On Wednesday March 5, 2014, the College Board made announcements that will change the SAT test for those students in your family who will the test in 2016 and beyond which will, among other things, change the scoring back to what it was before March 2005. It was not that long ago that we mentioned a few thoughts in reaction to a study pronouncing the SAT as “not correlated to college success.” We had a lot to say by way of agreement, and today we will try to address those points again in the storm of discussion – and in some quarters, panic – about these changes.
Let’s repeat our fundamental beliefs here at Get Smarter, which are backed by numerous high school teachers and counselors as well as college admissions professionals and officials: GPA is the single best indicator of how you will perform in college. It measures multiple things – not just your ability to do well on a given test, but also your ability to complete projects, do homework, and participate in class, among other things. A single 3-hour test on a number of different subjects can only measure how well you do against metrics determined by a particular authority. In this case – College Board (and the ACT) for that matter, have neither a government mandate nor any form of regulation. They are allegedly nonprofits but they act as free market businesses that have lobbyists and VERY well paid board members. They, not we, for decades have determined “what matters” on these tests. Some major shortcomings? Let’s talk about three areas of the current SAT (let’s leave the ACT aside for now, perhaps for a day when they too announce changes).
Prior to March 2005, the SAT was all about “difficult” vocabulary and easy to medium difficulty reading passages. People may whine that these words were “irrelevant” but for any serious student, these words were from a “known” list and could be studied and learned. As for the reading comprehension – students had been doing that for most of their lives, so not too difficult there.
“Today, when we say that someone has used an SAT word, it often means a word you have not heard before and are not likely to soon hear again. The redesigned SAT will instead focus on words students will use over and over again, that open up worlds to them.”
-David Coleman, President of the College Board
This is somewhat puzzling. Part of the challenge of question design in this section of the test is having a sentence that clearly indicates context and then having a number of challenging words in position. Part of learning any language is not just using words over and over again, but using new words as bridges to expression. We’ll see more of what they mean in one month when they release some practice questions.
Prior to March 2005, the SAT was not particularly challenging mathematically. While there was an element of trickery in the questions, the questions themselves were not terribly difficult. As for the new test, the College Board says it will be based around “problem solving and data analysis; the heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math.” Yet, this still repeats the same problem we saw on the old test and the current test: many students who will excel in college are LONG past algebra in their junior year of high school. In all likelihood they are in Calculus, a math level that is actually used in college, unlike Algebra.
It is unclear whether the grammar part of the writing section will remain, as the traditional scoring has left 800 points for Math, 800 points for Reading, and over the last 9 years, 800 points for Writing, of which the essay is a little over ⅓ of the weight. As it stands the grammar portion is the “least bad” portion of the test, as it tests frequent mistakes in grammar that manifest themselves in the emails of Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis, to take just one comparison. The essay seems to be a new, discursive type of essay, and it is now “optional.”
As we said, we’ll have more to say on this issue in the months and weeks ahead. As always, as long as there is an unfair testing regime in place in academia, we are going to be here to help our students overcome that regime.
Whatever College Board or pundits tell you, there is no way to “level the playing field” for a standardized test, even if it is a good one (e.g. the AP Exam) or a poor one (the SAT or ACT). You will always have students who bring more motivation, more study skills, more intelligence, or more prep. The future will always belong to those who deal with a challenging situation, as our students here at Get Smarter Prep always have.
Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.