Specifications of the new SAT just released today indicate students will require stronger knowledge of math fundamentals and greater stamina for reading comprehension passages -- the latter being a potential challenge for students wary of taking a 3-plus hour test on computer. A recent Kaplan Test Prep survey of high school students* shows that while students generally support the SAT changes scheduled to launch in 2016, such as eliminating fill-in-the-blank vocabulary and the wrong answer penalty, a majority (56%) are resistant to the test’s planned move to digital. In a previous Kaplan survey, students expressed concerns about the strain of looking at a computer screen for four hours and potential technical issues, as well as a preference for the tactile nature of writing, ‘scratch work’ and flipping pages.
“Students generally support the changes to the SAT, though in our surveys they’ve expressed concerns about its move to a computer-based format. In that regard, the shift to more long passage reading comprehension will require more stamina,” said Seppy Basili, vice president, Kaplan Test Prep. “In addition to having questions about the test’s move to digital, students have also asked about the elimination of calculator use for some math questions. What that change means is that they will need strong fundamental math skills, such as mental percentage calculation. The good news is that because many key changes to the test make it more like the ACT, it lessens the uncertainty that can breed anxiety, and we know that confidence is key to test success.”
As for the other changes coming to the SAT, students are supportive of some, split on others:
- No More Fill-in-the-Blank Vocabulary: Of the announced changes to the SAT, students most strongly support this one, with 85% in favor of this change. Long the bane of many students’ test-taking experience, fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions will be eliminated with the new SAT. Instead, the exam will focus on vocabulary-in-context, as well as revising and editing write-in passages.
- Eliminating the Wrong Answer Penalty: The current ¼ point wrong answer penalty will be a thing of the past once the revised SAT launches in 2016, and 74% of teens surveyed give this change a thumbs-up. This change mirrors the scoring policy on the ACT - the other major college admissions exam - which does not penalize test takers for wrong answers.
- Addition of Historical Passage: The new SAT will include a reading passage from "founding documents of America," such as the Constitution or Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and/or world history – an addition that has the support of 70% of students surveyed. While students who know their American and world history may be at an advantage here, this part of the exam will test students on reading comprehension, not on historical facts.
- Optional Essay: Exactly half of those surveyed support the College Board’s move to make the SAT essay optional, rather than required – another move that mirrors an existing ACT policy. Added in 2005, the SAT essay (also known as the Writing section) changed the test’s scoring scale from 1600 to 2400. By making the essay optional, the SAT will return to a 1600 scoring scale; the optional essay will receive its own separate grade.
- No More Calculators...Sometimes: Currently, test takers can use approved calculators for all math questions, but with the new SAT, test takers will only be able to use calculators for some. Just under half of students surveyed (49.6%) think it’s a good idea to require test takers to solve some math problems without the use of a calculator.
Current high school sophomores, juniors and seniors will be unaffected by the SAT changes.