What changes have been made in the SAT?

Like Scrooge’s eerie Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the specter of the college application process looms over parents and students alike as kids enter high school. Decisions about everything from extra-curricular activities to class selection are carefully weighed in anticipation, and for those seeking entrance to elite universities, every step can seem fraught with peril. One of the major components of this journey is the college entrance exam. In a move sure to ratchet up parental anxiety, the SAT is changing its test format effective March 2016. The good news is that most experts agree these changes may actually make things easier for students.

For seniors in the class of 2016 applying to college this fall, the College Board (the not-for-profit organization that develops and administers the SAT) recommends the current version of the exam. Those graduating in 2017 and beyond, however, should take the new, revised version of the test (RSAT).

What exactly are these changes? For starters, while students will have more time per section on the RSAT, the actual total time of the test has been reduced. “The current SAT allows three hours and 45 minutes for testing time, while the RSAT allows three hours,” said Nanette Trainor, assistant director of Sylvan Learning Center of Tulsa. Sylvan, located near 68th St. and South Memorial, offers a wide-range of tutoring, including SAT test preparation. The RSAT has 16 fewer questions than the current version.

The RSAT is also returning to the pre-2005 scoring scale of 1600, rather than 2400, and eliminating obscure vocabulary, focusing instead on words used in a “real-world” context. The new test, however, will have more graphs and charts from which students will infer information needed to answer test questions.

The number of possible answers per question has been reduced from five to four, which may save test-takers’ precious time, as well as increase the probability of obtaining a correct response. The big crowd pleaser, however, is the elimination of a penalty for wrong answers. In other words, no more “guessing if you should guess.” Answer every single question.

According to Trainor, other changes include a switch to evidence-based writing and evidence-based reading, where students will be asked a question about a particular text, and then asked which piece of evidence best supports that answer. “The RSAT is closely aligned to Common Core State standards, which means there is a major focus on locating evidence within a text, analyzing and synthesizing it, and using it to support an answer or argument,” Trainor explained.

And while there is still plenty of math on the new test, Trainor noted that “on the current SAT, calculators are allowed on all math test sections. On the RSAT, they are allowed on only two of the math sections.”

While it’s all well and good to know about these changes, you still have to take the test. As the clever Louis Pasteur wisely noted, “fortune favors the prepared mind.” There are many things students can do to prepare for the exam and potentially improve their test scores. Trainor recommends that students take the ACT or SAT their junior year and retake the exam “as many times as they are comfortable doing so.”

She thinks the PSAT can be beneficial, usually taken during a student’s sophomore year, even if a student doesn’t anticipate becoming a National Merit Scholar. “It familiarizes the student with college entrance type testing,” she explained. Practice tests are a great way to learn the test’s structure, too. “Preparation for any college entrance exam test is ‘life-long,’” Trainor noted. “A student who applies himself academically and has high standards should fare well on the test.”

Sylvan and other commercial learning centers offer a variety of test preparation courses and can be a good way to prepare. “The ACT/SAT prep courses we offer have definitely resulted in higher composite test scores,” Trainor noted.

There are budget-friendly options, too. In addition to revising the SAT, the College Board has teamed up with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation workshops online for all students. For more information, visit www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat.

Although the high school experience will never be angst-free, revisions to the SAT shouldn’t increase anyone’s stress. As every teenager knows, there’s more than enough to worry about without adding to the list, like prom dates, driver’s license, that cute boy/girl in math class…

JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.

Categories: Education: Middle and High School