The maximum score is 1600. Essays are optional. No deductions for wrong answers. Vocabulary that you might actually use in real life. A complete change in focus. You might not believe it, but this will be the new face of the SAT Reasoning Test (colloquially known as just the “SAT”), starting in 2016. While this may not be the greatest news for today’s seniors, juniors, and sophomores (who will still have to take the test with the infamous archaic vocabulary),this is a sigh of relief for the freshmen and other students who do not plan to apply to university within the next two years.
For several decades, the SAT has become more prominent in the college admissions process, rivaling the ACT as the standardized test of choice in the United States. Roughly 800 of 3000 universities and colleges in the United States utilize the SAT and ACT as a possible supplements to university applications. Many Ivy League universities require applicants to submit SAT scores and have unconfirmedcutoffs for admissions based on these numerical scores – showing how integral these types of standardized testing are to the current state of the college admissions process. After all, we can only see it in black and white: either you’re accepted or you’re not.
Thus, students such as you and I may start to stress over achieving high scores, with many wanting to at least be above the average SAT score of the previous year’sadmitted freshmen of our dream universities. We start to go to test prep courses, buy books, and do practce test after practice test. The Princeton Review and Kaplan have become almost household names for test prep books and courses thataim to maximize your SAT score, bringing it closer and closer to the famed 2400. Flash cards are commonplace when studying for the Critical Reading sections of the SAT plagued with the infamous archaic vocabulary – students “stop reading and start flipping”. Many now say that the SAT is no longer an accurate reflection of school curriculum – but instead a test of how well you can take a test. This “test-taking ability” stigma is further supported by longstanding criticisms of the SAT stating that “students from wealthier households do better on the exam because they can afford expensive test preparation classes”.
2016’s overhauled SAT aims to address all these problems by omitting and changing the nature of the SAT. Test prep will become accessible to all (not only students with a higher socio-economic status) through a College Board partnership with Khan Academy (a service that provides free step-by-step videos on topics ranging from mathematics to economics) and by reducing the dependence on SAT prep courses, leveling the playing field for all students, regardless of background. Arcane language is omitted in favor of more in-depth, contextual vocabulary. "If kids learn words richly in this way through wide reading rather than flashcards, they are deeply prepared to widen their appreciation of the nuances of language,” College Board President David Coleman writes.
History and Science are also to be integrated into reading comprehension questions, allowing for a greater scope of knowledge required instead of the traditional focus on only math, reading, and writing. Essays have become optional, as critics have said that a single piece of timed writing is a very limited way of judging an individual’s writing ability. In many ways, the SAT is adopting many characteristics of the ACT, which surpassed the SAT in 2012 as the most-popular standardized test in the United States and has maintained its spot to this day.
Despite its flaws, standardized testing is necessary and we have to live with the reality. “[Universities] absolutely need a standardized exam to compare students by,” Shaan Patel of Veritas Prep says. “It’s sort of a necessary evil. It’s something that will never go away."
Although the SAT is not the most perfect way to test students on the road to college admission, these changes, at least on paper, seem to allow the SAT to more accurately reflect what students are learning in school.
Unfortunately, 2016 can’t come any sooner. Time for the rest of us to buy some prep books.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo courtesy of ccarlstead (Flickr)