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The SAT Test Gets a Makeover

Jordan Catapano


On March 5, the College Board announced that its college admission exam - the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT Test) - would undergo a drastic reconstruction that will make its inaugural appearance in the Spring of 2016.

The modifications they are ushering into the exam have been called "extensive" by some, as the SAT Test seeks to revamp its fundamental philosophy on what exactly it’s testing. Here are the updates you can look for:

  • Upgraded vocabulary for verbal reasoning. The vocab will now contain less esoteric terms and focus instead on words more practical to the collegiate experience.
  • Different math focuses, targeting linear equations, functions, and ratios and proportional reasoning.
  • Calculator use will be prohibited for most portions of the math section.
  • No science section will be making an appearance; however, expect to find a science-based passage in the reading section.
  • The reading section will also focus on passage analysis instead of just comprehension, which may require students to answer a question and identify which passage details support their answer.
  • he reading section also gets a patriotic touch: there will be one passage containing one of America’s founding documents or a passage that discusses such documents.
  • The writing section – instituted in 2005 – becomes optional.
  • And as far as scoring goes, the new SAT will eliminate the .25-point penalty for guessing, and return the scoring total to the traditional 1600.

Many have noted that 2012 marked the first year that more students took the ACT than the SAT. Although a flurry of reasons have been suggested for the shift, people generally observe that the ACT has been deemed the more “curriculum-friendly” exam that more closely aligns to high school curriculum standards. It also has benefitted from successful marketing and is now the required state assessment exam in 13 states as of 2014, and eight more states utilize ACT for other types of testing services. Many have observed that the modifications to the SAT – like the optional writing, the removal of the guessing penalty, and the adjustments to vocab – imitate their ACT competitor.

Another blight against the SAT that the new version will seek to remedy is the classic perception that the SAT tests knowledge that is not strictly aligned with high school standards. Since it tests more obscure knowledge and skills, more affluent students have historically enjoyed an advantage as they can afford test prep resources. Since the exam changes will be more closely aligned with high school standards (and by the way, David Coleman, the President of College Board, served on the committee that framed the Common Core State Standards), then the gap between affluent and disadvantaged students will decrease.

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Critics of the new SAT deride it the same reason they disapproved of the former SAT or the current ACT: As a standardized test, it only targets a narrow range of skills. Other essential college and career readiness factors – like problem solving, creativity, effort, interest, persistence, independence and collaboration – are almost entirely ignored. Many include that “high school grades are a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores.” And there’s an increasing percentage of individuals – from teachers to students to parents to colleges themselves – who doubt the plausibility that a single test provides any significant insight into a student’s true collegiate potential.

All told, the SAT is still a major player in the standardized testing and college entrance world, and its changes should not go unnoticed. As our culture, philosophy and academic needs continue to shift, we should expect that any company in the testing “business” will continually seek to realign its product to meet the needs of its current market. So as you work with students to meet your classroom’s standards and move onto their next big academic step, take into consideration the SAT’s makeover and what it potentially means for you.

Are you familiar with the SAT Test? What do these changes mean for you? Share your impressions and experiences in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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