The no-newer-than-any-other-test-you’ve-never-taken SAT

As we approach the launch of the latest iteration of the SAT, more and more students, counselors, and parents are becoming worried about the “new SAT” and how these changes are going to impact scores and college admissions. These concerns have ranged from reasonable (is there some different that is unlike other tests that we know of) to illogical (will the new SAT test the “new math” and thus unknown and unknowable) to irrational (will colleges not accept the new SAT and taking it keep my child from the college of their dreams).

In hopes alleviating some of the fear and panic around this test I’ve put together this handy list of who should and who shouldn’t be concerned about the upcoming changes to the SAT. And to be clear, I’m not saying that the SAT doesn’t matter and won’t continue to matter, because it will. I’m advocating thinking carefully about how the fact that there are changes to the content of the SAT will have limited impact on most of the people who are concerned about those changes.

Let’s start with those who should ignore the “changes” hype (and just pay attention to preparing well for the test you choose to take… since you still have a choice between SAT and ACT).

  1. Classes of 2018 and onward
    Changes only matter if you have prior context or experience. Having very likely never taken any version of the SAT or PSAT, the classes of 2018 and after should completely ignore all the talk of the changes to the SAT. The version of the SAT they take will be the first and likely only version of the SAT they have ever seen. They should prepare for it much like students have been preparing for the SAT for years. These students should currently be planning their college application timelines and determining when they are going to take exams and focusing on the academic skills they are learning in school that will have lasting value. Any discussion of the old SAT versus the new SAT are completely irrelevant and distracting noise. Students in the class of 2018 and later should no more be worried about the new SAT and its changes than they are about the changes college professors are making to their grading criteria.
  2. Students who are planning to take the redesigned SAT
    Any student who has already determined that they will be taking the redesigned SAT (whether it’s because they are seeking the National Merit Scholarship, schedule doesn’t permit them to take the SAT before the new test launches in March, their school is providing the new SAT for free, etc) should also ignore all the chatter about the changes. Once you’ve reached a decision about which test you are taking it no longer matters that that test is different than it used to be, it only matters what it will be when you take it. The only reason to be aware that it has changed is to ensure that you aren’t practicing with outdated material or information.
  3. Parents
    As a parent your concern shouldn’t be with the newness or changedness of the test but rather with how to make sure your child is best prepared for the test. That preparation might mean choosing to take a different test (since there is the option of SAT or ACT) so as to best display her academic abilities. For most parents your role will remain what it has always been and will continue to be for a long time: the planner, the payer, and the helper. This was true for the 1926 SAT, the 1974 version, as well as the 1994 and 2005 versions (Want to see the history of SAT changes? click here) and will be true when they revise the SAT again in 6 – 10 years. Until then you just need to worry about figuring out how to guide and support your child in taking the test they choose to take, not worrying about the details of the changes.

And now who should be concerned about the fact that the SAT has changed.

  1. College Board
    College Board should and is really concerned about the new SAT. They are concerned that the new test might drive more test-takers to their competition (the ACT) in the short-term and exacerbate the market shift that’s been happening over the last few years. The College Board also has the additional concern that the new test won’t perform as advertised, hoped, or projected. What if, instead of scores being distributed on a nice happy normally distributed bell curve, the results for the redesigned SAT are skewed toward an average score of 650 per section (anyone else remember recentering aka tweeking the curve)? What will happen if the results are completely out of wack with all beta testing? Will colleges still require or accept these scores? Will the changes to the SAT to “align it with the work of schools” (read: align with Common Core) exacerbate the Test Optional movement? The College Board has lots of reasons to be concerned.
  2. ACT
    The team at the Iowa-based newly crowned king of college testing has lots of reasons to worry about the changes to the SAT. Since many of the changes to the SAT address criticisms of the old SAT, ACT is rightly concerned that test-takers may return to ETS’s warm bosom and the comfort of the “known” college admission exam. In redesigning its test, College Board not only address many criticisms of its exam but also took direct shots at perceived areas of superiority that the ACT possessed (and often touted). ACT has lots to be concerned about as it must wonder if this newest SAT (or doppelganger ACT) will retake its position at the top of the psychometric food chain.
  3. Test prep companies and tutors
    Test prep professionals are the ones who should be most concerned about the changes to the SAT. These changes mean that if you’re a test prep person doing your job right you’ve got to learn new stuff and you’ve got to create or find new materials. Changes to the test, while usually causing a spike in business, cause a great deal of work and research for test prep folk. It will take test prep community a while to gather and analyze sample questions and tests in order to learn the ins and out of the new test and the quarks and nuances that can most easily be turned into points. Test prep folks are and should be concerned about the changes, burning the midnight oil, and clicking refresh thousands of times on release days for new samples from College Board.
  4. College counselors of students in the class of 2017
    College counselors should be mildly concerned about the changes to the SAT, especially for the next 12 – 18 months where there are still 3 viable options for college admissions tests. While choice is often good, too many choices just create a big confusing mess, this will probably be true for counselors and students in the class of 2017 until March 2016. Counselors are going to struggle to figure out which of the three college admission tests to recommend, how to interpret the results of the new SAT and PSAT, and how colleges are going to handle comparing students taking different tests. Yes, counselors working with current sophomores will have a bit to be concerned about relative to the changes.
  5. Class of 2017
    Students in the class of 2017 are right to be a little concerned about changes. This class took the old format PSAT, and if they liked it, they may be rightly concerned that the new test might not be as easy for them to get a good score (anytime there is change, how an individual student will handle that change is nigh-impossible to predict). The introduction of the new test will create confusion and thus concern for students. These students who’ve taken the PSAT formatted after the current SAT had some understanding of what they were soon to face, however the introduction of the new SAT could make that 2.5 hour preview entirely moot.

To make a long blog short, not many students or their families should be worried about the newness or changedness of the test until they determine that it actually impacts them. If you’ve determined that you’re going to take the new SAT than its not the newness or changedness of the test that matters so much as making sure you properly prepare (which means ensuring that you have up-to-date practice materials and resources. Unsurprisingly these same preparation concerns have been true since the invention of testing and thus the real concern is not that changes but proper preparation.


The Dire Consequences of Teaching Ambiguity

"test" of dubious veracityRecently I came across this image on the Book of Faces (the book that makes you learn surprising and frightening things about people you thought you knew and now might not want to know. But I digress.) and number of people who seem to miss core issues that this image brings to a head surprises me. While for many this image shows a funny creative student who probably didn’t study and tried to get away with it; for me this test is an example of one of the reasons that many students struggle on admissions tests (and other standardized tests). It is also indicative of how enforced conformation to societal “norms” stymies our most creative thinkers. Yup, for me, this test is an indictment of not the student but the educational system that doesn’t properly train teachers or students. It’s an indictment of the refusal of many of those in power to look inward and acknowledge their own errors and flaws.

And for many students, especially our most vulnerable, this is indicative of the type of interaction that hurts their educational progress, stymies their growth, and ill-prepares them for future tests and future work. But don’t take my word for it, let’s breakdown what’s going on in this image.

Continue reading The Dire Consequences of Teaching Ambiguity