
At a restaurant in Jersey City — this time, kosher and bacon-free — we talked about his life and mine. I was working on applications to fellowships abroad. He was engaged to a doctor and they were moving out West for her job. We were both closing chapters in our lives and starting new ones.
Now I’m an English teacher in a Yeshiva similar to the one I attended, hoping to be the James that I wish I had when I was the students’ age. I’ve been to college and back, prepared to counsel the next generation of students who decide to venture to worlds unknown.
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Fuck, we dance. Sorry, madam. I said, kneeling down and taking the bottle from her.