Good news for those who have hoped that the SAT would change. The New SAT has arrived. The bad news is that for most test-takers the New SAT is distinctly harder than the dreaded old SAT. In sum, the test has a revised Verbal section which will be renamed Critical Reading, a Math section which will contain more challenging subject matter and an entirely new section – Writing.
Why the change? Most college freshmen write poorly. College professors have vigorously complained that students are ill-prepared for college-level writing. In an effort to address this need for improvement, the New SAT requires an essay. The section will provide “a writing prompt” such as “Problems are opportunities in disguise”. The test-taker will have 25 minutes to compose a coherent essay on the subject using examples from history, literature, current events or personal experience. Even strong writers do not find writing under such time pressure fun.
The Writing section will be divided into an essay portion and a multiple choice grammar test. The grammar section might be the most difficult for those who sulk in English class. It will require students to correct grammatical errors through spotting mistakes and selecting the correct revisions of grammatically incorrect sentences. Material designed to brush up on misplaced modifiers and comma splices will soon be as common as the currently ubiquitous vocabulary flash cards.
The revised Verbal section will be renamed Critical Reading. This section will be more heavily focused on reading comprehension and less focused on vocabulary analysis. Analogies have been removed but sentence completions will remain. The revised Math section has done away with Quantitative Comparisons which had been the old test’s most puzzling area. This will be a relief for some test-takers who never quite understood that one of the answers was “not enough information”. But, the New SAT will go beyond basic algebra and geometry to include Algebra II.
Scoring for the new test will also change to include another 800 points allocated for the Writing section. The perfect score will now be 2400 (800 Math, 800 Verbal, 800 Writing). No longer will a “1300” – the old hallmark of excellence – be cause for celebration. It will be less than mediocre.
What can students do to improve? Most of the standard methods for SAT improvement remain. Taking challenging courses, reading good literature, and practicing math will remain part of the standard self-study curriculum. SAT prep courses and tutoring will continue to work for many students.
Learning to write well will take a longer time than building a strong vocabulary. Flash cards will not work for developing excellence in writing. Keeping a journal, working assiduously on scholastic writing, and meeting with a writing coach are some of the ways that students can improve. Relearning the rules of grammar will also be vital.
And, one more thing, try teaching your children to sit for an extra hour as the test is longer than ever!