I’ve talked to a lot of parents and students this fall who felt the redesigned SAT, the one that will make its debut in March 2016, might be a better alternative for students. They couldn’t be further from the truth.
As usual there is a lot of misinformation and hype surrounding this change.
The College Board, the corporation that brings you the SAT and other tests, has spent all fall telling school counselors to push junors towards the new test. This is like the car salesman telling you to buy his brand. The problem is most counselors haven’t taken the time to test drive the new exam format and are blindly passing this “advice” on to students and parents.
Some students I’ve talked to have heard bits and pieces about the new test and think it might be easeir. The biggest factor for these students is the fact that the new test won’t penalize students for wrong answers. Yes, this is a move in favor of test takers, but only a small move. The ACT has had a similar scoring method for years. The fact that the wrong answer penalty goes away is greatly outweighed by the negatives of the new test.
Here are my reasons to avoid the SAT next spring:
1. Lack of Official Practice Materials.
College Board has only released five exams in the new format—four SATs and one PSAT– not much to study from. In contrast students preparing for the current SAT or the ACT will have 10+ official exams for review.
2. Delays in Score Reporting.
Currently students wait two to four weeks to receive ACT or SAT scores. College Board says it may take 6-8 weeks to receive March 2016 SAT scores. In the past students received their March SAT results in time to register to retake the exam in May. Delays in score reporting may hurt students attempting to complete all standardized testing before their senior years.
3. Changes to Math That Will hurt Student Performance.
For the current SAT and ACT students need a solid foundation in Algebra I and Geometry, but don’t need higher-level or advanced skills. The new SAT math goes in-depth to test proficiency with Algebra II concepts. Some students may not have finished Algebra II by the spring; others will have been out of the class for almost a year.
The nature of the math section has changed as well. Currently the SAT and ACT test students with problems requiring higher-level thinking. While these problems challenge students and reward problem solving skills, they don’t intentionally distract. The new SAT math questions are wordy and deliberately include ample facts designed to sidetrack and confuse. Now students must sift through irrelevant red herrings before they can begin the math required to solve the question.
New SAT Math has a decidedly Common Core flavor to it. No wonder; the CEO of the College Board played a leading role in developing Common Core standards. I think it is apparent he wants to leave his stamp on the new SAT.
Add to all of this math mess a full section of the test where calculators are not permitted and most students will not score better on the new SAT math.
4. Extensive Reading (even in Math and Writing).
A quick glance at the new SAT format shows a very text-rich exam. The new writing section includes passages, math questions involve wordy scenarios with unnecessary details, and the essay asks students to respond to and evaluate a two-page document. More reading requires more focus and means some students will lose points in writing, math, and the essay due to reading errors.
The new test format contributes to reading fatigue. Students will begin with 65 minutes of reading passages. (Yes, you read right—one hour and five minutes of reading dense passages.) Next students will work through 35 minutes of passages where they will edit for errors and content—more eye-straining detailed reading. Once we’ve exhausted the typical student’s focus, they move on to math—25 minutes of no-calculator math followed by 55 minutes of more math where at least calculators are permitted. Whew! Then on to the 50 minute written essay where students need to read and respond to a two-page passage. Makes me tired just to read about it.
The SAT has always been about details. The new format will tax students’ abilities to read and focus. (Compare it to the current SAT or the ACT. You’ll see what I mean.)
5. Test Format That Taxes Endurance.
All sections of the new test are longer and the section order puts reading and writing first followed by 80 minutes of math. In contrast, the old SAT switched subjects every 25 minutes and the ACT’s structure of English-Math-Reading-Science breaks up the reading and numerical work students must do.
The new SAT has fewer answer choices and no penalty for wrong answers, but it will not be an easier test. The good news is that students have an alternative. The current SAT will be given in November, December, and January. The ACT is not changing and students will have enough official practice material to study. All colleges and universities accept the ACT or SAT with no preference given to either one.
I would tell juniors to actively avoid the new test. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the redesigned SAT for yourself. Print the full-length exam, sit down at your kitchen table, and take it timed. What do you think? Just make your decision based on the facts.
My last class for the current SAT begins this Sunday, October 11. We’ve got a few spots left. Registration and information here.
Next spring I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I will NOT teach classes for the spring 2016 SATs. I will have classes for the February, April, and June ACTs. You can find class schedules here.