Changes expected for the SAT Reasoning Test

Crystal Ren, Staff Writer

The College Board announced on Mar. 5 that there will be sweeping changes effective spring 2016 to its flagship test.

According to the College Board, its goal is to implement new strategies based upon “an understanding of the few things shown by current research to matter most for college readiness and success.”

David Coleman, president of College Board, was the leading developer of the new SAT.  His aim is to address the unfair advantage money (and test preparation) provides, the test’s academically irrelevant content, and its questionable validity as a college performance indicator and admissions tool.

With these goals in sight, College Board replaced the reading section’s abstruse vocabulary questions with questions about college-level vocabulary.  On the new test, students will be more likely to see “synthesis” than they will “solipsistic.”

“I hate everything about the SAT, so nothing they can do will redeem them, but taking out useless vocabulary words is definitely a step in the right direction,” said junior Paige Torres.

Other detractors think that making the test easier will hurt future generations of students.

“Making the test easier isn’t the way to go.  Now more students will get full scores and competition in the college application process will increase,” said junior Sameer Nanda.

However, some question if the changes are a response to legitimate criticism or a remedy to the College Board’s decreasing revenue.

“The new test is very much a return to the older model.  But the opinion in the field is that the changes, which mirror the ACT, are driven by economic reasons,” said Director of Guidance Hank Hardy.

The classic three-section format will merge into two, changing from Reading, Writing (mandatory essay included), and Math to Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, and an optional Essay.  The Math section will now have some non-calculator parts, to better fit the curriculum of high school.

“Taking away the calculator is good.  Too many kids are stupid and need to learn to do fractions,” said junior Sandra Riano.

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing will have students answer  questions based on textual evidence.

“Certain aspects of the new test are definitely beneficial.  The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing will help students because it’s what they’ve seen before.  It’s like a Social Studies DBQ,” said Mr. Hardy.

The timing of the new test, without essay, is at a tentative three hours; the College Board anticipates that the new essay will be fifty minutes long.  As for scoring, the point scale will revert back to that of the SAT’s earlier days, a 400-1600 scale, and each section will range from 200-800 points (essays will be separately scored).  The test will also be offered online in certain areas.

“But the true measure of effectiveness will be in how colleges will react.  Many colleges currently look at the 1600 scale, which only counts math and critical reading, so it might not change much.  But studies have shown that the greatest predictor of freshman success was actually the often overlooked writing section.  Now that writing and reading are one section, will the new score more accurately reflect college readiness?” said Mr. Hardy.

Besides these changes, College Board is also looking to improve the “unequal test-prep access” problem by working with the founder of Khan Academy, Sal Khan, to provide free materials and preparatory resources.

“The Khan Academy  SAT course seems like the biggest plus.  This test has been criticized for favoring the wealthy, and with expensive tutors and prep programs that’s absolutely true,” said Riano.  “I think the new test will be an accurate measure of your capabilities and not how much money you have.”

In another attempt to level the economic playing field, College Board is  providing college application fee waivers.  On its official website, College Board states that “Every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply to college. This initiative is possible thanks to the generosity and trust of both member and nonmember colleges. It builds on Apply to 4 or More™ and Realize Your College Potential, two recent College Board initiatives to provide college-ready, low-income students with customized, targeted support for the college application process.”

“You can change the test all you want, and I’ve seen the changes come around because College Board is constantly trying to evolve, but historically, the test has been criticized for being culturally biased.  Background is a big factor in test scores,” said Mr. Hardy.

Another problem is the age-old debate on the importance of standardized tests in college admission processes in general.

“The biggest problem is that some qualified students aren’t good test takers, and college admissions at non-test optional schools is often a ratings game.  They stress scores when the SAT may not truly indicate a student’s potential,” said Mr. Hardy.