Beginning in March, high school students throughout the U.S. will be introduced to an entirely redesigned SAT as the College Board, a nonprofit organization that designs and administers the SAT, has drastically changed one of the most popular college aptitude tests in the country.
The redesigned test does away with the difficult vocabulary section and adds in more straight-forward questions based on real-world college and career concepts, according to the College Board.
Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at the College Board, said the changes to the test came after the discovery that of the 1.7 million students who took the SAT in 2015, only 42 percent were ready to enter college without the need for remedial courses—a statistic she called “staggering.”
“As we stepped back, we thought we needed to rethink assessment and not only help more kids become prepared for college or career, but we need to connect them with opportunities to help them navigate that pathway to college, which is not always a clear one,” Schmeiser said. “We redesigned the SAT to focus very clearly and specifically on those skills that are necessary for college readiness and success. These are the skills that students are learning every day in the classroom, but we are focusing very clearly on really what matters. We are not measuring everything students learn, but those that research has told us are most important.”
Schmeiser said the College Board stays on top of curriculum changes at the high school level and regularly adjusts the test to follow those trends. The last time the test received a major change was in 2005.
Jennifer Porter, district lead counselor for Georgetown ISD, said the old SAT test did not reflect what students were learning in the classroom—something she thought the College Board was able to achieve with the new test.
“It’s great for our kids, because in the past [the students] would have to go out and study to the test and seek information—they would have to study to be successful on this specific kind of test,” she said. “Now the day-to-day education they’re receiving and the things that our schools are already doing, that’s better-reflected in the test.”
The new test will be available to students across the country to take beginning March 5, according to the College Board. Although GISD is not a testing site for the SAT, students are able to take the test in neighboring districts, Porter said.
The new SAT will continue to test in math, reading and writing. But the way those areas will be tested has changed, Schmeiser said.
“The test is a little shorter—there are fewer questions—but we are still focused on testing kids’ college-readiness skills in reading and writing and in math, and there is also an optional essay.
“The subject areas are still the same, but the approach within and what we are measuring in those areas have changed quite a bit,” she said. “We thought to make it the most consumer-friendly, we thought making [the essay portion] optional or allowing each higher-education system to decide whether to require it gave our constituencies the most flexibility.”
The College Board also changed the way students study for the test. Instead of paying for costly SAT practice courses and study materials, the College Board partnered with the Khan Academy to now offer SAT practice materials online for free.
“Over three-quarters of a million kids have already gone into satpractice.org and have practiced with over 15 million problems,” Schmeiser said. “We are getting feedback from kids stating that the new test is more of a reflection of what they have learned in school. We are getting a lot of reinforcement from kids and colleges as well. Frankly, they are finding the questions to be very clear and straightforward, so we are excited and very optimistic and are looking forward to the first test date in March.”
Porter said previously the students able to pay for SAT seminars or prep camps were the ones scoring highest on the test, so the new materials prevent economic status from being a barrier. She also said the new Khan Academy materials tailor the preparatory questions to help students build upon their weakest subjects to prepare for the test.
“The Khan Academy has a history of being a great resource for students and families, and the fact that College Board has partnered with them really opens up availability to students and their families,” she said.
Bryan Hallmark, GISD executive director of campus leadership, said GISD administers the PSAT to all sophomores and juniors for free. Eighth- and ninth-graders are also able to pay to take the PSAT 8/9, which is geared to those grade levels.
Hallmark said the district has been offering the PSAT for a while, but requiring all 10th- and 11th-graders to take the test is relatively new.
“We feel like we’ve seen our scores increase because of offering the PSAT [to them],” Hallmark said.
When changes to the SAT test began to circulate last year, Porter said the district began reaching out to students to make sure they were aware of the switch.
GISD advertises all SAT and ACT testing dates on campus and in electronic news so students are aware which testing dates are coming up, and last fall GISD brought in a College Board representative to meet with counselors and provide information on the redesigned SAT and PSAT.
“We just make sure that it’s well-known and well-advertised,” she said.
Although sophomores will have ample time to prepare for the new test, juniors will have taken the old PSAT and will take the new SAT.
Hallmark and Porter said they have not heard any concerns about students taking the new SAT after preparing with the old PSAT, and both do not think it will be an issue since they say students are learning the new test materials in class every day.
“I think that the skills that the test requires, those skill sets are embedded into all of our coursework,” Hallmark said. “Kids are getting to practice the skills that they use on the test on a daily basis.”
Porter said she hopes the new test will give universities a better picture of their students.
Christine Bowman, dean of admission and enrollment services at Southwestern University, said that is what the College Board has emphasized.
She said she is anxious to see how the new test scores will align with that philosophy.
She said Southwestern University has been preparing for the new test since the changes were announced. The university had to undergo a change in the past when the SAT switched to a 2,400-point model in 2005.
“Most colleges are going to be prepared for a change, and we from a college perspective don’t want students to freak out about this,” she said.
The admissions office is currently working on updating the computer system to make sure it will reflect the highest score a student submits, whether it be from the previous SAT or one taken in March or later, Bowman said.
At Southwestern University, though, she said testing is a secondary factor in admissions—most universities consider a student’s academic performance as the first factor.
“I want students to remain focused on the things that are most important, which is their academic performance in high school, regardless of how you do on the testing,” she said. “If you are a strong academic student and you are putting your best foot forward, that’s going to be the most important thing to an admissions committee.”