I try to take the SAT at least once a year to keep up with trends on the test, and one of my favorite parts of the process is coming home and chatting with students in online forums. But that tradition seems to have been banished in much the same manner as the former SAT.
The online SAT forums are usually abuzz with SAT discussion in the hours, days, and weeks following an official test administration. Before the end of the week, students compile nearly all of the answers to the test—after much debate about some—and have a general idea of how well they scored. Tests are meant to be talked about and reviewed soon upon their completion; it’s how people learn from their mistakes and avoid them in the future, and it’s a recommended strategy by all reputable test prep companies for students taking practice tests. Waiting six weeks to talk about the test when scores are released is not nearly as effective, as the material has become stale and even forgotten by the majority of test takers.
So I was disappointed this week to find the internet eerily quiet after Saturday’s May SAT administration. I took the test with about 60 high school students and noticed that test security was heightened. The rules about discussing the test were read several times and I had to sign two statements about not sharing the questions and answers on the test, one of which even warned that violators may be reported to law enforcement. So much for the new and improved "transparent" SAT, right? When I finished the test and logged in to the online forums where the test is typically discussed, the website administrators had posted and repeatedly reposted a warning that the test was not to be discussed because College Board would be monitoring the forum. Even test prep tutors in popular LinkedIn groups have been mum about their feelings toward the new SAT, despite months of anticipation and speculation by these same tutors. Everyone has been successfully scared into keeping quiet.
Which is sad. Sad for the students who benefit from talking about the test and sad for me because my curiosity has not been quelled. It also seems unnecessary, since the May test is a released Question-and-Answer Service Test and the College Board’s own website says “There is never any point in time at which you are allowed to discuss exam content unless it is released as part of a College Board service (such as the Question-and-Answer Service).” Why the scary threats and signed statements if this is a released test, College Board? Shouldn't those warnings be reserved for the tests that are going to be reused?
That’s right. The tests given in March, June, November, and December, which are not eligible for the Question-and-Answer Service, are reused in international test centers. So students overseas can expect to see the March 2016 SAT at some point in the next few years in a test center in Egypt, Nigeria, and China. David Coleman and the other leaders of the College Board would have students and parents believe that domestic test prep tutors are to blame for security breaches (among other things, like parent intimidation and “the perception of inequality and injustice in our country.” Yeah, he seriously said that. Might as well blame us for the lack of world peace while he’s at it), which is why adult enrollments for the March SAT were canceled just five days before the test, but the real problem lies in the foreign test prep industry. You can read about these scams and the College Board's response in a Reuters Investigates article here. Basically, international test prep companies send employees to the US to take and memorize SATs, which the companies then provide to their students when the test is expected to be reused. The result? American students can't discuss their test—not even with their parents—for fear that international spies will use the information to help their students cheat on the SAT. It seems like the whole mess could be avoided if the College Board were willing to write a few more tests each year.
So security was the most obvious change that I noticed (and am allowed to talk about) surrounding the May SAT administration. In addition, it was clear that the number of test takers was significantly lower. My test center usually has eight to twelve rooms of test takers, but this administration only had four, and I’m pretty sure the room did not have as many students as in the past. I’m glad that majority of test takers have gotten the memo to skip this test for the first year.
The redesigned SAT has been advertised as being shorter, but if you take the optional Essay, it’s actually five minutes longer than the old test. That, combined with the re-reading of the test security rules so often, made this the longest testing period I’ve ever experienced. The doors opened at 7:45 am and I was not released until 1:15. Five and a half hours of my life I can never get back…or talk about with you.
The College Board has also boasted about the extended time for each section, giving you more time per question than the ACT or the previous SAT. I am a consistent 800-scorer on the Reading section, but time expired just as I finished the Reading section this time. The questions did not seem more difficult to me, but the passages were longer and had a higher text complexity level. Similarly, I struggled to finish the two text-heavy math sections on time. It seems to me that the extended time has been given to us out of necessity rather than out of benevolence on the part of the College Board.
I have so many other comments and thoughts about the test, but I'd be highly embarrassed if the county sheriff knocked on the door to arrest me for DISCUSSING THE SAT. Our local newspaper publishes each day's mug shots, and I don't know how I'd ever show my face around town again if everyone knew I had committed such a heinous crime. So I'm going to put the brakes on this very controversial subject for now. I hope you understand.
Did you take the test on Saturday? Let me know what you thought…without talking about the questions and answers, of course. You can comment here or catch me at email@example.com.
Photo: "Security" courtesy of GotCredit