One of the most helpful things for students taking the ACT, SAT, GED, or other major tests is to know that there is one definitive answer for every question. This can be quite a change if you are used to coming across rather vague questions on school-based tests that indeed could have a couple of correct answers. The ACT and SAT take significant steps to ensure that they do indeed only have one correct answer for each question.
They do this by testing the questions before they are given on scored tests. The SAT does this on every test. Each SAT has 10 sections, only 9 of which are scored. The 10th section is an experimental section which they use to test out questions for future tests. They want to be certain that the questions are not biased towards any gender or ethnic group, and that the questions are of appropriate difficulty. The ACT does not test its questions as frequently as does the SAT, but they seem to pick the June test date to add in an experimental 10 minute section for test-takers to do at the end of the test. In order for these experimental sections to be valid, the test-takers cannot be aware that they are experimental. Otherwise, students would simply go to sleep and save their energy for the questions that actually impact their score. The test-makers are quite good at this question experimentation – the last time I took the SAT I thought I had determined which section was the experimental, but when I received my answers and test booklet in the mail, I realized I had been mistaken.
How good are the SAT and ACT at making sure there is only one definitive answer to each and every question? Very, very good, and if they do mess up, they fix it. Check out this great New York Times article on the appeals process for questions on the ACT and SAT:
What struck me is that in a 22 year period, no ACT questions were thrown out. Between 2005 and 2008, only 3 questions on the SAT were deemed to be flawed. If and when the SAT and ACT do find that they have made an error in a question, be assured that they will take care of it and omit it from scoring. This is one reason why it takes time for your scores to come back – ACT and SAT need time to make sure that they have not made any errors on the test, and need the opportunity to find any questions they might have to omit.
One potential reason that the ACT has a more of a spotless record is the strong possibility that the test makers repeat some questions. I do not know this for a fact, but I do know that the ACT limits you to taking the test 12 times in your life while the SAT allows you to take the test as many times as you would like. (I try to take the tests regularly, and I am spreading out my ACT test taking experiences so that I don’t run out!) I can see no reason other than the possible repetition of questions as to why they would place these limits on test takers. Once the ACT knows they have a perfectly worded question, they are in the clear and can use the questions on subsequent tests. Since the SAT is starting fresh each time, they have more room for error. Keep in mind that this is all just an educated conjecture on my part.
How does knowing that there is one definitive answer help in your test-taking and your test preparation? Two ways:
1. Don’t waste time looking for games or tricks on the test. Spend your time thinking instead. There is no point in overanalyzing a question to see if there could be two correct answers; this simply isn’t going to happen on the SAT or ACT and if it does, they will omit it from scoring.
2. Make sure you prepare with practice tests that have definitive answers. If you are prepping with practice questions that in fact have 2 correct answers on occasion, you will drive yourself insane in overanalyzing the questions. As a result, you will have a flawed strategy when it comes time to take the test. So, be sure the materials you are using are high quality. One great place you can go for solid questions is the website of the test you are taking. You can also purchase actual materials from ACT and SAT.
I hope you found this discussion helpful. If so, I would greatly appreciate it if you passed it along to your friends. Thanks so much.