Many people caught the news that the SAT is changing (again) and reverting back to the 1600 scale that most parents remember (it is now on a 2400 scale). First and foremost its important to realize that the new SAT is not rolling out until Spring of 2016, so for most parents currently thinking about the SAT, its probably not relevant. For the parents of current 10th graders, however, it will be relevant, so this article is going to discuss the changes in the SAT and how that will impact preparing for the test.
Before getting into the actual changes, its important to understand that there will be an opportunity for current 10th graders to avoid the new SAT. The more information one has bout a test the easier it is to prepare for it, so if a student plans to really prepare for the SAT, they probably have more of an advantage on the current version of the test and would probably benefit from taking that one. The reverse is probably also true – for those who hate the idea that the SAT can even be prepared for, the new SAT will, in the beginning at least, provide a sort of level playing field that will probably not exist once the test has been around for a couple of years. In any event, the new SAT will be administered for the first time in March of 2016, so for any 10th grader who would like to stick with the current SAT, there are 4 test dates in the first half of their 11th grade year that they can take (October, November, December, and January). This may seem a bit early, but many of the students I have tutored over the years have taken these earlier tests and been done by January of their 11th grade year. The key would be to start preparing during the summer between 10th and 11th grade, which is actually the best time to start anyway!
For those who will be taking the new SAT, either voluntarily or because of circumstance, there are some pretty radical changes to the test, but in my opinion the test will remain at its core pretty much the same (if you would like to read a full account from College Board of the changes, click here). Let’s start with what will be obviously different. Probably the biggest change is move back to the 1600 scale, which will essentially involve collapsing the current Writing and Critical Reading sections into a single Verbal section. For students who have better Math ability and worse Reading/Writing ability this will be a welcome change since the new test will have a 50/50 split between Math and Verbal (as opposed to the current 1/3 Math and 2/3 Verbal).
Another change that will likewise result in a net decrease in the proportion of the exam devoted to verbal-based skills is that the essay will become optional and will not count towards the overall score. This is a plus for all students in my opinion since the essay is currently the most arbitrary and unfair part of the exam. One additional change related to the “Verbal” sections of the current exam is the way vocabulary will be tested. On the new SAT the words tested will be less obscure and more familiar to most students AND they will be tested in context so that it will be less a test of one’s ability to memorize the meaning of words out of context and more about measure of one’s ability to infer meaning based on the surrounding context.
There are other changes to the individual sections and to the test as a whole and how it is scored, but the most important thing to understand is that the test will remain fundamentally the same: it will still be a test of a person’s reasoning and critical thinking ability. Actually the new SAT will likely be MORE a test of those skills than the current version of the exam. The way the new essay task is structured, for example, places an emphasis on evaluating an author’s argument, not just taking a position on a really general issue. And by testing vocabulary in context and by using words that are less obscure, the writers of the SAT are shifting the focus away from rote memorization and towards the ability to reason and infer.
As is probably obvious from the other pages on my site (and by the name ReasonSAT), I already see reasoning and critical thinking as the most important factors on the SAT. The new SAT will, in my opinion, just continue this emphasis and even extend it. Therefore, the traditional methods of memorizing hundreds of words and cramming barely relevant math formulas will be less effective than they already are. As with the current version of the SAT, students will need to learn how to read analytically, problem solve effectively, and more generally apply logical reasoning and critical thinking skills in both predictable and creative ways.
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