The Top 10 Things We Know About the New SAT

On Wednesday, the president of the College Board announced some preliminary changes coming to the SAT. Here we’ve covered the Top 10 things we learned about the redesigned SAT.Construction

    1.  The SAT is changing in the “Spring of 2016.”

      The last redesign of the SAT appeared in March of 2005, so I think March of 2016 is a safe bet for the rollout of the new SAT. The purposely vague “Spring of 2016,” however, gives the College Board some leeway. If this redesign does indeed follow the model used in 2005, expect the new PSAT to be unveiled in October 2015.

        2.  The SAT and PSAT are being used as a marketing tool for the AP exams.

          Under the pretense of benevolence, the College Board announced that it would use the PSAT and SAT to identify students who could potentially earn college credit through the AP exams. Recognizing students who would not otherwise take these exams sounds magnanimous until you realize that the College Board makes $89 per test for every one of these students it successfully solicits. I do hope, though, that it opens up scholarship opportunities to students who might otherwise choose not to go to college.

            3.  The College Board will provide some free test prep online.

              After blaming the test prep industry for the culture of fear and inequality surrounding the SAT (see my other blog about who is really to blame), the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy to offer free, online videos explaining test concepts. Note that Khan Academy already offered free SAT prep; they just now are doing so with the College Board’s permission. In some sense, I expect the Khan Academy to have more limitations now in their approach to teaching the nuances of the SAT. After all, the president of College Board said that by opening up the test, there will be “no more secrets,” referring to tricks and shortcuts that help students attack the test. I assure you, though, that there are tricks and shortcuts on every standardized test; if the College Board has outright declared that there are none, how can their partner, the Khan Academy, teach them?

              The College Board claims that one of the goals of the new SAT is complete openness, meaning that everyone has access to the content tested before their official exam. But by licensing their questions to a single test preparation company (and the Khan Academy is a business), how open is it? In comparison, the makers of the LSAT—the test to get into law school—allow anyone to purchase their questions for reprint, dissection, and discussion. Seems the gatekeeper for future lawyers knows a little bit more about equality and fairness, but that’s another blog altogether. I applaud the attempt to increase knowledge of the test, but it’s another empty act of benevolence that benefits the College Board most of all.

                4.  The SAT will have three sections.

                  The first two sections are mandatory: (1) Evidence Based Reading and Writing and (2) Math. Even the title of the verbal section reeks of public relations desperation. By pointing out that the verbal section is “evidence-based,” we’re supposed to feel like the new test is more valuable than the old one. Phooey. But I digress. The passages used in the Reading and Writing section will come from literature, literary non-fiction, science, history, and social studies. The president of College Board wants you to think this is some great improvement, but I’ve got news for you: the current SAT draws from the same subject areas.

                  The math section will have three areas of focus: (1) Problem Solving and Data Analysis, (2) The Heart of Algebra, and (3) The Passport to Advanced Math. Aside from the comical names of the last two sections, I think it’s extremely important to note that Geometry seems to be out. Apparently you don’t need that after high school. Luckily for me, it was still important when I graduated, so I know how to calculate the square footage of my home office come tax time and I’m able to sketch a drawing of the screened porch I want my contractor to build this summer. Another important consideration, which is causing frenzy on the internet, is that there will be some sections in which you cannot use a calculator.

                  The final section is the Essay, which for the first time will be optional. Given that it’s a 50 minute essay in which students have to use source material to prove their point, I don’t see a lot of students signing up for it. If their prospective colleges require an essay, I venture they will turn to the ACT, where the essay is only 30 minutes long and asks relevant teenage questions about things like curfews and school uniforms.

                    5.  The SAT is becoming more like the ACT.

                      It’s no secret that since 2012, more students take the ACT than the SAT. The ACT did a better job at marketing their test as the fairer assessment (even though most test prep experts disagree with the factual accuracy of this statement), so students swarmed to it. The very things these students disliked about the SAT are now being removed: the mandatory essay, extreme length, excessive vocabulary, and guessing penalties. As we mentioned in the previous section, the essay is now optional and the test is being shortened to 3 hours (although if you take the optional essay, you’re right back up to nearly 4 hours). The Sentence Completion questions, which tested vocabulary words, are being removed. And you are now free to guess without incurring a quarter point penalty.

                      Additionally, the SAT is making some changes to more closely mirror the ACT. To avoid outright copying of the ACT, the new test will have more science content in both the verbal and math sections instead of in a dedicated Science section. I suspect these verbal and math questions will involve a lot more tables and graphs and be shockingly similar to ACT Science section questions. The College Board also hinted at paragraph style editing in the writing component of the verbal section, which is exactly how the ACT assesses grammar.

                        6.  The SAT will include one passage from “America’s Founding Documents.”

                          Start studying the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Articles of Federation, and other important historical documents (apparently these are more important than geometry). One of your Reading or Writing passages will come from these texts. It might be a good time to buy stock in Cliffs Notes.

                            7.  The SAT will be available on computer and on paper.

                              Like the 2015 ACT, the SAT will be offering both a computer and paper version of the test. I’ve worked with the computer-based GRE long enough to know that if given the choice, I’m taking the paper version. I like to be able to write notes and solve math questions in my test booklet. But one future benefit of this update may be flexible test dates instead of the seven dedicated test administrations each year. I know a lot of students would like to take the test in the summer when they don’t have school work and extracurriculars to interfere with their test prep.

                                8.  The SAT will be scored on the 1600 scale.

                                  The test will be returning to the pre-2005 scale, where 1600 is the maximum potential score. Of course, if you take the optional essay, you will have an additional, separate score for this component.

                                    9.  The SAT will now come with a “Safe Use Warning.”

                                      Get this: your SAT and all SAT resources are now coming with a warning label, like a box of rat poison or can of oven cleaner. “SAT scores should only be used in combination with other relevant information to make responsible decisions about students.” While I whole heartedly agree with the sentiment of this statement, I think admissions officers are going to pay it the same attention a smoker pays the Surgeon General’s warning on the side of a box of cigarettes.

                                        10.  We will know more on April 16.

                                          The College Board has promised a “full blueprint” of the test on April 16, a full two years before the new SAT. If full-length versions of the redesigned SAT are made available at this time, this is the only true benevolent action of the College Board. It will allow us curriculum authors adequate time to research the test and prepare good materials to help students succeed. Of course, if you listen to the College Board, test prep doesn’t help and you should just be able to walk in and ace SAT test if you’ve been appropriately challenged in high school. Hah. It’s a good thing all of us know better than that.