What’s new in the new SAT

Keshav Sota, Contributing Writer

The first time I encountered the SAT, I saw a flood of stressed high school students, all anxious about their upcoming examination.  They were discussing test strategies, definitions of seemingly foreign words, and possible essay topics. It was at this instance that I realized the implications that one test, the SAT, had on a student’s future.  Although only a seventh grader dropping off a family friend to his test center, I too had the opportunity to take the dreaded SAT a few years later this past January.  I recount the countless hours I invested into this test, from attending SAT prep to filling my room with SAT flashcards. I came to despise the test and the way it was formatted. However, when David Coleman, president of  the College Board, recently announced the newest changes to the SAT, I was glad that I had taken the old edition. Although revised with good intentions, the new SAT is not the way that Collegeboard should be structuring its tests.

One of the changes that David Coleman hopes to institutes is to eliminate the score disparity between socioeconomic classes.  In an attempt to make SAT preparation more accessible, College Board and Khan Academy have collaborated to create new preparatory material. These new videos will introduce students to strategies designed for the SAT. However, despite these new groundbreaking changes, the score gap will remain persistent even with the changed SAT. The problem behind the SAT and all standardized test remains that wealthier students have access to more preparation opportunities. Unlike many other students, upper class students attend expensive tutoring locations, such as the Princeton Review, and take individualized classes to help boost their scores and target weaknesses. In fact,  College Board revealed a study in which it found that a student with a family income of $20,000 scores an average of 1326, whereas a student with an income of over $200,000 scores an average of 1714 points. Even though College Board has linked up with Khan Academy to introduce SAT prep to students who may not have the financial capabilities to sign up for courses, the preparation in no way compares to the extensive amount of assistance that students from elite families get. With one-on-one preparation, expensive tutors, and hours of preparatory classes, upper class students will score higher regardless of whether the test is changed. The new SAT cannot equalize the score disparity–students from different echelons will never perform similarly.

Another problem that the new SAT has brought about is the elimination of its writing section and making the essay an optional portion.  In the modern world, written communication has become a critical component of the path to success. Whether it be writing an email to your boss or an essay for a teacher, developing good writing abilities is extremely important.  By no longer testing the writing section, the SAT is essentially reversing the purpose it was formed for: to ensure students are ready for college. Colleges want to see how well a student is versed in their communication abilities and want to ensure that he or she is prepared for the rigor of college classes. The SAT, with the loss of the writing section, no longer helps show students that they are equipped for intensive college writing experiences; it is a clear repudiation of the principles it was created for. Why take the SAT if it does not help display your strengths?

Furthermore, the new SAT is a degradation of standards. By excising advanced mathematical concepts and difficult words, Coleman claims that the new test is reflective of curriculum taught in school. Unfortunately, what Coleman subtly points out is that our education standards as a nation have fallen and thus, the SAT must be altered to follow the general trends. Coleman’s decision to rid of “esoteric” or “antediluvian” vocabulary on the SAT simply shows that students no longer read the classics as much as we used to. Instead, we turn to action-packed novels that appeal to our millennial senses. As a current AP Language student, I can say that I have only read a few classic novels in the span of my educational career. Although I support teachers allowing students to liberally choose novels, I do advocate that there needs to be a push towards reading of old literature: Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice.  Instead of axing these vocabulary words, as they now seem obsolete, Coleman, as one of the architects for the Common Core, should help institute these novels into the curriculum to promote a stronger vocabulary foundation from childhood.

Although a minor change, the change in scoring is another aspect that weakens the SAT’s strength as an examination. Prior to the revised edition, the old SAT used to negatively mark students for incorrectly answering questions. Despite the fact that this system lowered my score, I personally support this idea. The penalty system helps train students to become better test-takers. When analyzing a question, students have to intuitively strategize whether they need to take a guess or not.  As a result, they must take the test with great caution realizing that every point makes a difference on the test. For example, omitting only one question in the math section will cause the section’s score to go down approximately 30 points. As a test to prepare students for college, the exam underscores the importance of good test taking abilities.

I do applaud Coleman and the College Board for recognizing the deficiencies in the test and acting upon them. However, these changes are not the ones that need to be implemented. Instead, I suggest a complete renovation of the SAT with input from both educators and students across the globe. With the opinions of others aside from test creators, the SAT will be catered towards the approval of the consensus. I see a day where the SAT will be no longer feared, disparaged, and hated by students: a day when the examination will be modernized.