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Jury’s out on changes to the SAT test

Gerald Bradshaw

Gerald Bradshaw

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Updated: April 22, 2014 6:09AM



Dear Mr. Bradshaw,

I am a parent of a high school freshman who will have to take the new SAT when she applies for college in 2017. She can take the ACT, but I am not sure whether this test or the SAT is preferred for admission to a top college. When I was preparing for college 20 years ago they preferred the SAT. With the changes in the SAT I am worried about how to prepare my daughter for the new SAT.

Please advise.

Dear Parent,

You are quite right to be concerned about what is in store with the new SAT, which is scheduled to replace the current version in 2016. At this point no one knows for sure how the changes will impact college admissions, or how the new SAT scores will stack up against the ACT, which has recently overtaken the SAT in popularity.

Still, there is a lingering view that the current SAT is a better test of intelligence when based on employer preferences. Because most top graduates have nearly identical transcripts, many major companies like Bain, McKinsey and Co. (the president of the company that owns the SAT is a McKinsey alumni) and Goldman Sachs require copies of SAT scores from new hires — even for applicants in their 40s and 50s.

The average SAT score for all test takers last year was a combined 1,498 out of 2,400. Typical hires at top companies had scores of 2,160. This represents quite a gap, and it is worth noting that I have never had a client asked to submit a copy of his or her ACT score for employment. It will be interesting to see how this plays out under the new SAT model.

Here are some of the changes in the new SAT:

Scoring will be based on a maximum of 1,600 instead of 2,400, which is achieved by dropping writing as a requirement and making it optional. Read this to mean that top students will still take the writing section.

Math will focus on a more limited range of questions — percentages, proportional reasoning, linear equations, complex equations and functions.

The “guessing” penalty will be eliminated.

The vocabulary section will be normalized by replacing little-used words, such as “empirical,” with “flotilla,” according to SAT handouts.

The reading and writing section will focus more on passages students studied in high school rather than on disconnected abstract arguments.

Attempts to level the playing field in the past by re-norming the test — the last time they did away with analogy questions — did not add more diversity to the pool of qualified applicants. In order to do well on any test requires a high degree of concentration.

In short, the new SAT will try to answer critics by becoming more “user-friendly” by not making students feel that they are taking an IQ test. I tutor both tests and cramming will still be the best way to get top scores.



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