Overhauling the SAT

Josh Tanenbaum, Staff Writer

In response to the growing popularity of the ACT test, which had traditionally been given to students mainly in Mid-Western states, the College Board has scheduled sweeping changes to their own aptitude test, the SAT, beginning in the spring of 2016. Unlike the SAT, the ACT incorporates science questions and an optional writing portion of 30 minutes. The SAT has a mandatory writing section of 25 minutes and emphasizes an extensive vocabulary that has been criticized as unnecessary for college success. Even the president of the College Board, David Coleman, dislikes many of the aspects of his current test, stating that it has recently become, “disconnected from the work of our high schools.”

Some of the major changes to the SAT include the return to a 1600 point scale that was in place before 2005 and the removal of the current deduction of one quarter of a point for every wrong answer. Fundamentally, Coleman and the College Board have made strides towards an SAT that is more “connected” to the work of high-school students with the addition of evidence-based reading questions, a reduction in vocabulary, and a reduction of mathematics topics. The essay has also been made optional. Those who decide to take it will be given a score independent from the rest of the exam, similar to the format of the ACT.

One issue raised by the SAT changes is how they will affect the test prep industry. There are currently a plethora of companies, including Barron’s, Kaplan, and Princeton Review, with books and classes that have been shown to drastically improve test scores for those who can afford them. Coleman and the College Board have changed the SAT in part because they have recognized that its detachment from high school work has raised the value of test prep and consequently, promoted inequality between high school students.

The new SAT will affect millions of students around the country, as well as a number of test prep industries for years. As test-takers prepare for the test, they will develop a somewhat distinct set of skills and knowledge different from test-takers of the old SAT. Although the effects of these changes are somewhat unpredictable, the revision of the SAT appears, by all accounts, positive for American education. Better linked to high school courses and a greater indicator of college success, the test should better prepare students for their futures in architecture, art, science, business, law, and medicine.