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(3rd update: College Board says error only in U.S.)

Students taking the SAT on Saturday across the United States found a mistake in the instructions, causing confusion about just how much time they had to complete at least one section. Now, the College Board, which owns the SAT, says it is trying to figure out what to do about the mistake, “to ensure the fairness of the test and the validity of the scores.”

Many proctors, who were given the proper instructions, apparently did not realize that students had incorrect information until they told students their time for a certain section was nearly up and students complained. Frantic proctors began calling the College Board on Saturday during the test to try to get guidance, and after the test, students and parents began posting complaints about the error on social media and other Web sites. For example, here is a post from a parent on the College Confidential Web site:

“In my daughter’s test, they told her they conferred with the College Board and that they had 25 minutes. Then 19 minutes into the section (she still thought she had six minutes) someone came into the room and told them they had to finish it within 20 minutes. So they only had one more minute. She still had 3 questions left, as she thought she had six minutes.”

Here’s a statement from the College Board on the mistake:

Shortly before noon Eastern Time on Saturday, June 6, Educational Testing Service (ETS) informed the College Board that there was a printing error in the standard test books they provided to students taking the SAT on June 6 in the United States. The time allotted for a specific section, either section 8 or 9 depending on the edition, was incorrect in the student test books and correct in the script and manual provided to Test Center Supervisors. The student test books contained “25 minutes” while the manual and script contained the correct time limit of “20 minutes.” As soon as ETS became aware of the error during the administration of the test, they worked to provide accurate guidance to supervisors and administrators.

The College Board understands the critical nature of this issue, and we are actively working to determine next steps to ensure the fairness of the test and the validity of the scores we deliver. We regret the confusion and concern this issue is causing for students and their families, and we will provide them and others with updated information as soon as possible. Updates will be available online.

ETS is the College Board’s test administration and security provider for the SAT.

A College Board spokeswoman said on Monday in an e-mail that the “ETS and the College Board have confirmed that there was no misprint in tests administered outside the United States.” Earlier, there was an erroneous report that the same error was detected in Asia.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, said in an e-mail:

If the mistimed sections were not experimental, the College Board faces a serious test scoring problem. At a minimum, the administration of that portion of the exam was not “standardized” since some students had 20 minutes to complete the items, while others had 25 minutes. Rather than its typical circle-the-wagons and say nothing non-response, the test-makers need to explain immediately how this error occurred and what they are going to do to insure score integrity.

Here’s more information about the mistake from James S. Murphy, who alerted me to the error. He has been prepping students for the SAT for almost two decades. He lives in Boston and is a tutoring manager for the Princeton Review. He recently wrote this post on what the new SAT, to be introduced next year, could look like.

From Murphy:

In order to get a perfect score on the SAT, you need to be pretty much perfect. You can’t make stupid mistakes, and you have to be very careful with your timing. The SAT this past Saturday did not live up to its own standards. Students across the nation received exam booklets containing a printing error that allotted five extra minutes to one section of the exam.

The SAT has 10 sections, and Sections 8 and 9 are 20 minutes long. On June 6, however, tests were distributed in which the directions for either Section 8 or 9 indicated that section would be 25 five minutes long.

One junior from New Milford, CT, told me that when he got to Section 8 of his SAT on Saturday, he knew something was wrong since he’d taken the exam twice before. The test booklet said he had 25 minutes, but the proctor said he had 20. He pointed this out, and the proctor asked what other people’s exam books said. About half the people in the room had 25 minutes for Section 8. Presumably, the other half would have the extra time on Section 9. The test supervisor had to be called in, and she indicated that other classrooms were experiencing the same problem. It turned out that the extent of this problem was much wider and was in fact nationwide.

Proctors were given the correct timing for the sections in their directions, but this led to confusion and delays at some sites, when students objected that they were being deprived of the time the exam told them they had. It took test administrators a long time to get through to The College Board on Saturday to get the correct information on the length of the sections, presumably because so many people were calling in at the same time.

Students from Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, and California across took to Twitter on Saturday to discuss the mistake and to ask whether it would have an impact on their own tests. One senior in Texas confirmed that those students in her exam who had 25 minutes printed in their test booklets were given the extra five minutes.

 

Some on Reddit worried that others benefited by an extra five minutes, while others were concerned that the potential mistake might lead the College Board, which administers the SAT, to cancel all scores. Even without errors like this in the administration of the test, the confusion some students had could have had a negative impact on their performance and thus affect the exam’s validity.

Katherine Levin, a spokesperson for the College Board, said the organization “understands the critical nature of this issue, and we are actively working to determine next steps to ensure the fairness of the test and the validity of the scores we deliver. We regret the confusion and concern this issue is causing for students and their families, and we will provide them and others with updated information as soon as possible.” The first update (which you can see above) is now online.