Can I make them score my SAT by hand?

Answers to your questions about the news.
March 9 2006 6:43 PM

Can I Make Them Score My SAT by Hand?

Why demanding a rescore may not be worth the money.

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A glitch in the grading of last October's SAT exam lowered the scores of about 4,000 students, the company that administers the test said Wednesday. The College Board noticed the glitch only after a pair of disgruntled students requested in December that their tests be rescored by hand. Can anyone get his or her SAT hand-scored?

All you have to do is ask—and pay $50. The College Board tells students they can request a manual rescoring of their test if they suspect an error. For $50, you can have testing-company staffers track down your answer sheet in the warehouses where they store the last two years' worth of paper copies. (That's about 5.5 million bubble sheets.) Then they'll check and recheck your answers by hand using an answer stencil. If you were right about your score—and the scanner was wrong—you get your money back.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

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This rarely happens. College Board officials estimate that only about 500 students request hand-scores every year, out of the several million that take the test. And very few of those suspicious test-takers get their $50 back. (The company won't give out statistics on how often it's wrong.)

Any mistakes that do turn up can usually be attributed to something particular to a given bubble sheet—like an improperly erased answer, or a lightly filled-in oval. The two students who made rescoring requests in December set off an alarm because their answer sheets had been erroneously graded despite having no easily diagnosable, individual flaws. That led to a larger investigation and many other tests being hand-scored as well.

How do you know if you should ask for a rescore? You might get the sense that something's amiss if your new score doesn't jibe with the scores you got on several previous tries. Before laying out $50 to have your answer sheet pulled from the warehouse, you could ask the College Board for a look at a digital copy of your answer sheet, plus the questions and answers for the day you took the test. You'll have to pay for that, too, but at $24 it's a relative bargain. (This policy applies only to three out of the seven major testing dates each year. If you take the test in October, January, or May, you can request the questions and answers; if you take it any other time you can't.)

Students haven't always had this option. The College Board used to keep everything secret until New York state passed the "truth-in-testing" law in 1979. Starting in 1980, New Yorkers were able to use public information about the test to challenge bad questions. The public exposure of two wrongly graded questions in 1981 led the board to make a voluntary extension of the New York policy to all 50 states.

But getting a look at a computer version of your answer sheet may not help you that much. The data on your virtual bubble sheet comes from the same scanning machines that might have screwed you over in the first place. You wouldn't know the scanners had made an error unless you remembered that specific answers on the screen didn't match the ones you filled in at the testing center.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Roger Dooley of www.CollegeConfidential.com, Brian O'Reilly of the College Board, and Bob Schaeffer of FairTest.

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