Friday, December 11, 2015

The New SAT - Winding Up Our Series

Today we present the last post of our four-part series on changes to the SAT, which we began last week with an examination of how the revised test reflects the controversial Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Part II discussed how test-taking strategies will be (somewhat) less important in the new exam and looked at minor changes to the reading sections. Part III examined changes to the writing and math sections and discussed the importance of reading for all aspects of the test. This final post of the series gives our recommendations about what students should do in the face of these changes.

Our Recommendations

First, we suggest that students who plan to take the SAT this year register to take the original test on January 23rd, the last time it will be offered. Students who sit for the old test can take advantage of tried-and-true test preparation materials. Also, the content is likely more familiar to them. Another reason not to wait for March: results for the first reconfigured SAT won’t be available until May, which is about twice as long as students usually have to wait. The deadline to register for the January test date is December 28th, so don’t delay!

Remember that students can take the SAT multiple times, and that colleges consider only their highest scores. Applicants can even combine their best scores on the math and verbal sections for the highest possible composite, so there’s no need to worry if your teenager nails the math portion on one test but aces the verbal section on another; the highest scores will simply be added together. With this in mind, we suggest that high school juniors, seniors, and maybe even sophomores who can spare the time and money may want to sit for the January test, even if they haven’t devoted too much time to studying. Because of the comparatively limited exposure many students have had to the CCSS, they may fare better on the old test than on the redesigned version. If they don’t score as well as they’d hoped, they can always test again; the poor scores won’t be considered.

In terms of preparing for the new test, keep a few things in mind:
  • Tutors, test preparation centers, and books are going to lag behind a little here. Though practice versions of the new test are available from the College Board’s website, no one has actually seen the real thing yet, so the test prep industry will need time to review the new exam and prepare effective study materials. Students who can’t test in January will probably want to skip the March test date if possible; waiting a while will allow time for the production of better preparation resources.
  • According to test tutors cited in The New York Times, the best way to prepare for the new SAT is to read. A lot. Students should read deeply and widely, meaning that they need to read in a thoughtful, critical way, and that they should dip into various genres. A fantasy novel habit or an addiction to the sports page won’t cut it, since passages on the test will be from various genres. And those who want to prepare for the test should practice reading shorter passages--rather than novels--that they can discuss and analyze with someone who can give them feedback and push their thinking further. 
  • Whether it’s a vocabulary quiz, the SAT, or the MCAT, gaining familiarity with a test’s format is enormously helpful. Those preparing to take either version of the SAT should know how many sections there are and how long they’ll get for each. They should understand which materials they will be allowed (e.g. scratch paper, calculator, etc.). Most importantly, they should have an idea of what the questions themselves will look like. So far, the only preparation materials available come from the College Board itself; find sample questions here. In addition, four full-length practice tests are available so that students can simulate test day. We suggest taking the first without time constraints, then looking for an error pattern and studying accordingly. Take the second or third test with a timer after studying strategically. 
  • Finally, students with special learning needs must make sure that their certifications for accommodations are up to date. The new SAT will require a tremendous ability to focus without interruption for long periods. Extra time could make a critical difference for those with attention difficulties. Students who struggle with decoding will want to use readers to help them access the test material so they can devote more mental energy to comprehension. Parents or teachers of younger children who have concerns should remember that when it comes to getting necessary accommodations on the SAT, earlier assessment and diagnosis is better. A young person with a history of receiving accommodations is much more likely to be granted what she needs for the SAT than someone who is given a formal diagnosis just before the test. 

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