Test Prep

March 2016 SAT: Easier Or Harder?

If you're a high school student planning to go to college, you probably know that the SAT is changing in March next year. If you're the parent of a high schooler who's planning to go to college, you may not know about the change.

If you're among the "I didn't know that!" group, you're first question my be, "Why is it changing?" That's a good question.


Well, according to a Business Insider article:

... Test-takers may be surprised to learn the new test will line up more closely with the Common Core, nationwide education standards that sparked a national outcry for being too one-size-fits-all.

The new test "aligns with the Common Core curriculum standards," Kasey Urquidez, dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Arizona, told US News & World Report in 2014.

"We basically focused the redesigned SAT and PSAT on the skills and knowledge that research says matters most for college readiness and success," Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at the College Board, told Business Insider. ...

And blah, blah, blah. Obfuscation? Double speak? Time to put on our tinfoil hats and conjure some conspiracy theories? Well, you make the call.

As with many things in life these days, the change in the SAT has inspired political unrest, as Insider notes:

... Opponents of the Common Core may be displeased to learn the standards they decry as educationally inappropriate were used to update the format of arguably one of the most important standardized tests. ...

 

I'm an advocate of the old saying, "Knowledge is power." Accordingly, students anticipating taking the "new" March 2016 SAT should be undertaking a familiarization program right now. March will be here in no time.

But what about parents? Well, Kaplan Test Prep ventured to find out just how well parents are in the know about SAT changes. They did a survey and the results were surprising and maybe a bit disturbing. Most parents are unaware that the SAT is changing. Here are the results of that survey, from the Kaplan press release:

Kaplan Test Prep Survey: Majority of Parents Are Unaware the SAT® is Changing in March 2016 --

After Learning About New SAT’s Content, Most Say the Revamped Grammar, Math and Essay Sections Will Make the Exam Harder

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"A Kaplan Test Prep survey finds that 85% of parents of college-bound students are still unaware that the SAT is changing, even after two years since the change was announced and less than seven months before the new SAT launches in March 2016. [The e-survey was conducted in May 2015 of 309 self-described parents of college-bound students.] When provided more details about the proposed changes to the SAT, the surveyed parents’ opinions about the new format were divided: 30% say they viewed the changes as something negative or think the exam will be harder; 30% view the changes as something positive; 20% are indifferent; and 15% still don’t know enough to form an opinion. However, views on specific changes reveal that a majority of parents believe the new SAT will be harder:

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"- Math: The current SAT focuses on computational skills and allows students to use a calculator during all sections. The new SAT will focus on advanced algebra, data analysis, and real-world problem solving and calculators will only be permitted for one of two math sections. Fifty-six (56%) percent of parents say these changes make the Math portion of the new SAT harder; 18% say it will become easier; and 26% say it makes no difference.

"Reading: The current SAT Reading section includes three 20-25 minute sections of sentence completions, and long- and short-passage reading questions. The new SAT Reading section will last 65 minutes and be made up of long passages followed by reading comprehension questions and will also test understanding of passages from U.S. and World Literature, History/Social Science and Science. Fifty-three (53%) percent of parents say the redesigned SAT Reading section will be harder than the current one; 12% say it will become easier; and 36% say it makes no difference.

"-  Writing and Language/Grammar: The current SAT tests grammar in the form of individual sentence correction. The new SAT will test grammar in the form of passages and will also include questions about structure and reading comprehension. Fifty-three (53%) percent of parents say the Writing and Language/Grammar portion of the new SAT will become harder; 13% say it becomes easier; and 34% say it makes no difference.

"Essay: The current SAT essay is required, and asks students to develop a persuasive essay about an issue; facts and grammar have little bearing on the overall score. The new SAT essay is optional, and asks students to read a 650-750 word passage and then prepare a facts-based essay analyzing how the author builds her/his argument. Sixty (60%) percent of parents say the SAT essay will become harder; 15% say the essay will become easier; and 25% say it makes no difference.

"No Wrong Answer Penalty: The current SAT includes a ¼ point penalty for wrong answers. The new SAT eliminates the wrong answer point penalty. Fifty-six (56%) percent of parents say this change will make the new SAT easier; 22% say the change will make it harder; and 23% say it makes no difference.

“'It’s not surprising that most parents are still unaware of the upcoming SAT changes, as most are understandably focused on other aspects of the college admissions process like tuition, but the time to get all the facts about the test changes is now as Test Day is quickly approaching,' said Lee Weiss, vice president, Kaplan Test Prep. 'Our survey found that the more parents learn about the new SAT, the more they understand how challenging the content will be for their kids. There is no doubt that the new SAT is more rigorous than the current one.'"

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The majority of those surveyed believe that the March 2016 SAT will be harder, thanks to its revisions. I did a little research and found that there are opinions on both sides, out there on the Web. For example:

A Harder SAT: College Board release foreshadows the most challenging test to date

For those of you searching for a more challenging college admissions test, look no further than the new SAT. In late December, the College Board writers released the most comprehensive problem set to date drawn from the new SAT and PSAT, providing some “flesh and bones” to the test specifications released last April. The level of difficulty and sophistication of numerous test items was surprising. If this practice set is an accurate reflection of the new test in development, it will be hardest SAT we’ve ever seen, and significantly harder than the ACT. ..

and:

There's going to be a new SAT, and it will be easier than ever

Next year, the College Board is reverting back to the old scoring out of 1600. And better yet for high school students, the changes will also impact the content of the test and make it the easiest version of the SAT ever ...

Who to believe? I tend to be cynical about so-called "new and improved" products, so count me among the doubters of that "easiest version of the SAT ever" claim. All you'll need to do to find out the truth is keep an eye on the College Confidential discussion forum in March to read the trials and tribulations of those who have taken the revised SAT. That should be interesting reading.

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Be sure to see my other college-related articles on College Confidential.