College Board Releases a “Wordier” Exam

Vol. 13 No. 6

divhead eletter Vol14 No6 exam

College prep assessment company College Board recently released details on the latest iteration of its Scholastic Aptitude Test (the SAT). The new exam has several new features, but the renewed focus on reading comprehension has most educators’ attention. As the new format becomes more widely know, nervous students may need reassurance—and maybe reading glasses.

Gone are the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary sentences and shorter text blurbs, in favor of longer, “wordier” excerpts and greater critical thinking analysis. Math questions feature extended word problems, requiring students to be able to pick the relevant information from the red herrings.

Here’s a summarized breakdown of what’s changed in the March 2016 exam compared to the older version, based on the College Board’s comparison of the two.

  • The top SAT score is back to 1600 (800 Reading + 800 Math), instead of 2400 (800 Reading + 800 Essay + 800 Math).
    • Essays will be scored separately, with a maximum score of “8” and a lowest score of “2” for three individual aspects of the essay.
      • Reading, evaluating how well a student understood the excerpt
      • Analysis, evaluating how well a student used the essay to bolster his/her argument
      • Writing, evaluating how well a student wrote the essay itself
  • The Essay portion of the exam is now optional.
    • Time allotted for the essay has been extended from 25 to 50 minutes.
    • Instead of asking students to “take a position on a presented issue,” students will be asked to write an analysis of a given literature excerpt.
  • Points will only be added for right answers, with no negative scores for incorrect answers.
  • The mandatory test will be a shorter exam at three hours, instead of nearly four hours.
    • There will be fewer questions with slightly less time provided on average per section, but the remaining questions will be “harder” (in terms of length and passages chosen).
    • If students choose to take the essay portion, their test time will be longer than the pre-March 2016 format with the newly doubled essay time.

Some analysts worry that the exam’s new format, with a renewed focus on reading comprehension and more “difficult” contextualized questions, will adversely impact those students who can’t afford tutors, despite the College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy for free online test prep courses.

Lee Weiss, Vice President at Kaplan Test Prep, told the New York Times that the new format will “change who does well,” adding that with the previous version, “a student from a family where English was not the first language [could] really excel on the math side. It may be harder in the administration of this new test to decipher that, because there is so much text on both sides of the exam.”

Others believe that the retooled exam will do exactly what a college preparatory exam should: evaluate prospective college students on how well they’ll perform in a classroom. “You could call it ‘penalizing students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading,’” one commenter on the New York Times article said. “Or, you could call it ‘evaluating students’ reading skills.’

All of this is conjecture at this stage, however. Until the first students take the “new” exam in March 2016, no one can really know how this might impact student test scores—or potential acceptance to undergraduate programs.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 9 Written by the Victors: AP History Exam Overhaul and Curriculum Responses
The Source for Private School News
Vol. 13 No. 4 The New SAT Exam: What You Need to Know
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 12 No. 6 20 Free Online Resources for School Administrators

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 37 No. 14 The 21st Century School: Exam Periods
Vol. 36 No. 1 Advanced Placement: A Critical Study
I&P Vol. 39 No. 12 The Rhetoric of Rigor

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