If you’re preparing for the SAT right now, then you probably don’t need to worry about this—the test won’t change until March 2016. Even if you’re a sophomore right now, if you’re already thinking about the SAT then your focus should be on the current test, not the new one. 
Well, that was certainly interesting! I believe you can still watch the announcement by College Board President David Coleman if you want here, but you’ll get the information much faster by reading one of the thousands of articles about the new SAT that are already online from tons of major news outlets. You can also get it straight from the horse’s mouth here and here. A lot more information will be released on April 16th.
I’m not going to write a super long response to the announcement right now, but here are a few of the most salient changes and my reactions to them.
  • Back to the 1600 scale. Two sections make up that score are Math, and “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”
  • There will still be an essay, but it will be scored separately and it will be optional. Also, it will be 50 minutes long and the question (but not the passage it’s about) will be known to all students in advance. Most people in the biz expected major essay changes, and we got them.
  • No more guessing penalty. Right answers help your score. Wrongs and blanks count the same. This is how the ACT does it, and many in the prep world saw this coming, too.
  • Calculators will be allowed on some math sections, prohibited on others. This is so a student’s number sense can be tested more effectively.
  • The test will be available on paper and digitally. Hopefully, that means students will get to choose how they want to take it.
  • No more sentence completions. Vocabulary will still play a role in the test, but the focus will be much more on words with multiple meanings and uses that will be important for students to use every day in college and beyond. In the presentation, David Coleman used the word “synthesis” as an example.
  • The “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” (you know what, I’m just gonna call that EBRW) will have charts and graphs in addition to pure text for students to grapple with. Seems to me like that’s inspired by the ACT science section.
  • The Math section will narrow its focus to “problem solving and data analysis,” the “heart of algebra,” and “passport to advanced math.”It’s not exactly clear what those mean yet—I can see how each topic currently tested could be recategorized into one of those. If the new test will really be narrower, we’ll have a better idea how much narrower no April 16.
  • The new SAT will focus on the Founding Documents (e.g. the Declaration of Independence) and the Great Global Conversation (e.g. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”). I’m a bit conflicted on this. On the one hand, what could be more important than engaging students in the documents upon which our society is based. On the other hand, does it trivialize those documents, or make students likely to hate them, to include them as an integral part of the SAT?
So, yeah. The new SAT will be quite different from the current one. Here’s how I think it’ll still be the same:
  • It will still be about 4 hours long (assuming you do the optional essay).
  • It still won’t be easy.
  • It will still be difficult to raise your critical reading (or EBRW) score if you haven’t been engaging in the practice of careful reading for many years.
  • The math will still find ways to test simple concepts in very tricky ways.
So those are my initial reactions. Did you watch the announcement? What did you think?

Comments (4)

I have listened to this guy a few times now and I just don’t understand the “why” very well. I can see changing the Essay and separating its score as is done on the ACT, but that’s just common sense (it should never have been included in the 200-800 Writing score in the first place). What I can’t see is what is accomplished by drastically changing the other components, especially vocabulary and math. Coleman makes an extremely weak case for persuading me that these parts of the test are broken. I find his explanation in regard to vocabulary particularly nonsensical.

However, I do have a crazy theory 🙂

I think an unstated goal of the change is to reshape the score distribution in a way that flattens the peak of the bell curve and leaves the right tail fatter than the left tail (more so than it already is). The way to accomplish this is to make the test easier, which is what I predict they will do (not easy, but easier). To avoid drastic moves in average scores (not to mention 10,000+ kids getting perfect scores), I believe the difficulty will not come down evenly across the board. Easy and medium difficulty-level questions will see most of the changes (the questions high scorers are already getting all correct). The underlying goal is not to change the overall numbers drastically, but to shrink the differences between different groups of test takers. This is also why they are moving back to a 1600 scale, differences will just *seem* smaller. The College Board has been on the receiving end of so much criticism for so long that I think they are finally cracking.

A side effect to all this will be, and this is my long dated prediction, a big increase in the number of schools requiring SAT Subject Tests. The SAT’s skinny right tail is used by a great many selective colleges to differentiate between students. The more students that make it into that tail, the less effective a differentiation tool the SAT will become for these schools.

I could be wrong of course, time will tell. The test questions themselves could be made easier while introducing more time pressure. Such a test would be even more in line with the ACT. Not sure what the point of that would be, as we already have an ACT.



An interesting theory, JD. I’m not convinced that there’s really any intention to alter the shape of the bell curve, but you raise an interesting point in that increased demand for Subject Tests would surely be a welcome development for the College Board.

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