Part II: Major changes to the test

Structural changes

Substantive changes

In addition to structural and substantive changes to the SAT, which I have outlined above, the College Board has also introduced an exciting new tool. In direct response to the critics who have called the SAT an elitist exam, the non-profit has entered into an exclusive partnership with Khan Academy to create the Official SAT Practice. While students have had access to various free SAT prep tools for a number of years, Khan Academy and the College Board are calling their course a game-changer. For the first time ever, students will have access to free test prep that is guided, comprehensive in nature, and endorsed and designed by the makers of the test. The interactive online platform includes diagnostic quizzes to determine one’s skill level, practice questions that include step-by-step solutions, how –to videos as well as four full-length practice tests.

Commentary

The new SAT, in short, will embody the College Board’s desire to shift the needle and make it a test of achievement rather than one of aptitude.

In my opinion, the high level of complexity of the passages and questions found in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the new SAT will pose a considerable challenge to students. The paired “show me the evidence” questions, which require test-takers to answer a question and then explain why it is correct, will cause particular difficulty. These questions will be especially time intensive as they involve scanning multiple areas of a given passage. If you make a mistake on the first question in the pair, then there is potential for a domino effect that will cause you to miss the second too. In addition, international students and/or those coming from a non-American educational background are likely to struggle with some of the new passage-based questions that assume prior knowledge of US history and the American political system.

While the new essay format will similarly demand more of students, I believe that it presents a positive step forward from the current version, which offers neither the time nor the incentive for students to compose a piece of writing of any substance. The essay on the current SAT is probably the single most reviled component of the test among education professionals, because it rewards formulaic writing and using impressive-sounding words, with little regard for factual accuracy or thoughtfulness. The essay on the forthcoming test, while optional, will better assess students’ ability to analyze source material and use evidence to build clear arguments, which are undoubtedly vital skills in both college and the professional environment.

The revamped Math section will open up students to a host of topics that have not previously been tested on the SAT, including trigonometry, planar geometry and statistics. The calculator-free section will be particularly anxiety inducing. This will obviously require students to have a solid grounding in a greater breadth of advanced math concepts, but on the plus side, the SAT’s notoriously tricky brainteaser questions will be de-emphasized on the new test.

Undoubtedly, the new SAT goes a long way in addressing the many criticisms that have been lobbed at the makers of the test. Probably the most salient feature of the new test is its emphasis on “real world” applications of math and critical reading skills. By requiring more data analysis and graphical interpretation, overhauling the essay, and generally aligning test content more closely to classroom material, the SAT is taking a big step toward becoming a better predictor of college readiness. However, another upshot of the many changes to the test is that it will more closely resemble the ACT. (For more on the structure and content of the ACT, check out my previous post here.) The advanced math concepts and graphical interpretation questions that will be introduced in the new SAT will look very familiar to those who are acquainted with the ACT. Meanwhile, the structural alterations, like eliminating the guessing penalty and reducing the number of answer choices to multiple-choice questions, suggest deliberate attempts to refashion the SAT in the image of its main competitor.

What does this mean for those who are currently preparing for standardized testing? Look out for my next post to learn more about the implications of these changes for prospective test-takers. And in the meantime, don’t forget to check out www.khanacademy.org/sat to get better acquainted with the new test!