History of Test Prep: The effects of the new SAT

(Cornell College News) By Staff Writers —

The new SAT has two sections: mathematics and English, each scored from 200-800, for a total out of 1600. The most recent “old SAT” gave a total out of 2400.

While the average for the SAT of 2006-15 was 1500, the average on the newest rendition is showing 1090, which is 90 points above what would be expected if the average were to hold the same percentage out of the total possible points (1500/2400 being 62.5% and 1090/1600 being 68.1%). The average score on the newest SAT has also increased compared to 2005, the last time that the SAT scored out of 1600, when the average score was 1028.

This inflation in the scoring might lead one to wonder: Is the new SAT easier? Some critics are going so far as to speculate that the College Board is intentionally inflating scores to attract more students to the SAT as the standardized test faces competition from ACT and a growing number of admission offices offering test optional applications.

Intentional inflation to attract students seem unlikely since (1) it’s still a pretty low uptick, (2) students are no longer penalized for guessing, which would inevitably lead to higher scores, and (3) the test has to remain difficult enough to differentiate between high-scoring students and average-scoring students, and with an average of 1090 out of 1600, it’s still doing that.

Remind me please: What changed and why?

Between competition in the market and movements like FairTest, the SAT is facing pressure to find metrics that are directly related to college readiness and that are not influenced by social class.

TIME well summarizes the “7 Ways the SAT is Changing,” including free test prep through Khan Academy and evidence-focused reading. Evidence-focused reading replaces vocabulary tests with questions that attempt to get at a student’s ability to understand a word’s meaning based on the context of a passage. The passages, btw, include excerpts from documents like the Declaration of Independence, and important works by authors such as Martin Luther King, Jr. The increased focused on reading comprehension has some students worried.

Some critics are “Mourning the loss of ‘SAT Words’” in the newest SAT, suggesting that the subjectivity of the new reading comprehension is more about learning “the way the College Board thinks.”

How does this affect my students?

Since colleges will be considering the new concordance tables when looking at SAT scores, we aren’t predicting any big changes to admission because of the new test. The bigger changes to college admission have to do with the increase in options being offered to students as more colleges are taking a test optional approach to admission, as well as the increased personalization of applications.

Did SAT succeed in creating a socioeconomic-blind test? We don’t know yet. More students will have to take the test before we know for sure whether or not they were successful in creating a more level playing field. In the meantime, test optional has already shown an increase in applications to more selective schools from minority, first-generation, and female applicants.

When it comes to studying for and taking the test, David Coleman, president of the College Board, says “The new SAT is utterly unsurprising. It is again and again the work you see in class.” Another way that it’s built to be unsurprising is with the free test prep offered by Khan Academy, something your students will definitely want to take advantage of. Because Khan Academy is working directly with the test-makers, some are saying that their study materials will offer an edge that test preparation companies like the Princeton Review and Kaplan won’t.

Your students may also want to check out this unlikely source: ACT prep materials. Some of the biggest changes to the new SAT, like an emphasis on charts and graphs in the mathematics portion, are already present on the ACT. Coincidence? Unlikely.