A Blessing or a Curse?
For most Americans, the new year conjures up images of happiness, resolutions, and new beginnings. However, for many high school students, it is a more unhappy time of year. Why? Because the new year means it is that time: time to study for the SATs. With March 5thㅡtest dayㅡquickly approaching, a subtle unease is rustling through the student population. This year, the new, redesigned SAT was unveiled promising “no more mysteries” and a more level playing field for students of all backgrounds. However, as assuring as these claims may seem, how true are they really?
Back in March of 2014, the College Board announced that they were in the process of designing a revolutionary new SATㅡone that would draw upon essential skills and knowledge rather than the exorbitant amounts of memorization required for previous tests. The new test is said to comprise of two sectionsㅡmath and evidence based reading and writingㅡinstead of three, and the scoring system is reverting to the 1600 scale. As for the test itself, it will be mostly based on Common Core learning standards, loosely resembling the ACT. The changes to the SAT have elicited a mixed response of both relief and apprehension. Many people embrace changes such as a more straightforward question format. However, there are also a number of people who aren’t as thrilled.
One of the most prominent changes to the 2016 SAT exams is that there will be no penalty for guessing. In previous years, the SAT had run on a system where points were taken off for incorrect answers, so this upcoming change comes as a great comfort to many students. Additionally, the essay portion of the test (which is now optional) will be an analysis of a text rather than an opinion piece. According to the College Board, this is beneficial to students because the essay’s format is more similar to school assignments, and therefore familiar. Numerous other alterations like these
all add up to one thing: the SAT will be more based upon school curriculum than ever before. In reading and writing sections, students will have to read and think more in order to answer questions, as well as draw from knowledge of other subjects such as history and science. Even the math section will be packed with real-world problems that must be thoroughly understood to find the answer. Math will be on a broader range of subjects, deviating from geometry and leaning more towards algebra and advanced math. This, again, is an effort to base the test upon school curriculum rather than memorization and irrelevant studying.
Even though these claims sound promising, students must understand that the new SAT may not be everything the College Board has promised because the College Board has traditionally had a hard time letting go of old traditions. In the reading and writing section, practice questions with higher-level vocabulary like “incontrovertible” or “disposed” show that difficult vocabulary has not been entirely dropped from the test. Like the old SAT, the new SAT will most likely require a strong understanding of challenging words. Furthermore, longer reading excerpts will inevitably be a stumbling block for those unaccustomed to reading such amounts of text. Trick questions are still scattered throughout the exams, and although test prep material is largely available to the public, there is no doubt that privileged students will flock to tutors and academies, putting them at an unfair advantage. At the other end of the spectrum, there is another problem at hand: not every school can adequately prepare students for the SAT. A sophomore at Cosby, Shreyas Sundar, who will take the new SAT this May, says a hierarchy of scores is inherent to any standardized test that is being implemented in modern-day society, but notes “the SAT has it more than most because test questions are not changed enough to eliminate the favoring of privileged schools and students.”
With a curriculum-heavy exam, the responsibility falls upon schools to step up and educate students. It is now more important than ever to have AP courses and education on a broader scope of topics. While schools like Cosby have an effective learning system that is able to meet these needs, it is important to realize that there are still many schools in America’s underprivileged areas that simply do not have the resources to teach to the standards required by the new SAT.
Although many continue to argue on the positive and negative changes to the SATs, the truth is, no one will know for sure until the March SATs are underway. With scores scheduled to be released after the second round of new SATs in May, only time will tell whether this monumental change in the SATs is indeed all it is hoped to be.
To provide further help, the College Board has partnered up with popular education organization Khan Academy to bring in-depth prep resources to a wider range of people.
The College Board prep book itself is annotated with practical and to-the-point tips for the new SAT. It also reminds students that there is more practice online at Khan Academy.
For those who aim to attend top-notch schools like Harvard, it may be difficult to decide whether it is worth the risk to take the new SAT. Some are instead opting to take the last old SAT, which is in January, but the majority of students seem to be looking to take the new SATs this March.