Since the College Board recently announced sweeping changes to its flagship SAT exam, parents and students have been in a frenzy to figure out what all the changes mean. Here are three things that all parents and students need to know about the new SAT.
1. The test is not being administered until 2016. That means for parents who have children that are currently in 10th or 11th grade, there is nothing to worry about as your child will not be taking the new SAT. For parents with students in 9th grade or younger, don’t worry. The College Board has gone out of their way to create greater study resources for students. They are releasing a tremendous amount of practice questions this year, and in 2015 they plan on releasing thousands of additional questions to the public. This will allow your child plenty of time to get to know the new exam before having to take it.
2. The changes are not nearly as drastic as they are being made out to be. There is a lot of emphasis being placed on all the “major changes” to the SAT. To show how overdramatic this is, let’s focus on one of the biggest points about the new test: The dreaded essay will be made optional. To better understand what this means, we need look no further than the ACT, which currently has an optional essay. What most people do not realize is that there are many colleges around the country that require applicants to take the “optional” essay portion of the test. On the other hand, some colleges do just the opposite. On the current SAT there is a mandatory essay. However, there are colleges that do not look at the score or count it in any way. The bottom line is that colleges will always make their own decisions about what part of the test is “mandatory” or “optional,” even if the test maker has said otherwise.
3. The test will still be 100 percent “coachable.” The College Board excitedly made two seemingly contradictory pronouncements about the new SAT. First, they announced that the changes coming to the SAT were going to make it so the test would cease to be “coachable.” For many years, educators have complained that with professional assistance, students can get a major boost in their scores. This new test is supposed to eliminate that possibility. However, the College Board simultaneously announced its new partnership with Kahn Academy, a free online resource that provides comprehensive videos and tools to help students learn different subjects. The materials that will be available through Kahn Academy are supposed to be real game changers for less-affluent students and are supposed to help them make significant progress on their scores without having to spend money on private coaching. The problem is that if the test is no longer “coachable,” then what is the point of making so much “coaching” available to students via Kahn Academy? The answer is that the SAT will continue to exhibit the sort of qualities that have always allowed students with proper coaching to increase their scores significantly.
In 2004 we experienced a similar phenomenon with the SAT as the College Board announced sweeping changes to the exam. There was going to be less of an emphasis on vocabulary, the level of math would be harder, they were adding a written essay and making the exam’s possible score 2,400 points instead of the classic 1,600. These changes made the test prep world go wild. How would students prepare for a hand-written essay? How would students navigate the test if less emphasis was put on vocabulary? The questions went on and on and they mirrored very much the confusion that is being experienced today.
However, as it turned out, the changes were not nearly as big as they were made out to be. The essay and new section the College Board added was just the old SAT II Writing Test, a test that we had been successfully teaching for many years alreadys. The other changes were mostly ones of omission, meaning the College Board removed many question types and just replaced them with additional questions from other types that were always on the test.
The take-away is that the College Board has a history of making major announcements about changes that turn out to be not quite as impactful as advertised. Although the SAT will likely receive quite a facelift, what matters most is that the test will still be standardized and therefore still coachable. Parents should take solace in this and not worry too much about the new SAT.
Steve Dorfman is the owner of Tier One Tutors, a Southern California test prep and academic tutoring company. As a UCLA graduate, he relates to the competitive environment students are faced with, and as a father of two, he understands the constant worrying parents have about their kids’ education. To learn more, visit www.TierOneTutors.com or email Dorfman at Steve@TierOneTutors.com.