We will now begin section five…

Preparing for the SAT is one of the most painful and stressful parts of high school. With the college board spreading tricks throughout the test, it is hard to know what to expect what those witches will concoct from their cauldron and pour down students’ throats. However, nothing could be worse than a trick question that throws a student towards the wrong answer, right? They would never add a fifth section without telling students before the test, right? The college board would never lie, right? I think all of you can guess where I’m going with is. The additional section five of the SAT is something the college board should address up front without any illusions, and should be removed all together and placed elsewhere. 

The SAT has a basic format. The test has four sections: It begins with the Reading section, then the Writing and Language section, then the Math No Calculator section, and finally the Math Calculator section. Those who choose to pay the additional $17 will take an essay after the Math Calculator section. However, in the 2016 SATs, the seemingly transparent pretest questions (questions that are for experimental purposes and do not count towards your score) became a mystery. The College Board Student Handbook described the section as the following: 

The SAT will be given in a standard testing room (to students with no testing accommodations) and consist of four components — five if the optional 50-minute Essay is taken — with each component timed separately. The timed portion of the SAT with Essay (excluding breaks) is three hours and 50 minutes. To allow for pretesting, some students taking the SAT with no Essay will take a fifth, 20-minute section. Any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest items.” 

This meant that students who did not sign up the essay may be subject to a fifth additional section. However, whether that section matters is a harder conclusion to obtain. In an article on The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss, it states, “During the session, I asked if all the questions on the extra section won’t count and was told they would not.” 

It is a relief to most to hear this, but it becomes even more obvious after looking at what the SAT is. The SAT is a standardized test to help students get into colleges. ‘Standardized test’ means it is the same for everyone. Section five is a fifth random section that lasts 20 minutes. This means that one person could have a Math No-Calculator section, while the person sitting next to them could have a Writing and Language section. Because the test is standardized, section five legally cannot count, otherwise the college board will have a large lawsuit on their hands. 

But all these facts are about the 2016 SAT and up. What about the 2019 SAT? Is that the same or different? Why does the college board need to have pretest questions? The college board managed to make an even more vague handbook to leave students in an even more stressful situation. After searching the key words pretest, experimental, section, five, section five, 20, twenty, minutes, and optional in Adobe Reader on a PDF of the handbook, I found one section regarding the mysterious pretest section: 

“We occasionally pretest new questions to determine if they should be included in a future SAT test form. These questions may appear in any of the test sections, and testing time will be extended by 20 minutes so students have time to answer them. They will not be included in computing students’ scores.” 

This one paragraph of the 54-page handbook is the only mention of pretest questions, and implied that they will be spread throughout the test. But, looking at the general description of the test, nowhere does it imply a fifth section, and only mentions the main four with an optional essay. 

Pretest questions have their benefits. The college board uses them to help improve the SAT for future generations, but the issue lies within how they are implemented. In the past, section five was given to those who did not sign up for the optional essay. However, in the 2019 SAT, those who signed up for the essay were subject to the fifth section. On top of that, the fifth section was offered immediately after the Math Calculator section, but before the Essay. With many students thinking parts of the fifth section matter, the extra twenty minutes of unwanted, unneeded, and unjustified stress before writing a 50-minute essay was something that no student deserves. Pretest questions are a necessity, but they belong after the graded parts of the SAT, or in the PSAT.  

The fifth section acted as a punch in the gut for students taking the SAT, but the relief of its irrelevance reduces the post-test stress. But feelings after the test don’t affect how students did on the test. As the essay is phased out, this may no longer be an issue. But some colleges still require the essay, and the unwanted extra stress is during the test is not something students need. The SAT is a vital part of the college selection process, and should be made to help colleges, but also help students. Stressing students out more helps neither.