SC Test Prep
This past Wednesday, March 5, the College Board (the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT) announced large-scale changes to the test which will take effect in spring 2016. More than two years away from the changes’ implementation and with additional details coming in April, there is far more speculation than fact surrounding the redesigned test. With that said, in the interest of alleviating immediate concerns and of giving freshmen, sophomores, and their parents an idea of what to expect, here is a breakdown of the six major revisions and a brief analysis of the impact each will have on individual students, based on what we know right now.
Six Major Revisions Expected
The Essay, currently included in the Writing section of the test, will become optional. Impact: Low
There will no longer be a penalty for wrong answers. Impact: Moderate
Students will no longer be questioned on the meaning of relatively obscure “SAT” words. Impact: Moderate, but let’s wait and see
The Critical Reading section will now be Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Impact: High
The Math section will focus on three areas: 1) Problem Solving and Data Analysis, 2) the Heart of Algebra, and 3) Passport to Advanced Math. Impact: Moderate, but results may vary
The College Board will offer application fee waivers to students from low-income families and provide free online test preparation from Khan Academy. Impact: Low
More About the Revisions
1. The Essay, currently included in the Writing section of the test, will become optional.
Students will also be given 50 minutes instead of the current 25 to complete the section and it will now involve an analysis of a source document. The Essay will also be scored separately from the rest of a student’s SAT. As a result, a perfect score will once again become the traditional 1600 rather than the 2400 it has been since the Writing section’s introduction in 2005. The impact on individual students will likely be minimal as this is the same format the ACT already uses and an overwhelming majority of colleges and universities already do not consider the Writing section when making admission decisions. (When we asked an admission counselor at a prominent school in South Carolina why students were still required to report Writing scores, our answer was literally a shrug.) Impact: Low.
2. There will no longer be a penalty for wrong answers.
Currently, students are assessed a ¼-point penalty to their raw score for incorrect answers on the SAT, a factor that plays a large role in how students prepare for and take the test. This change will certainly alter that preparation and most students’ strategy on test day. Dramatic score increases may be more difficult to come by, but this isn’t quite as radical a revision as it may seem. Again, this is the format used by the ACT and a firm grasp of question types and appropriate strategies for each is still the basis for success on standardized tests, regardless of how they are scored. Impact: Moderate.
3. Students will no longer be questioned on the meaning of relatively obscure “SAT” words.
Instead, the redesigned test will focus on more relevant vocabulary for college and career with particular attention given to identifying the meaning of words based on the context in which they appear. Like removing the penalty for wrong answers, this revision will change how students prepare for the test and, ideally, will also make the material on the SAT more similar to the work students do in high school and college. If so, the logic goes that the test will both be a fairer evaluation of a student’s ability and of greater predictive value to admission offices, but with no data or examples of the new questions currently available, the real effect remains to be seen. Impact: Moderate, but let’s wait and see.
4. The Critical Reading section will now be Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.
This transition encompasses a host of changes to the SAT, all with the intent of better evaluating a student’s ability to interpret, synthesize and use evidence from a variety of sources. Passages will now include texts drawn not just from literature and the humanities, but also from science and career-related sources. Some will also be paired with informational graphics and students will be asked to integrate the information conveyed in each source to find the best answer. At least one passage on each test will be taken either from one of America’s Founding Documents or a text considered part of the Great Conversation. Finally, for each passage a student reads, at least one question will ask them to select the quote from the text that best supports the answer they provided on the preceding question. As with the change to vocabulary, more information is needed before a true answer to how these changes will affect students can be given, although again, ideally, they will result in a more familiar test for high school students and a stronger correlation with college-level work for admission offices. It is also worth noting that many of these changes are similar to the types of questions found on the Science section of the ACT. Regardless, the sheer scope of the revisions and the degree to which they will affect students’ preparation for and experience of the test means that this is one of the more substantial changes the College Board announced. Impact: High.
5. The Math section will focus on three areas: 1) Problem Solving and Data Analysis, 2) the Heart of Algebra, and 3) Passport to Advanced Math.
The College Board has stated that research indicates success in these areas is a strong contributor to readiness for college and career training, so while other topics will still be covered, the majority of questions will evaluate a student’s ability in these core three. This increased focus will more than likely make it easier to prepare for the SAT since students will have a better grasp of what is tested by the Math section, but there is a possibility that the results for individuals will be more mixed. By reducing the breadth of material covered, this change limits a student’s ability to work around question types or topics where they might be particularly weak. Also, it seems that the College Board is attempting to focus better on pure mathematical ability which may affect the ability of bright students to answer difficult questions through different means such as logic or observation. Impact: Moderate, but results may vary.
6. The College Board will offer application fee waivers to students from low-income families and provide free online test preparation from Khan Academy.
Surprisingly, these may be the most controversial announcements the College Board made last week, perhaps because, as one of my consultant colleagues described them, they are “much ado about nothing.” The College Board already provides students who receive a registration fee waiver for the SAT the option to request an application fee waiver at up to four schools – requests that are always granted by the colleges and universities. Application fee waivers are also available from the ACT and the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Some institutions actually offer fee waivers themselves and many will also accept fee waiver requests from guidance counselors on school letterhead explaining that a student receives free or reduced lunch. In the same way, test preparation is already available to many students in a variety of formats. Either through organizations like SC Test Prep, SAT and ACT classes offered in high schools, or online programs like Kaplan and others, even students with financial need often have the opportunity to receive assistance with standardized tests. Impact: Low.
There is still a lot we, and probably the College Board, do not know regarding the announced revisions to the SAT. The results of the changes will likely vary and, as always, much will depend on the individual student. As the College Board releases more information, we will try to keep you as updated and prepared as possible, so stay tuned!