While much fuss was made of the last major revision to the SAT in 2005—which added a mandatory essay to the traditional math and reading sections, thus raising the total possible score from 1600 points to 2400 points—this new redesign is much more fundamental. It represents a big shift away from the test’s roots as an assessment of an applicant’s aptitude to more of a straightforward knowledge exam, much like its main competitor, the ACT. While the new SAT will revert back to the 1600-point scale, with the essay section becoming optional, it shouldn’t be mistaken for backpedaling to the old test.
On the reading side, gone are analogies like “equanimity is to harried” as “moderation is to dissolute.” Coleman admits to the needless complexities of testing vocabulary where “the only place you can reliably find them is on an SAT.” Coleman says the new exams will test students’ knowledge of the words they will need to know to succeed in college and career.
“When we redesigned the SAT last year, we said goodbye to SAT words. We will instead measure students’ understanding of words they will use over and over again—words that open doors in college coursework and career training—words like ‘synthesis’ and ‘analysis’,” said Coleman.
Eliminating “SAT words” isn’t the only change to the new reading and writing section, which will require a lot more reading—students will be expected to read nearly 5,000 words and answer almost 100 questions in less than an hour and a half. Students will be asked to decipher the meaning of words in the context of the reading passages and to use evidence from those passages to answer comprehension questions. The passages themselves are changing, as The College Board tries to have them represent a range of topics from across the disciplines of social studies, science, and history. These changes will sound familiar to those acquainted with the Common Core. Cyndie Schmeiser, the chief of assessment at The College Board, says that kids in Common Core states won’t have an advantage, because the new SAT is based on the same research and evidence that are the backbone to all state’s standards.
The math section will also look different.
The College Board is replacing logic-based word problems with questions that more directly probe students’ knowledge of mathematical concepts. Like the Common Core, the new test will have a heavy focus on algebra. Coleman has used the same mantra that many supporters of the Common Core’s emphasis on algebra use to justify the narrower focus, saying that the old SAT forced high-school math teachers to go “a mile wide and an inch deep” on too many topics. The math test will consist of nearly 60 questions split between two sections, one that allows a calculator and one that doesn’t.
“The current SAT asks questions where the material is remarkably simple, but students have to figure out what exactly they are asking for,” said Anthony-James Green, the founder of Green Test Prep. “Let’s say it’s a question about how much a driver should budget for gas, but they will add in all this other information. The car has a trailer attached, and the driver will be driving 15 percent faster than usual, and gas prices have gone up. The math is really easy it’s just figuring out what they are asking that is really tough.”