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What the SAT overhaul means for higher education

By Kayvon Ghoreshi
On March 6, 2014

All you need to know for the SAT is basic arithmetic and that you always use "The Scarlet Letter" in your essay. At least, that was what I was told three years ago when I was taking an SAT prep class. I refer to that statement as a concise summation of the problems I have with the exam, which could potentially be resolved in the next couple of years. This week, the College Board announced a plan overhaul the exam, and while not perfect, it does make an effort to alleviate the fundamental issues that have long angered parents and students.
Though its popularity has decreased in recent years, or been replaced by the similar ACT, the test is still a staple of the college admissions process.
Roughly 80 percent of four-year colleges still require either SAT or ACT scores, according to David Hawkins at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, but how much emphasis is placed on them varies. However, for many high school students and their families, the SAT is seen as the key to not only getting into a good college, but inevitably leading to success down the road. A national standard exam like the SAT is somewhat necessary to compare students because, at the end of the day, college admission is still a competitive process. The issue is when the exam doesn't actually test for a student's preparedness for college.
As alluded to above, my SAT prep course, and many others like it, didn't spend time teaching math, how to process information, or even how to write more effectively. Instead, I was taught how to look for tricks in questions, the formulaic structure and types of examples to use for my essay and hundreds of potential vocabulary words. Essentially, these prep courses do nothing more than to teach you how to take a test, and the SAT itself hardly correlates to what you learn in the classroom.
With the new exam expected to roll out in 2016, the score will return to a 1600 maximum with math and reading sections. Rather than trying to trick students, the math section will focus on testing adequate knowledge of linear and complex equations, ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning: concepts used across multiple disciplines and careers. The reading section will be based on documents high school students will likely have read in class, such as the Declaration of Independence, and will require students to actually support their answers with document quotations and the logic with which they arrived at their answer. The essay is no longer part of the exam and is instead an optional portion that is scored separately. Also gone are the old vocabulary words in favor of ones that are likely to be used in a college academic setting, such as "synthesis," and the point penalty for getting a wrong answer.
In addition to these changes that will hopefully make the test more representative of a student's preparedness for college, College Board is also making changes to alleviate what the current SAT does seem to be representative of: student family income. According to the College Board, average SAT scores correlated directly with a student's economic background. Those from a household making under $40,000 averaged a score of around 1400, while those from the upper end of the spectrum averaged a score of over 1700. This in large part is due to the fact that students from more affluent families can afford resources such as SAT tutoring.
To help, College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, the free online resource for providing lessons on a plethora of subjects. The partnership will create a free resource for students to prepare for the SAT, but not by learning the tricks or gimmicks of the exam; rather, by practicing and learning the core material that will be tested, just like how one would study for the average college exam. They will also be providing more fee waivers so that lower-income students can not only take the exam, but also be able to send it to more colleges.
With the stress it causes, parents and students don't benefit from the current SAT, and neither do admission offices because the test does not accurately measure a student's merit and potential for success in college. The only individuals that have benefited are companies like the Princeton Review and Kaplan who make millions off of books and prep courses. Of course, there is always the chance that people will learn how to game this test as well and the problems will go back to square one, but hopefully these changes do give a more apt representation of a student's readiness. Additionally, the new free resources help the exam do what it should have been doing in the first place: leveling the playing field and giving every student a chance to showcase their merit.

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