Test Prep

Long-Range SAT Planning

My post today is aimed at high school students who are not actively involved in the college application process. That would include freshmen ("freshpersons"?), sophomores, and juniors. I'm going to include parents as part of my intended audience, too, because Moms and Dads need to be aware of certain timetables and specific efforts that are crucial to the college application protocol, especially as it applies to standardized testing.

In case you missed it, I have already addressed some significant changes that are on the horizon for the SAT. For most of you non-seniors, these changes will likely affect you. In a previous posting here, I said:


"If you are at all connected to the college admissions world, you probably know that there are big changes coming to the SAT in 2016. As you may have inferred from some of my previous writings, I’m not a big fan of standardized testing. although I do understand the need for it. I think that a college applicant’s worth can be judged far better than by merely a simple set of numbers ...

... Well, regardless of what you think about the SAT, good or bad, a recent survey has shown that there is a deep divide on what people think about those upcoming changes.

A recent Kaplan survey explains:

… There are big SAT changes in store for test takers who are members of the class of 2017 and beyond: harder math, the addition of historical reading passages, shifting of the essay from mandatory to optional, reverting back to a 1600 point scoring scale, no wrong answer penalty, no more fill-in-the-blank vocabulary, and a computer-based option.  But what do college admissions officers, who will be evaluating these test scores, and teens, who will take the revamped admissions test, think of the upcoming changes?  In separate surveys of admissions officers from over 400 of the nation’s top colleges and universities* and of nearly 700 high school students**, Kaplan finds admissions officers are generally more supportive of the SAT changes than college applicants — with particularly wide disparity in support on the issues of computer-based testing and calculator elimination …"

 

Thus, be prepared for change. For some, change is disconcerting. Even some "experts" can be confused by what these SAT changes can mean. That was the point of my article linked to above. Accordingly, I was happy to see some clarifying information land in my inbox from Ivybound, a test prep company that has issued some valuable analysis and planning information over the years.

I think it will help those of you who will eventually encounter the "new" SAT to understand what you should be doing to figure out a reasonable preparation schedule. Thus, here are some highlights from Ivybound's latest update:

What Highschoolers Need to Know about SAT Changes

The difference between a “1600” top SAT score and a “2400” owes to the addition of “Writing” in 2005.  The SAT has a 2400 as a top score, whereas 1600 was the top SAT I score through January 2005.  The 800 “new” points are really the addition of a one hour “Writing” test.  The “Writing” aspect is three sections of a ten section SAT:

1) a 25 minute essay, evaluated by two humans,

2) a 25 minute multiple choice section testing error recognition, sentence improvement, and paragraph improvement

3) a 10 minute multiple choice section testing more sentence improvement.

Some students do not need to prep for the Writing.  The University of California Schools, and about 60 other colleges will scrutinize the SAT I Writing scores for this year’s applicants.   All but three of the colleges scrutinizing Writing are among the most competitive “top 100” universities (as ranked by U.S. News, about 50-60 National Universities, and 50-60 liberal arts colleges).  Among colleges evaluating the Writing scores, this component is just as weighty as the Reading and the Math.  Among liberal arts colleges, the Writing is often MORE important than the Math.

Thus our general suggestion regarding prep for the Writing depends on your situation.  There are exceptions to all rules, but with a lot of experience behind us, and good knowledge of college admission requirements, here is a general plan for students with the following expectations:

Class of 2016 seeking a Top Tier liberal arts college: prep for the Writing unless your PSAT/SAT score is 760+ ; plan on taking three SAT Subject Tests in the subjects of your choice.

Class of 2016 seeking a Top Tier math / science program: prep for the Writing unless your PSAT/SAT score is 760+; take four SAT Subject Tests; include Math Level 2 and at least two sciences.

Class of 2016 with the time / commitment to do everything possible to assure the best admissions / scholarship opportunities:  prep for the Writing irrespective of your PSAT score; take at least four SAT Subject Tests, more if on a good day you can score 700+.

Class of 2016 seeking a 4-year college but otherwise undecided: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and perhaps Writing. Prep when you have the most time; consider 3 – 4 weeks in the summer as a “part time job” doing SAT Prep.   Summer SAT Prep may be better than Spring prep, especially if you have SAT Subject tests to take or if you have a crowded spring schedule. Be prepared to prep for Writing. Take the SAT in the fall if your target colleges change “upward” or if the same colleges alter their standards for the class of 2016. Take SAT Subject Tests or AP tests in the subjects where you are strongest.

Class of 2017 seeking a top tier college: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and Writing.  Especially if you have a busy academic-year schedule, consider starting by Summer 2015 so as to be ready for the October PSAT, and two or all three of these: November, December, January SAT.   Plan to take the SAT again in March and again in at least one of the following 2016 times: May, June, October, and/or November

Class of 2017 seeking an athletic scholarship: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and PROBABLY Writing (if even one target college is scrutinizing Writing scores).   Start by summer 2015 so as to be ready for the October PSAT, and two or all three of these: November, December, or January SAT.   Plan to take the SAT again in March and as many times as necessary until you get a “likely letter” from your coveted college.

Class of 2017 seeking a 4-year college but otherwise undecided: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and perhaps Writing. Prep when you have the most time; consider 3 weeks in the summer as a “part time job” doing SAT Prep.  Be prepared to prep for Writing. Take the SAT in the fall if your target colleges change “upward” or if the same colleges alter their standards for the class of 2017.  Take SAT Subject Tests or AP tests in the subjects where you are strongest.  Take SAT two or three times before the 2016 change and after the 2016 change.

The Class of 2017 is the first class that will have a CHOICE to take the Computerized or the Paper SAT.  We expect students to prep for both versions and take both.  Many colleges will allow scores from the current SAT (good through January 2016) to count.  Especially if you have a strong vocabulary (or absorb new vocab well) plan to take the current SAT twice before it expires.

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This is very valuable information that may not be found elsewhere. I appreciate Ivybound founder, Mark Greenstein's, permission to share this with my Admit This! readers.

If you would like to get the information about SAT changes from the horse's mouth, check the College Board's explanation. This may also help you understand what will take place.

Perhaps the most succinct CC forum comment about SAT changes came from a thread discussing those changes:

- SAT morphs into ACT. Next up: Farewell to subject tests.

That's pretty succinct, I'd say!

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.