Bad and Good of SAT Experimental Section

My students from the recent August SAT reported that they received an experimental test section at the end of their SAT. While the experimental section is not a new phenomenon, I was mildly surprised to hear that all of my students--who tested across a variety of testing locations--received the extra section.


For some context, the SAT pre-2016 always had one experimental section on the test. In the old days, there was no indication which section was the experimental so students had to put forth their best effort on every section.


Post-2016, the College Board still included an experimental section in the SAT with two key differences: 1) it was reserved for only those students who opted to not do the essay and 2) the experimental section occurred at the end of the test so students knew which section it was.


Today, this section continues to exist for the simple reason that the College Board wants to test out the difficulty level of their questions. Test takers are thus lab rats for the College Board to dissect the results.


Going forward, it seems that the experimental section is here to stay for all students for three reasons:

  1. The essay is permanently eliminated so now all students can do an experimental section.

  2. With fewer test takers in the last 18 months due to COVID, the College Board needs more data.

  3. Both the test-optional or test-blind movements are in full force, so the College Board is scrambling to find ways to make the SAT more relevant.

With this, there is both bad news and the good news.


First the bad:

  • Fatigue: This section comes at the end when most students are exhausted and ready to leave the testing room.

  • Content: There is no way to predict if the experimental section you receive is a reading, writing and language or math section.

  • Scoring, part I: Students might be led to believe that the results of this section could impact the overall score (see below for the good news on this one).

And now the good:

  • Scoring, part II: Scores on this section truly do not impact your overall score. They just can't. They are experimental sections and different students get different ones so using scores on these sections for all students would de-standardize the whole thing. Meaning: do not stress about it.

  • Test order: Unlike in the old days when students didn't know which section was experimental, today students will know that this section will be the extra fifth section after the four typical sections of reading, writing and language, math (no-calculator) and math (calculator).

  • Test reliability: Your performance on this section will help make the test more reliable in the future. That may not be good news in the present but in the long term you would help overall scores be a better measurement of test success.

So my advice to students is the same as it would be in other parts of the test: relax, problem solve, remove any stress and do your best.


After all, you are not defined by a test score so why would you be defined by an experimental section?


If want more advice on experimental sections, or the SAT and ACT in general, contact CROSSWALK today.

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