The SAT exam is a big deal when it comes to the college application process. The test has changed considerably over time, some might say it’s gotten better others say the opposite. You decide. For now, let’s go into the major changes, how they affect you and ways you can capitalize on them.
Did you know that the SAT exam was originally an IQ exam given to Army recruits before World War 1? It was designed by a group of psychologists to improve the selection, placement and training process of soldiers in the Army.
Shortly thereafter, the College Board worked with some of the psychologists to create a similar exam geared for high school students applying to college. This exam became known as the Scholarship Aptitude Test and in 1926, was administered to 8,000 college candidates. By 1938, every school that was part of the College Board was using this exam for admission. By the 1950s, the exam began to resemble the current exam you are all familiar with. There are a lot of books that speak about the racist and elitist roots the exam has to this day. Some of the recent exam changes below aim to address these roots. You be the judge. Here is a good article that speaks to that if you want to learn more.
The SAT is a paper exam that takes 3 hours. It has 4 mandatory sections with an optional essay component. Below is a breakdown of the structure as per the College Board.
- Reading: 65-min section with 52 questions (75 sec/question)
- Writing & Language: 35-min section with 44 questions (48 sec/question)
- Math – No-Calculator: 25-min section with 20 questions (75 sec/question)
- Math – Calculator: 55-min section with 38 questions (87 sec/question)
- Essay (optional): 50 minutes, one essay
The scores for the Verbal and Math sections can range from 200 – 800 with a total of 1600 being the highest score a student can get.
The Major Changes
- The use of calculators was introduced in 1994. In May 2016, a No-Calculator Math section was added. According to the College Board, the “No Calculator portion of the test makes it easier to assess your fluency in math and your understanding of some math concepts. It also tests the well-learned technique and number sense.”
- Changes in the Verbal section include the elimination of the Antonym, Analogy and Sentence Completion questions (2005). In its place, there are vocabulary questions in a context structure.
- The essay component of the SAT is optional as of 2016. With 50 minutes to read the passage, formulate an argument and write a compelling piece, this is a stress-inducing part of the exam for sure.
- Multiple choice possible answers reduced from 5 to 4. With fewer options to consider, this change gives students a better chance of choosing the correct answer.
- Guessing penalty removed from the SAT as of 2016. With the guessing penalty eliminated, students can choose their best guesstimate when not sure about a question.
- The Adversity score – In May 2019, the College Board announced it would include a new rating called the “adversity score”. The rating’s intention was to “contextualize” a student in their environment and serve as a metric to help schools enroll students from more diverse backgrounds. In late August 2019, the College Board announced it would not roll out the rating. Due to the overwhelming criticism from both parents and educators, the College Board’s chief executive David Coleman recently came out and stated “We’ve adopted a humbler position. That’s admitting that the College Board should keep its focus on scoring achievement. We have acknowledged that we have perhaps overstepped.”
How to make these changes work for you
Some of the below are fairly obvious but highlight the idea that YOU have the power to make things work in your favor.
- It’s a paper test – make use of that. You can flip back and forth, you can make notes and highlight as necessary. There are studies that show reading comprehension is at least a fifth higher when reading on paper. In short, these are tiny things but they can make a difference.
- A calculator friendly math section is a beautiful thing as you know which questions actually require a calculator. No time is wasted figuring out if a question is complex enough to require a calculator. Categorizing the questions this way gives you an advantage, a small one, but still an advantage.
- Having 4 answer choices vs. 5 significantly increases your odds at a correct answer, especially when you combine it with the no penalty guessing factor. There are lots of guessing strategies you can practice before the test to make the best use of this.
- Even though the essay component is optional, there are still a lot of schools that use it when making an admissions decision. Do your research and determine if you would benefit from the essay portion. There are schools out there that will take a graded school essay in its place to better understand a student’s writing ability. If you are one of those students who need more than 50 minutes to show off your writing abilities, this might be an option for you to consider.
- The adversity score never made its intended impact so no point on focusing on what could have been. Focus on the tools you have and get yourself mentally ready.
With over 2 million students taking the test yearly, an increase in cheating scandals, and thousands of colleges offering test-optional programs, it’s clear more changes are coming. If you feel taking the test does not accurately reflect your skills, look into the hundreds of amazing schools that don’t require it. Never forget you have options. You are the ultimate author of your fate.
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