Our article on recent cheating on the SAT has been published in the May 2016 edition of the Singapore American Newsletter.
We penned our thoughts and advice about the upcoming Revised SAT in the August 2015 Singapore American Newsletter. The feature was written before additional details on the test were released by College Board, so references to grade level in the feature may be a bit confusing (For example, for pretty much all of the International Schools in Singapore operating on the August - June academic year, the Class of 2015 has already graduated this past June). Our previous post is a bit more current, but the advice in the feature still stands:
There has been no shortage of ink spilled about the new SAT, or the rSAT (“revised SAT” in College Board parlance). For the last month or so we’ve been picking over the 4 full-length mock rSAT tests released by the College Board to get a feel for the new format. Concurrently, our development team at Testtakers USA has been hard at work for some time on new materials and we’ll be more prepared than anyone else when the rSAT is first administered in May 2016.
On first blush, the test does seem “harder”. Math is a bit more advanced with no calculator allowed in one of the sections. Arcane vocab is gone with a focus instead of more understanding of common words used in context and “evidence-based reading” – meaning answering inferential questions on the meaning of passages. The grammar portion shifts to a format that we shall call “inspired by the ACT English Section” with the MCQ questions in the context of longer passages rather than stand-alone sentences. The guessing penalty is eliminated and the number of multiple choices is reduced to four from five. Two changes that mirror the ACT rather closely… We’ve found that as a result of fewer choices on the reading it doesn’t really make it easier as there aren’t as many irrelevant answer choices such as we see on the present test. The essay is much more challenging, bordering on literary criticism, and longer at 50 minutes. Though the essay will not be required, most universities will want to see it. There will be some “science” questions but similar to the ACT, they really just test your ability to understand a chart or graph.
For many students the new format will be a bit daunting at first, especially those who have been silly enough to do SAT prep for years based on the old format. However, let’s remember that the test is meant to be used by universities as a predictor of academic success so if all of a sudden every kid did “worse” on the rSAT then the test wouldn’t be doing its job very well. While the rSAT may look harder, if it is to satisfy its claim of being an useful test then the scoring range or curve has to match what we have with the old test. Kids who do well in school and would do well on the current SAT will do just fine on the rSAT (or the ACT for that matter). Students who struggle with MCQ tests will do poorly; middling students will perform…middlingly. Rafa Nadal is strongest on clay courts, but he is no slouch on grass or hard court. Similarly, students who do well on one (SAT, rSAT, or the ACT) will do well on all and taking all three represents a waste of time and money.
So, the million dollar question is which one to take. Given that the rSAT is still a bit of a unknown and you get better gains preparing for the SAT over the ACT, we’d recommend most students graduating in 2016 or 2017 take the current SAT on or before December 2015 – leaving the January 2016 test date in reserve. If you don’t do great the rSAT will be there for you as well as the ACT if needed.
Times they are a changing…
The SAT is changing format in 2016. We’ve written a bit about the new test format, such that we are aware of, and you should check out our chart to see how it compares with the current SAT and the ACT. Here, we want to provide some broad advice for students during the transition on which test to take, when.
The first new-format SAT will be administered internationally in May 2016. During the transition, universities will accept both the old and new tests for several years so there isn’t much danger of prior scores expiring. The new test is still largely an unknown quality so our broad advice is “better the devil you know” and students should take the old test format if at all possible. The old test also lends itself better to preparation than the ACT or the new SAT. This broad advice must be weighed against taking the test too early, something we’ve been railing against for years.
International School students (Sept to June school year)
Current Seniors and Juniors (class of 2015 and 2016): take the current test. The new format SAT will not be available until after the standard application deadline so don’t sweat the new one. Where is gets a bit trickier is for present sophomores/10th graders who will graduate in 2017. Such students are right on the cusp of the transition to the new test and will hence be able to take the old test up until January 2016 (during their Junior year) or hold off and be in the first batch of taking the new test come May 2016. Some would say that as the test is technically meant to be taken in the end of 11th grade then all students should hold off and take the new test. While this advice would be valid for many students, we think that being in the first batch of taking the new test might not be the best idea. The new test format is still very much a great unknown while preparing for the current test is something that we have basically mastered. Hence, for most current 10th graders we’d recommend taking the CURRENT SAT in November or December of 2015, with the January 2016 test kept in reserve. If you don’t do well, then you can turn to the new test but if you do well then you will have that score on record and worry about more important matters such as sports, dance or glee club.
Kids in local schools (Jan to Dec school year)
This is a bit more simple. Students graduating from JC this year are clearly going to take the current test. Those graduating at the end of 2016 are recommended to take the current test as the new test format will be something with which most local students will struggle mightily. Those finishing school in 2017 (current Sec 4 students) probably aren’t really ready academically for the current format so will be “stuck” with the new test. Boys with a National Service commitment adds a layer of complication to the equation but as most every school will accept both the new and current test when the time comes, so the advice above still applies.
As stated many times here, there are no real “rules” that American universities have to abide by and they all set their own policy. If you are in doubt then contact the school – most should have a clearly articulated policy on their websites. Of course, if this all seems too complicated to you then just go ahead and take the ACT test. College Board has been mismanaging the SAT for the last several years in Asia and there have been delays on scores being released as a result of perceived cheating. This scourge hasn’t reached the ACT (yet!) and that test isn’t going through any major overhauls for the next few years anyway. Of course, a core problem with taking the ACT here is that seats are highly limited unless you attend a school which is a test center. So, as with the SAT: register early and register often.
Still confused? We don’t blame you. Ask your school university advisor for specific advice as everyone’s case is unique and the answer to many things in American education is “it depends”. You can also email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org, be sure to include what school you presently attend as well as your graduation year.
For those of you who are not taking the SAT at a closed test center, you may have to deal with the possibility of not having your desired test center (or any test center) available as an option.
Although the test center shortage issue will probably be limited to the October and November test dates only, here's what you need to do if you find a similar issue when you register for the December and January test dates.
To register, visit the College Board website:
Note that you will not know whether a test center is available until midway through the registration process.
If you are denied a test center while going through the registration process, you should opt for the "Let College Board find a Test Center" option per the screen-shots detailed here. Students going for the October and November test dates were assigned a place on an ad hoc basis this way:
NOTE: You will not have this option if you have already registered for another test date and want to change test dates! You will need to contact College Board directly by phone during College Board's office hours from 8 AM - 9 PM EST (12 hours behind Singapore Standard Time). You will also have to pay a fee to change the registration date.