Changes to the SAT

For high school students around the nation, three letters come to mind when they think of junior year: SAT. This standardized test, formally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is given enormous weight by universities worldwide, thus turning the exam into a stress-inducer for 11th grade students everywhere. Originally designed to measure innate intelligence, statistics have shown that the test has now lost its original purpose. Nowadays, the amount of test preparation, as opposed to raw knowledge, seems to be the key factor in scoring well. With this new understanding that the test has lost its way, David Coleman, president of the College Board, has decided to overhaul the SAT so that students’ scores might better reflect the materials they have learned in class, as opposed to how much they have prepared for the SAT specifically.

Currently, the test is graded on a 2400 point scale, with the reading, writing and math sections given 800 points apiece. On any given problem, for each correct answer one point is awarded, and for each incorrect answer ¼ of a point is subtracted. For problems that are omitted, no points are subtracted. The test is broken down further into 10 sections, the first of which is an essay, and the total combined test-taking time adds up to three hours and 45 minutes, not including breaks. However, much of this will change in the spring of next year, as the overhauled SAT is given for the first time to the Class of 2016.

“I think the Westlake student is going to come out very strong with [these changes],” Director of Guidance and Career Counseling Jeff Pilchiek said. “Since the test is going to be more cognitive, and more focused on what you learn in the classroom, I really think all the changes are going to be beneficial. I’ve already talked to a couple of seniors, and they think the Westlake kids are going to tear the test up, which is what I hope will happen, and usually does.”

The new test will return to the format it held in 2004 — a 1600 point scale with the essay as an optional section. This will reduce the testing time to about three hours with an additional 50 minutes for the essay. In addition, new modifications have been added such that less focus will be placed on obscure vocabulary words, that students in the past were required to memorize. And starting next year, the test will not only be offered in print but also on the computer at certain locations.

“I feel bad for the [students in the] grades above me,” sophomore Grace Malerba said. “But at the same time, I’m happy that they’re making things better for us.”

The decision to make the essay optional may stem largely from the fact that the rival ACT test leaves the essay optional and this year surpassed the SAT in the number of test-takers. 1.5 million students around the country took the SAT whereas 1.6 million completed the ACT. However, an issue affecting both tests is the fact that not all students have the same access to preparation materials, and a direct correlation has been shown between family income and testing scores.


(chart courtesy of New York Times)

To combat this problem, the College Board will be teaming up with Khan Academy, an educational website, to produce online videos and materials that will be available for all.

Overall, the hope is that this new revamp will make the test an equal opportunity to succeed for students across America.