Right Answer Was Wrong Teen Finds Mistake In Sat Math Question
Fri., Feb. 7, 1997
It’s the mantra of the SAT: Check your work. Apparently, the testers didn’t do it carefully enough.
The College Board made a mistake on the math portion of the exam, and it was a 17-year-old from Peterborough, N.H., who recognized it.
As a result, the scores of up to 45,000 high school students who took the Scholastic Assessment Test last fall will be boosted as much as 30 points. The math portion of the test is worth 800 points.
“We made a mistake. We screwed up,” Brian O’Reilly, director of the SAT program, said Thursday.
It was the first time the College Board admitted an error in the SAT since 1982.
Colin Rizzio, who took the test Oct. 12 along with about 350,000 other college-bound students, found the flaw in the multiple-choice answers to an algebra problem.
The algebra problem used the letter “a” to stand for a number. The test writers intended for students to assume that “a” is a positive number, in which case the correct answer is C. However, if you assume that “a” could also be a negative number, the correct answer is D: “Cannot be determined.”
“It seemed too tricky, even for an SAT question,” Rizzio recalled Thursday.
He sent an e-mail afterward to the College Board and the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, which designs the SAT.
“I didn’t even think I was right. I felt I was wrong and I wanted to know why I was wrong. But it turned out I was right,” said Rizzio, who scored a 750 on the math portion.
Math questions on the SAT tests are developed by former math teachers, reviewed by high school teachers or math professors and then checked by members of the SAT committee, O’Reilly said.
“At least a dozen individuals, seven of them present or former math teachers, missed it. It got by all of them,” O’Reilly said. “The math teachers all had to say, ‘You know what? He’s right.’ There was a certain level of embarrassment at not having thought the question through enough to come up with the answer he came up with.”
The corrected scores will be sent via Federal Express to the affected students and the colleges they applied to.
Rizzio’s older brother, Aaron, described him as an above-average student at Contoocook Valley Regional High School, 45 miles west of Manchester, N.H. “He likes to point out errors. This gave him a thrill, for sure,” he said.
Rizzio has already been admitted to Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.
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