SAT changes aim to equalize and modernize the exam

Chloe Wintersteen

In response to widespread dissatisfaction with the current SAT test, College Board President David Coleman announced earlier this month that the SAT will be completely redesigned. The changes are set to be implemented in the spring of 2016.

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The changes are being made to more accurately reflect a student’s education, create opportunities for both low income and affluent students and equalize the chances of getting a good score, according to the College Board.

Coleman said the exam’s three sections will be changed to evidence-based reading and writing, math, and an optional essay, as opposed to the current critical reading, math, and writing.

The essay portion of the test was first implemented in 2005. Despite the changes, the College Board believes that many colleges will still require the essay portion of the test for admission. The essay will be scored separately, eliminating the current 2,400 point scoring system and restoring the test back to a 1,600 point scale.

Other changes will be implemented into the exam as well. Points will no longer be deducted for incorrect answers, the test will be about three hours long plus the additional 50 minute essay, and the test will be available to be taken by hand or on the computer.

In the essay, students will no longer respond to a free response question like “In what ways have you experienced the ‘mysterious’”, but will rather be provided with a document-based essay in which students must use evidence from a source to analyze and argue a point. This analytical writing style will more accurately reflect college writing.

Freshman Maxime Kawawa-Beaudan, who has already taken the SAT, is in favor of the proposed changes because he says the essay will offer students more opportunities to showcase their individual thought processes.

“The essay will show more analytical thinking,” Kawawa-Beaudan said.  “I think that’s a very important part of how someones brain works and that should be taken into account. It’s making the test less precise.”

According to the College Board, the reading and writing portions will be focused on analyzing both fiction and nonfiction sources in real world contexts. Students will also be expected to provide evidence to justify their answers.

In the reading and writing section, previously troublesome “SAT words” like ‘abrogate’ and ‘capricious’ will be replaced with viable words like ‘synthesis’ and ‘empirical’.

Adam Piacente of Marin SAT Prep, a local SAT tutoring organization, said he does not agree with the simplification of SAT words.

“I do think it is a shame that the new SAT will eliminate arcane and esoteric vocabulary words, which I personally think are important in preserving the fullness and richness of the English language,” Piacente said.

The math portion will include three subject matters, which the College Board is naming “Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the Heart of Algebra, and the Passport to Advanced Math.”

Coleman said that the current SAT questions are not relevant because they can mislead students and usually don’t correlate with the education they have received. He said that he wants to create more opportunities for students by creating a test that more accurately represents a high school education.

“Admissions officers and counselors have said they find the data from admissions exams useful, but are concerned that these exams have become disconnected from the work of high school classrooms and surrounded by costly test preparation,” Coleman said.

The original SAT was intended to test sheer intelligence, however preparation materials were gradually introduced, skewing the original intentions of the exam.

As the SAT evolved, intense and expensive preparation has become more common, and often gives affluent students an edge over low income students. Piacente said that he charges $150 an hour for students to come to his office.

During his announcement in Austin, Texas, David Coleman stated that he believes the changes will provide equal opportunities for both affluent and low income students.

“We’ve been listening to students and their families for whom these tests are often mysterious and foster unproductive anxiety,” Coleman said. “Too many feel that the prevalence of test prep and expensive coaching reinforces privilege rather than merit. What this country needs is not more tests but more opportunities.”

Coleman hopes to eliminate the need for expensive test preparation, therefore giving less affluent students an equal chance as affluent students.

Currently, a quarter of a point is deducted for each wrong answer, so many students practice process of elimination strategies with private tutors in order to gain a better score. The new test is designed to eliminate the need to play the SAT as a game, and instead encourage students to spend more time studying the material, according to Coleman.

In an effort to give everyone a fair chance at success, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for all students. No other test preparation materials have been entirely free before.

“This will be the best thing out there that happens to be free,” said Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy. “Over the next few years we hope to collectively make the playing field that much more level.”

Many have recently debated whether standardized testing is an accurate representation of someone’s knowledge. The new SAT’s focus on reinforcing realistic education is also meant to rekindle the public’s faith in the usefulness of the SAT, said Steve Syverson of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

While the Khan Academy partnership is a step towards universal education, Adam Piacente does not believe it can replace one-on-one SAT tutoring.

“Even assuming its new test prep program provides a half way decent training curriculum, the reality is that web videos simply cannot take the place of an actual person sitting down one-on-one with you to train you thoroughly over multiple weeks on every aspect of the test,” Piacente said.

Lindsay Johnson of Sage Educators, a popular SAT tutoring organization in Marin, said that Sage supports any help the College Board makes available to students. However, she believes that a test preparation program tailored for the individual cannot compare to impersonal online programs.

“Even with online preparation options, students benefit from instruction from teachers who are physically present,” Johnson said. “As an SAT tutor, my role is not just to present skills and strategies, but to translate those skills and strategies in ways that make sense to each individual student.”

Not everyone is in favor of the changes. Sophomore Hadley Childress believes the changes merely simplify the test and blur the lines between motivated and unmotivated students.

“You have to work hard for something that you want and if you don’t work hard for it then do you really deserve it? I don’t think you’ll have to work super hard for the new test and that’s not fair,” Childress said.

A complete list of the 2016 changes to the SAT will be announced on April 16, 2014.