The SAT Gets a Makeover

On March 5th the College Board announced a major overhaul of the SAT to be introduced in Spring 2016. Combined, the new SAT will look a lot like the current ACT. The College Board offered several reasons for these changes, principally better to align college application testing with high school education. Something else is also afoot: two years ago the ACT overtook the SAT; last year 1.8 million students took the ACT, and 1.7 million students took the SAT. And, the list of test optional colleges is growing.

Major changes include:

  • The SAT’s essay will become optional. Consequently, maximum scores will be 1600 without the writing section, or 2400 with the writing section.
  • The new test will be given in 3 hours, with an additional 50 minutes for the writing section.
  • The optional essay will be a response to a passage from documents such as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the Federalist Papers, and The Declaration of Independence. More information-based prompts will likely benefit students with more high school experience in close textual reading.
  • Points will not be deducted for incorrect answers, encouraging students to give their best answer and not their most strategic response. This will likely improve performance for students with less test preparation. Relatedly, Kahn Academy plans to produce 200 on-line videos coaching students for the new SAT.
  • Gone are words like “adumbrate” (represent in outline) and “legerdemain” (deception, especially with the hands).  The College Board offered sample words which will appear on tests: “synthesis” (combination of ideas to form a thesis) and “empirical” (verifiable by observation). Questions about vocabulary words will also stress the use of those words in context.
  • The new math test, shaped around “Problem Solving and Data Analysis,” “Heart of Algebra,” and “Passport to Advanced Math,” will focus on more fundamental areas of quantitative reasoning.

Whether SAT or ACT, standardized testing will remain part of the application process, especially for high selective colleges (admitting 10% or less). SAT and ACT scores help manage a crushing number of applicants because low scores immediately justify a rejection and thus winnow the applicant pool to be seriously considered. 

And that brings me to a standard piece of advice I give my students: apply early, even if you will be in the regular admission pool.

Photo:  "The University of Minnesota 'snow bench," 12/9/03, courtesy la vacate vegetarian, FlickrCC