Thursday, July 24, 2014

College corner: The SAT gets a makeover

0527 SAT chartW

From page A8 | May 27, 2014 |

Finally some good news about college admissions tests!

Even though standardized testing for college admission is my least favorite subject, I am happy to make it the focus of this column because I finally have some good news to share. Namely, starting in the spring of 2016, there will be a “redesigned” Scholastic Aptitude Test. Not just a cosmetic makeover, this is a substantive overhaul. The aim is to better measure a student’s grasp of salient topics, align with Common Core and more accurately reflect college readiness. All for the good.

Why the change?
With more than 1.6 million students taking the SAT every year and thousands of high school counselors and college admission officers using it for various assessments, the SAT test prep industry has become an $840 million behemoth. For more on that topic, read The Washington Post’s story at

One of the main reasons for the redesign was to respond to the growing chorus of skepticism about the SAT’s predictive validity and fairness. The College Board, a not-for-profit organization in charge of administering the test, solicited input and advice from its members, its partner organizations — such as the National Merit Scholarship Corporation — and postsecondary and K–12 experts as part of the process. While the resulting changes go a long way to address these concerns, there is another reason for this redesign — market forces. More high school students took the rival ACT for the first time in 2012 according to Fair Test, a testing-watchdog organization, and this trend is growing.

What are the changes to the SAT?
The SAT has undergone eight main areas of revision:

1. Relevant words in context. No more need to memorize esoteric vocabulary words. The focus will be to interpret the meaning of words based on context clues.
2. Command of evidence. Students will be asked to interpret data provided and analyze evidence in answering questions and writing essays.
3. Essay analyzing a source. Students will be required to read a passage and analyze how the author develops a persuasive argument.
4. Focus on math that matters most. Now the test will zero in on three main areas: problem-solving and data analysis, the heart of algebra and passport to advanced math. See the College Board website,, for more details.
5. Problems grounded in real-world context. There is more emphasis on tying questions to the real world in both the English (soon to be called evidence-based reading and writing section) and math sections.
6. Analysis of science, history and social studies. Students will be required to apply their skills to answer questions in science, history and social studies.
7. Founding documents and great global conversation. Each time a student takes the redesigned SAT there will be a question related to the U.S. founding documents (Bill of Rights or the Federalist Papers, etc.) or from a text that addresses these issues.
8. No penalty for wrong answers. Points will no longer be deducted for answers that are incorrect or left blank!

One of the most notable improvements is that the essay component will no longer be mandatory, which started in 2005, but instead will be optional. Of course, some school districts and colleges, however, will still require it (most likely the more selective ones). The maximum score will return to the days of yore … 1600, with maximums of 800 each in the evidence-based reading and writing section and the math section. Additional good news is that College Board is teaming up with the Khan Academy to provide free online tutoring.

See the chart for comparison of test formats, and to read more on the redesign, visit

Transition plan
If you are taking the SAT before March 2016, you are under the prior regime. In this case I recommend taking both the SAT and the ACT in your junior year and see which test you prefer once you receive your scores. Take the preferred one again in the fall of the senior year. (Refer to my column from September 2012 on my website for more information).

Students who will be sophomores next year, may actually have the chance to take both SATs. If this is you, make sure to submit scores from both tests when applying.

For students who will be juniors after March 2016, I still recommend taking both the redesigned SAT and the ACT to see which is preferable.

Despite the fact that the test differences will have narrowed, it will be too soon to tell which test is optimal. Eventually, it should become clear which test allows students to put their best foot forward.

Until next time
Although this redesign is good news, taking tests is never pleasant. So if all of this testing talk has brought you down, remember that you can always apply to a test-optional college and avoid the whole thing!

— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the fourth Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at, or visit

Jennifer Borenstein


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