From the Latest Study in America Newsletter: The Redesigned SAT

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. 

...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.

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.

The New SAT: What is It? Do I Have to Take It?

Times they are a changing…

Which SAT Do I Take?

Which SAT Do I Take?

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: info@testtakers-sg.com, be sure to include what school you presently attend as well as your graduation year.

SAT Test Center Registration

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.

SAT Registration Warning for Fall 2014 Test Dates!

We have received early notice that there has been a surge of Chinese students taking the SAT in Singapore in October and perhaps into November as well.  For a number of reasons, the test is not administered in China to Chinese citizens so there is a mass migration every test date to take the test elsewhere.  Due to problems with the timing and availability of the test in Hong Kong this October, the open test centers in Singapore for October and November are now full.

What does this mean?  College Board (who administer the test) have stated “We are working diligently to create additional SAT capacity in Singapore to serve students in the country.”  How this will lead to more seats in Singapore is still pending and we will keep updates listed on our website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed – stay tuned.  We at Testtakers are very concerned with this problem and have been tracking the matter closely and has been advocating strongly for students in Singapore to have a chance to take the test.

Note that if your school is a closed test center (SAS, UWC, etc.) count yourself lucky and take the test at your school.  If you aren’t among this privileged few, you will have to take the test at an “open” test center which will hopefully have more seats open up soon.  It might not be a bad idea to register for the December test date just to have that in reserve.  If you want to get pro-active, please contact College Board asking for an update.

(PRESS RELEASE) The New SAT: how it will impact pre-university students in Singapore

April 17, 2014
Singapore
For immediate release:

Introduction:

Yesterday, the College Board released a 208 page document broadly outlining what the new SAT will look like in 2016. The document spent about half its length justifying the changes with a range of studies and surveys and the other half detailing what each section of the test should look like. Tellingly, the changes are justified by the College Board as addressing the perceived failure of American high schools to adequately prepare students for collegiate-level work. How changing the SAT will help address this failing at the teaching level isn’t entirely clear, but the overall tenor of the change it to make the test more “real world” and less esoteric in order to do a better job of predicting university success – one of the core stated aims of the test. Rather than get tied up overly with a debate on the failure of education in the United States and the specific rationales for the changes, we will focus here on what the basic changes are – and how they will directly impact the performance of students in Singapore in the three different pre-university education systems: American High School (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge O level/A level/Integrated Program (A Level).

When and What:

The changes will come into effect with the May 2016 test date. This means that the new test will only directly impact students looking to start university in September of 2017 – high school class of 2017 for those on the North American school year. There will be a certain amount of overlap of scores between the new and old test when the time comes and College Board will publish equivalency tables to aid university advisors and college admissions departments in comparing scores on the two tests.
The biggest change is a reversion to the 400-1600 scoring scale from the current 600-2400. The old Reading and Writing sections are being effectively merged to one section now called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The math will remain with some key changes (see below) and the essay portion will now be optional. The MCQ portion will now have 4 options instead of 5 and students will no longer lose points from wrong answers.

Evidence Based Reading and Writing:

The focus on this section will turn slightly away from vocabulary and grammatical mastery towards reading for context and analysis of rhetorical structure. All of the questions are passage-based with the elimination of sentence completion and the familiar grammar MCQ of the old Writing portion. The passages will cover a range of different disciplines each test and also have a range in perceived difficulty from 9th grade equivalent up to those deemed college-level. The vocabulary-based questions will make up about 20% of the total but all of them will be what we call “vocab-in-context” and are intended to steer away from the traditional esoteric “SAT words” and more towards words with more nuances of meaning – an example give was the different meanings of the word “dedicate” as used by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. The grammar questions are akin to the old paragraph improvement questions and suspiciously similar to those questions on the ACT – with students being asked to improve the grammar of selected sections of passages as well as making changes to improve the rhetorical and logical flow.

  • For AP & IB Students:

Students who do four years of high school English should have no problem with the passages and the focus of questions based on context rather than isolation may benefit students who have a good ear for grammar but don’t know the specific rules. Students who do a science/math heavy course mix in the IB will likely find this section a bit trying. Of course, all students who are bookish and read regularly should excel at this section – as such students normally excel in most things academic.

  • For A Level Students: 

The minority of students who are doing Literature will be well-equipped with the reading skills and knowledge to do well on this section. As the passages will also include history and the social sciences (as well as the hard sciences), students with a background in economics or history will be comfortable with the type of passages they are likely to see. However, students in the pure science stream who do not pursue an active reading habit will generally have difficulty as the level of English in the passages will often be beyond what they encountered in O Levels and their science and math courses wouldn’t expose them to this sort of writing. The vocabulary questions will prove difficult as well as simply memorizing long word lists won’t be nearly as effective as the questions are going to focus on nuance of meaning gleaned from context rather than a strict dictionary definition.

