New SAT Anxiety

The New SAT: You Have Options

In the spring of 2016, high school juniors and seniors will experience yet another attempt at creating the golden boy of all standardized college tests. Yes, the College Board will be releasing a new SAT.

The 2016 SAT will include three sections – evidence-based reading and writing, math, and an optional essay. The point of each section is to elevate students from bubble-fillers to analytical thinkers. Students will be expected to defend their answers. There will be a score shift from the present score scale of 2400 back to 1600, and the essay will be scored separately. Additionally, students will not be penalized for incorrect answers.

The new SAT reading and writing sections will require students to cite evidence for their selected answers, and will present reading passages from a broader range of disciplines like: science, history, social studies and literature. The College Board insists that students will no longer be asked to complete sentences with obscure words. They will, instead, have to understand context in which words like “synthesis” and “empirical” are used. The thinking is that these research-oriented words will be more valuable, and frequently used in the college classroom—therefore, more important than those words in the English language that are less utilitarian, but more lyrical, and rich in color and symbolism—words that enable a deeper structure to one’s thought and communication. Well…there. You can tell how I feel about the change.

Students will no longer be able to use calculators on all math sections. The math will focus on data analysis and real world problem-solving, algebra, and some more advanced concepts –again, areas that are believed to better prepare students for college and career.

The essay, which will ask students to examine a passage and write an analysis of the author’s argument and how it was made, will now be optional. However, most students looking at top tier or Ivy institutions should plan on taking the essay section anyway. Every piece a student can add to the puzzle that shows his/her academic talent or skill will be an important factor in upcoming admissions. Essays will be scored separately from the rest of the test.

The redesigned test will take about three hours, with an additional 50 minutes for the essay, and will be administered by print and computer.

Now, you might ask me, why can’t these standardized tests all go away? The truth is that colleges need some kind of standardized intellectual measurement by which to at least get a feel for a student’s critical thinking and grasp of subject matter. A transcript, although the jewel in the crown of the college application, is still a flawed document by which to judge a student’s intellect. An A+ at one school is equivalent to a B+ at another. Some teachers give students second and even third chances to bring grades up after an academic debacle on midterms or research papers. Some teachers are so afraid of parent phone calls over a student’s “earned” calamitous drop in grade that they bump up the student’s semester average through a participation grade or who knows what? Admissions officers know that this goes on…they just can’t know exactly when and where it happens. So what’s a college to do? Well, when Admissions sees a student with an A average in Spanish, getting a 500 on the Spanish Subject Test, they can pretty well determine that this student is not really an A student in Spanish. What they do with that information is up to them, but at least standardized tests give these professionals a more realistic set of data through which to determine whether or not certain students belong on their campus. So, we can’t really blame Admissions for appreciating a certain degree of standardization.

Test Anxiety

  • Perhaps your son or daughter has standardized test anxiety: I would say to your child: Take a class that puts you in the test taking situation at least once a week. After sitting with a room full of students taking a 4 hour SAT once a week for two months, as well as spending that time learning how to think for that exam, you will see your scores improve. Sometimes score improvement is just a matter of muscle memory—working on the same skill over and over until you master it.
  • Test Optional: Another possibility is to look into colleges that do not require the standardized SAT or ACT: Did you know that these schools exist? NYU, for example, will take either your SAT/ACT score, or three Subject Test Scores (which are much more class-material based); or three AP exam scores. There are so many other fine test optional schools: Muhlenberg College, Bard; Bates College, Bennington, Bowdoin; Franklin & Marshall, Hobart & William Smith—(all of these fabulous liberal arts colleges), Middlebury College, Mt. Holyoke, Pitzer College in California, University of Arizona, Wake Forest University, WPI, among others.

You see, there are options…and the options are great! So let’s take the fear out of Senior year! And if your child will be among the new crop of SAT takers…visit the College Board website in April to learn more and have a peek at some practice questions.

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