The new SAT puts high school teachers and curriculum at center stage of SAT test prep, a significant departure from the complex testing strategies and tricks that millions of students have been sold over the years in their attempt to master the SAT. “It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming, but the learning students do over years,” says David Coleman, president of the College Board.
The “New” SAT
The new exam promises a more authentic assessment of the learning, study, and performance expected during high school, college, and in the workplace. The now optional, 50-minute essay section requires that students closely read and analyze a passage, then craft an analysis of the author’s persuasion of the reader. According to the College Board, responses are evaluated for:
demonstrated comprehension of the source text
quality of analysis of that source text
quality of the writing
Additionally, responses should demonstrate:
careful understanding of the passage
effective, selective use of textual evidence to develop and support points
clear organization and expression of ideas
command of the conventions of standard written English
This expectation is aligned closely with the Common Core State Standards in reading and writing, which is not surprising, given that the “architect” of the Common Core, David Coleman, is also the driving force behind the new SAT standards. “Students will be asked to do something we do in work and in college every day,” Coleman said, “analyze source materials and understand the claims and supporting evidence.”
An important new feature of the essay section is that it is now optional. Two contributing factors resulted in this decision, namely the acknowledgement that a single essay, written on a single day, is not a good predictor of success in college, or in life. Secondly, there was a clear divide in perception among admissions officers as to what value the SAT essay adds to an application that already includes a student writing sample, numerous letters of recommendations, grades, and standardized test results.
Who Stands to Lose?
Evidently, the billion dollar test prep market stands to lose the most with the upcoming changes to SAT standards. Since the new test promises to align much more closely with the work and learning of the high school classroom, learning the tricks and strategies necessary to score well on the “old” SAT may become unnecessary.
The ¼ point penalty for an incorrect answer has been eliminated in the new SAT, so students will not have to engage in complex cost/benefit analyses of guessing versus not answering a troublesome question. Additionally, the essay question will always have the same prompt: Write an essay in which you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience. The goal of this change is to assess the student’s ability to “engage with the passage rather than rely on canned, generic responses generated ahead of time.”
The hope of educators is that students will save time and energy -- as well as money -- on eliminating complicated, specific test prep. Developers of the new SAT standards identify equality as a big priority, and reducing the need for costly SAT test prep is an important step towards an assessment that has historically favored the affluent.
One matter on which we can all agree is that the time saved will be better spent by students in pursuit of academic and extracurricular activities, just the things that college admissions officers are looking for in their applicants.
Teachers For SAT Test Prep
If the new SAT lives up to its promises, students will be assessed on just the skills and concepts they engage in on a daily basis in the classroom. This shifts the responsibility of test prep directly onto the shoulders of classroom teachers.
So what can teachers do to prepare students for the new form of the SAT? For the essay portion, students should have access to high quality texts, including founding documents, which will be included on every test.
Coleman states: “every SAT will contain a passage from either a founding document or from a text (like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)...” Students should engage in analysis of texts to persuade and inform, and should read and write extensively in response to literature, physical science, social science, ethics, historical topics, and current events. They should practice taking multiple perspectives on issues, and be able to compare current and historical events. Students should be able to write fluently, establish a cogent thesis, organize ideas effectively, and clearly articulate their ideas to the reader.
The new essay portion will not allow students to regurgitate a previously memorized essay as in the “old” SAT -- and it will demand a higher level of analysis and use of evidence to support their thesis.
Will it Perform?
The major overhaul of the SAT still leaves us with a gnawing question -- will the new SAT be any more predictive of success in college and the workplace than the old test? Many important college readiness skills can be captured by a one time assessment, but it is vital to remember that there are essential skills that cannot be assessed by any standardized test.
The ability to persist through challenges, to manage time constraints, delay gratification, demonstrate resilience, and establish good organizational habits are not measured by tests. These skills have been demonstrated to be essential in college and life -- and are most certainly predictive of future success. So, the new SAT, no matter the hype, remains just one piece of the puzzle of college admissions.