The Essay:

The College Board has finally gotten wise to the prevalent practice in Asia of memorizing canned essays and then just tweaking the intro and conclusion to fit vague prompts. Rather than ask a student’s opinion on something, students will now be asked to analyze the argument of a persuasive passage. Over 55 minutes at end of the test, rather than 25 minutes at the beginning, test takers will be asked to comment on the efficacy of the author’s argument with a special focus on the rhetorical devices used to fully flesh out an argument. Students will have to not only fully understand rather nuanced, high-level passages, but will also have to demonstrate a mastery of commentary that borders on literary criticism. The essay will be scored by English teachers in the States and this score will be reported separately, not aggregated with the Writing score as is the current practice.

While not required for all test takers, the essay will probably be mandated by most competitive universities. The essays will likely be able to be viewed by admissions committees and will provide an unvarnished view of the applicant’s writing ability. This will at least partially address the problem of students seeking undue (and inappropriate) help in “editing” their admissions essays. 

  • For AP & IB Students:

Students in AP Literature or Higher Level IB Literature are going to excel in the essay. Students who aren’t strong readers will have problems in crafting something coherent as they will have issues in fully understanding the passage to be analyzed. The longer time will allow for more thought, and that will be expected to be transmitted to deeper insights on an essay that will be outside of the 4 to 5 paragraph norm.

  • For A Level Students: 

As with the Reading and Writing portion, students who are doing A level Literature will be entirely comfortable with this task as it mirrors what they would have been working on. Those in the science stream will be seriously challenged by this task as it will be entirely foreign to what they have been working on in school and involves thought and deep analysis on the rhetorical level.

Mathematics:

The new math section will not be nearly as much of a change compared to the Reading and Writing. There will be one shorter section where students will not be allowed a calculator, and a longer section where students will be encouraged to use one. The SAT is largely dispensing with the logic and game-type questions in favor of more straightforward math questions with a turn back towards algebra and real-world word problems with concepts such as rates and ratios at the fore. The breadth of the concepts tested is being reduced, but the depth of presumed knowledge is being deepened with an introduction of quadratic equations and trigonometry to the test. Rather than simply solve equations for “x”, students will be asked to generate an equation or even a system of equations which would describe and match a real world situation of applied math. The test taking techniques of Backsolving or Plugging In will still have some efficacy, but not as much as on the current test, though reducing the answer choices to 4 from 5 makes things easier on eliminating obviously wrong answers. Data analysis will get much more emphasis with 28% of the questions involving charts or graphs with real data from scientific studies.

  • For AP & IB Students

Good math students will not have trouble with this section. The concepts are nothing beyond what is taught in a normal 11th grade math class and the elimination of the “weird SAT” math questions now on the test mean that students who are good at solving equations and are marginally numerate won’t have issues. For weaker math students, this section will be more challenging than the current math section. In particular, many students are completely lost without a calculator and the calculator-free section will have many shaking in fright. Students will have to re-master concepts like mixed numerals, long division, and converting fractions to decimals – tasks long since relegated to their friend from Texas Instruments.

  • For A Level Students:

Math and science stream students will excel on this section. Even more so than the old math section, the new focus on more straightforward math with some science-like problem solving will mirror their normal curriculum. For the Arts stream students, there are no concepts beyond what is taught in standard O Level math so our recommendation would be to take the test in year one instead of year two in JC while math skills are still relatively fresh.

Conclusion:

Our thoughts above on the new test should be taken with a large dollop of salt as it is based on the very incomplete data now available from the College Board. Once a full test is released we will be able to comment more fully. The basic summary is that good students will do just fine on the new test and don’t have much to fear, while students in a math and science stream will probably struggle mightily in the non-math portion of the test. We at Testtakers will be fully ready for the advent of the new test. Many of the changes seem to have been motivated by a desire to blunt the effectiveness of SAT preparation, but the planned provision of free SAT prep with www.khanacademy.org seems to contradict that claim. We love Khan, but online learning can only be so effective and there is no replacement for a good teacher in a classroom with excellent materials.

About the author:

Jeremy Craig is the founder and managing director of Testtakers Singapore. He has been teaching SAT preparation since 1993 and has taught nearly 10,000 students over that time. Testtakers is the leading SAT preparation provider in Singapore and works with most of the leading international schools in Singapore and several more in the ASEAN region.