Parents of high school sophomores and juniors beware: The new SAT is coming in March 2016. Throw away those old SAT vocabulary flashcards and study books and get ready for a new format.
The SAT has been the go-to standardized test for college-bound students for years; however, the ACT has recently surpassed the SAT in popularity nationwide, and much of the redesign is due to a loss of market share. Collegeboard is, after all, a billion-dollar company.
Profits are not the only motivation for the redesign. The SAT has long been accused of being biased against first-generation, low-income and non-native English-speaking students. The focus on vocabulary, memorization and test strategy has disadvantaged these students who continue to make up a larger percentage of college-going seniors. And finally, the writing section of the SAT, first introduced in 2005, has proven to be unpopular and, frankly, disregarded by college admissions officers in the application review process.
The SAT is moving away from being an “aptitude” test and will now try to reflect achievement and skills learned in the high school curriculum. It is also supposed to align more clearly with the Common Core standards and be a better predictor for college readiness. For example, the math section will focus more on interpretations, relationships and applied math, not just solving a problem. Reading passages will be longer, and students will be expected to provide evidence-based support for their responses. Science questions will be thrown into the mix with a focus on interpreting graphs in a multidisciplinary context. And the writing section will no longer be mandatory. Those who opt to include this section will be asked to analyze an argument instead of writing about their own opinions on a topic.
What is the time frame for these changes?
January 2016 is the last month the current version of the SAT will be offered. The new version will roll out in March 2016, but students who opt to take the very first new test will need to wait two months before receiving their scores. Understandably, Collegeboard wants to combine March and May test results to make a more robust scoring rubric.
The students most affected by these changes are current high school juniors, who will have a tough decision to make. Most college counselors are recommending that the class of 2017 focuses on the ACT at least until the kinks are worked out of the new SAT. Score delays, lack of study materials and general uncertainty about the difficulty of the new test are some reasons students should consider focusing on the ACT this year.
Sophomores and freshman have it a little easier and can postpone making their testing decisions until the dust settles. After a full year of scoring and a full admissions season, the new SAT will become a less scary and uncertain endeavor.
How to prepare now
Khan Academy is in charge of the study resources for the new SAT. Test prep resources are offered for free and are tailored to students’ individual needs and weaknesses. For parents considering hiring a private tutor, be sure that they are up to date with these changes and have updated their materials to reflect the new test. For those looking to register for future SAT dates, you can do so on the Collegeboard’s website.
For students who don’t excel at standardized testing, an increasing number of colleges are becoming test optional. Students have the opportunity to showcase their achievements and academic capabilities through other parts of the application. A list of test-optional colleges can be found here.