Who’s Afraid of the New SAT?
It seems everyone who is even remotely affected by the new SAT is concerned: parents, grandparents, educators, and of course, college hopefuls. The merits and drawbacks of the changes on the SAT have been discussed to death; for the three years before the change, and now, after its March 2005 debut, even more. And it is mainly criticism. But that’s nothing new. Standardized testing has always been the subject of debate, and yet decision makers in all fields rely on standardized evaluations more than ever. There has to be a standard by which to compare aptitudes, abilities, and potential workers.
A solid educational foundation and familiarity with the test format, has always been and still is the best preparation for the SAT. After all, most students who will take the new SAT will have never taken the old SAT. The whole SAT concept is new to them. College admissions professionals, educators, parents, and the media, who have had experience with the old format, must now decide how to deal with the new scoring and newer content. And, thus the heated debate. But change happens, and so, leave the unnecessary and ultimately futile angst out, and prepare.
The Persuasive Essay
The most discussed and debated change is the 25 minute persuasive essay. The essay is scored by two readers; each reader grading on a scale between 0 and 6. The final essay score is the sum of the two scores. An off-topic essay will get a 0. The essay is the first section of the test, so it is the first thing a student will do after filling out personal information (name, address, future plans, etc.) The test will offer three different essay topics. Each essay prompt will contain a quotation from a reputable source and a broad topic question. The student may interpret the topic question in any way he chooses. The quotation is only there to provide inspiration. I recommend students read it quickly then forget it. Referencing the quotation in a 25 minute essay is challenging and unnecessary.
How to do your best on the essay? Write. You will be provided with two lined pages for your response. Try to use all the space. A five paragraph standard essay is the best format: Write your thesis (restate the prompt and clearly state your position); provide three examples; restate your thesis and then conclude. The examples may be taken from real life, historical or current events, and literature. Accuracy is not more important than a clear picture that supports your thesis. Be imaginative. The veracity of your facts is not being graded. Do not stress over exact dates or names. If it is a good support detail, include it. Since your essay will be read and scored in about two minutes, be clear and use familiar examples that can be related in few words. Your goal is to be understood, not to educate or reform! Your goal is to show that you can formulate an opinion, support it, and relate it in clear language. Don’t try to impress with the use of big vocabulary, you may instead confuse.
Because this is a persuasive essay, the use of the 'I' pronoun is allowed. Write neatly. Hold your paper steady with the non-writing hand and bring plenty of sharp pencils so your handwriting does not get blurry. Don’t pre-write. A moment to decide your opinion and supporting examples is all you need. Go with your first thoughts. If while writing, you change your mind, don’t change your essay. A finished essay scores higher than the essay that did not persuade because the writer did not finish or changed their mind.
The Grammar Correction Sections
The multiple choice grammar correction sections are new. These two sections of the test have three types of questions: Deciding whether sentences are correct as written; picking from a list of suggested re-wording for parts of sentences; choosing from suggested revisions of a short essay. Most of the questions test basic grammar skills that can be evaluated by simply reading the question and hearing the error. More difficult sentences confuse the student in ways such as featuring a prepositional phrase between the object and its verb, or inverting the noun-verb order. A review of basic grammar and reading properly written essays is the best way to prepare - all part of the classic education. The final writing section score will be a combination of the multiple choice score and the essay score. The various score ranges behave differently, but, in general, an essay score below 7 will pull the multiple choice score lower and above 8 will raise a score. A zero score can lower a score by 150 points. A 12 can raise a low multiple choice score by 150 points.
The Critical Reading Section
Analogies are gone - but vocabulary is still important. The Critical Reading section, formerly called the Verbal section, still consists of sentence completion problems: pick the word that best fits the blank in this sentence. These problems tests vocabulary you learn in a classical liberal arts high school education. Vocabulary is also evaluated by the critical reading questions. New in this section is the short, around 100 words, essay excerpt; two questions are asked that deal with essay content, attitude, nuance, inference, and developed reading skills. Practice for these by reading for tone and meaning in short passages. Still on the test are the longer critical reading passages.
The Math Section
The math format has changed. There are no more quantitative comparisons. There are more student produced response (fill in an answer questions have replaced multiple choice questions). The math content has changed to include some Algebra II. The new material includes absolute value, functions, simple graphing, and more number concepts such as radicals, and zero and negative exponents. Less than 15% of the math will be the Algebra II material, and many Algebra I curriculums include these topics.
Longer Testing Time
The new SAT test takes longer to complete. Actual testing time is 3 hours and 45 minutes. This does not include the general test administration chores: signing in, getting seated, filling in personal information, taking breaks, etc. Count on staying at the test site for at least 5 hours. If you live far from the test site, plan accordingly. Have a hearty breakfast: include protein along with the carbohydrates for initial essay writing energy and past lunch, last-section energy. Bring water: most test lethargy is brought on by dehydration rather than by exhaustion. Although the test is long, a million other students are taking the same test. This test is more than just an evaluation of your educational background and ability; it is a test of your endurance and will. This certainly won’t be the last time in your life you will need to reach beyond your comfort zone, but that is all part of growing up and nothing to fear.