What is the “Experimental” Section 5 on the SAT?
This is a question I frequently received from my students who took the official SAT in the past year.
Here is College Board’s statement that they released in 2019 regarding Section 5:
“The SAT (as of March 2016) and SAT with Essay (as of March 2019) contain some questions that won’t be used to compute student scores. These questions may appear in any section. To give students the extra time to answer more questions, the tests include a fifth section with regular and pretest questions.”
This means that this fifth section is experimental and, in the case that your official exam includes it, will not be counted toward your SAT score that is sent to colleges and universities. College Board uses this fifth section, which can be either Math or English, to test new types of questions on students to gauge how appropriate they are in terms of scope and difficulty. The findings from this section are used to make future tests more fair and balanced.
I have seen many students panic during the official exam because they were not aware of this experimental section. The questions on this section of the test tend to be different. Sometimes they are more difficult than the usual level of the SAT, and sometimes the questions require a different approach that students are not accustomed to. Even to the untrained eye, it is easy to see that the section is different, but it is not always easy to see how it is different.
So how can you prepare for this potential curveball?
Well first, build your test-taking stamina. If you are one of the (un)lucky students who have to take the fifth section, you are in for an extra 20 minutes of testing, on top of the 3 hours you’ll already have been sitting for the exam. It’s not always at the end of the exam, though, so if you don’t have the test-taking stamina to get through the entire 3 hours and 20 minutes, you may sacrifice your performance on other sections that actually count.
Second, be familiar with the test material and scope. Students who are not confident about the SAT’s scope are usually the ones who panic about Section 5. These students don’t know that the difficulty or types of questions that they saw on the experimental section are exactly that: experimental. So study, study, study. That way, you can prioritize what you are confident is definitely going to count toward your official test score.
Finally, aim to do well on ALL of the sections. According to College Board, the experimental section is also used to flag cheaters. Basically, if you complete the rest of the exam perfectly but completely tank Section 5, College Board may suspect foul play. So don’t gamble on the possibility that the Fifth Section won’t hurt you, and perform your due diligence on every section!
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Good luck, and I hope to see you soon!