The new SAT – what does it mean for your child?

So, I took the SAT last Saturday afternoon at Lower Merion High School (my alma mater). Yes, I know that I am 44-years old. But, I take the SAT regularly to stay ahead of the curve on changes to the test and to show students and parents that their tutor is capable of a 99th%-ile score in any of the three sections.

Earlier this month, the College Board made a big announcement that the SAT would see major changes starting in 2016. This struck fear in the hearts of students, parents, counselors and tutors (not me, of course). Consequently, it was more important than ever that I take last Saturday’s test. Well, 2016 is 2 years away, but that didn’t stop the College Board from somewhat jumping the gun on the changes. Last Saturday’s SAT featured major changes consistent with the College Board’s announcement.

To be fair, the changes appeared in the SAT’s “Experimental” section (which never count towards a student’s score). However, the College Board (administrator and writer of the test) never publicizes which of the 10 sections is the unscored experimental section. For the most part, it blends in very well with the rest of the scored sections.

However, for a professional like myself, the experimental section stood out like a sore thumb. One reading passage had only one single question (I’ve never seen a test in the last several years with fewer than two questions). Another reading passage had a whopping 16 questions (the most questions to follow a reading passage has been capped at 13 questions over the last several years). In the 16-question reading passage, there were two instances of questions that asked for specific evidence regarding one’s answer to the previous question. This was consistent with what the College Board announced regarding the reading sections (see a list of changes later in this post). Others reported changes in the math and writing sections.

What does this mean to your child? It shouldn’t mean much if your child is in the 10th grade or higher. If your child is in 9th grade, he or she has the misfortune of being in the first class to take the changed SAT. What should you do to prepare? Honestly, there isn’t too much you should do differently. The questions will still pretty much be the same, and the techniques I teach will not change substantially. There will be some math sections where calculator use is prohibited, so I advise you to cutback your child’s calculator dependency.

Some of the announced changes include:

— The vocabulary will be more relevant to the modern era (i.e., words that have a chance of making it into a conversation this decade. See you later “treacly!”)

— The reading passages will require evidence from the passage just read (as discussed above, this change was on full display in my experimental section).

— The essay will no longer affect one’s score (though it will still be required).

— Students should answer every question, as there will be no penalty for wrong answers. (Author’s note – students have been poorly advised by tutors, teachers and the College Board itself regarding when to skip questions. I see students skipping far too many questions and I often get a huge score boost out of a student once I point out some of the fallacies regarding SAT scoring. Do you realize a student that gets 36 questions right and 13 wrong will outscore a student that gets 32 questions right and 0 wrong!?)

— Instead of testing a wide range of math concepts, the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.

— Oh, and speaking of score, the total will be rolled back to its original level of 1600, instead of the current 2400. The reading and writing sections will be collapsed into one section worth 800.

— The College Board will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. (People ask will this affect the volume of my business? It may, but, students that want individualized one-on-one tutoring will still seek out my services. Plus, with big changes coming, some students might need more guidance during the uncertain first few administrations of the exam).

The SAT is making these changes mainly because it has recently been unseated as the most popular college admissions test in the nation by the ACT. So, what is one of the best things a student can do to fight off this new uncertainty surrounding the SAT? Devote study time to the ACT, as there are no announced changes coming to the test.