The news broke recently that the College Board is once again changing the SAT. These new changes, scheduled to be implemented in spring 2016, represent a pretty large departure from the SAT of the past. The College Board states that this new SAT will “ask students to apply a deep understanding of the few things shown by current research to matter most for college readiness and success.” Here are the changes that will have the biggest effect on test preparation, as I see them:
An Increased Focus on Evidence-Based Analysis
The new SAT will place a higher priority on analysis based on evidence. In the critical reading and writing sections students will now be asked to support their answers with evidence, including citing portions of the passages. In effect, the new SAT will require students not only to know the correct answer, but to be able to explain why the answer is correct, and point to specific evidence in the passage that supports their choice. The essay will also now focus on supporting claims with evidence (which I will discuss more below in the Essay section).
An Increased Focus on the Topics that Students Will Need in College
Vocabulary, Math concepts, and Passage selections will all focus on skills and topics that students are most likely to need for college and beyond. No longer will the SAT throw obscure words at students simply because they are difficult; the new test will focus on vocabulary such as “empirical” and “synthesis,” words more likely to be found in the college and career environments. The Math section will focus more narrowly in on a smaller range of topics more likely to be encountered in life, and will now include a calculator-forbidden section where students must rely on their own abilities rather than the calculator to solve problems. The passages selected for critical reading questions, previously chosen specifically to be obscure and offer no unfair advantage to students, will now be selected to be reminiscent of classroom work assignments in social studies, science, and history.
Data Analysis and the “Great Global Conversation”
Passages will now be chosen which incorporate both text and graphs or charts, challenging students to be able to synthesize data presented in many formats and analyze with equal skill graphs as well as written paragraphs. In addition, every test will include at least one passage chosen using their new concept of “The Great Global Conversation,” meaning that they will incorporate passages from the founding fathers and/or other notable historical figures. This is meant to draw students more into the current or historical conversations that matter in our country and encourage them to participate in those conversations.
The essay is now optional rather than mandatory. Instead of a randomly-assigned prompt, all students will know the basic prompt ahead of time. Rather than asking for a student’s opinion on a question, the student will be assigned a random source document and asked to write an essay explaining how the author of the source document builds his or her argument. This will require students to be able to cite specific parts of the text and support their claims with evidence. While the basic prompt (“write an essay explaining how the author builds his argument”) remains the same, the source material in question will be random.
The Nitty-Gritty Changes
The Writing section has been abandoned, combined into one with the verbal now called “Evidence-based Reading and Writing”. Together with the Math section, this will return the scoring system to its pre-2005 1600-point scale. The essay, if taken, will be scored separately and will now be given 50 minutes instead of the current 25.
In addition, the new SAT has abandoned the penalty for wrong answers. Entirely. You now receive zero points for a wrong answer instead of the previous quarter-point off. The College Board states this as “encourag[ing] students to give the best answer they have to every problem,” but what this effectively means is that you are no longer penalized for guessing.
I’ll post another blog entry in a few days with my thoughts on these changes, once I’ve had time to process them a bit more. For now, I think the initiative is a good one, though there may be ramifications of these changes that the College Board is unaware of.
One other thing to mention – in addition to the changes to the actual test, the College Board is now partnering with Khan Academy in an initiative to make sure that every child gets access to the test prep help they need, even those from less-wealthy families. I definitely approve of this initiative; it’s always bothered me that the SAT really does require special prep help to score well, when many students are unable to afford such help. For my part, I am always willing to adjust my rate for a student with a special circumstance, so if you need help, don’t hesitate to contact me!