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The New SAT: Changes in the Test Mean Changes in Preparation and Accommodations

By: Carol Ann Tomlinson

The College Board, the company that oversees the test, announced last year that an overhaul of the test was necessary to correctly assess a student’s ability to be successful with college-level work. The new test is better aligned with rigorous high school coursework and curriculum and will help colleges make informed decisions about the skill base of a student, particularly in writing.

The writing section

Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of the Writing section. Now there will be three sections: Writing, Math, and Critical Reading (formally the Verbal section). Instead of a perfect score of 16oo, students can now earn a top score of 2400. Within the writing section, students must respond to a given prompt in no more than 25 minutes. Many educators view the essay is a significant shift not only in the SAT, but quite possibly in high school language arts curriculum. The SAT’s new construction and content has the potential to trickle down into secondary classrooms across the country. Whether or not this fundamental change occurs, high school juniors will come face-to-face with the changes this coming year.

Students may see a prompt similar to one of the following published by the College Board.

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and assignment below:

A sense of happiness and fulfillment, not personal gain, is the best motivation and reward for one's achievements. Expecting a reward of wealth or recognition for achieving a goal can lead to disappointment and frustration. If we want to be happy in what we do in life, we should not seek achievement for the sake of winning wealth and fame. The personal satisfaction of a job well done is its own reward.

Assignment: Are people motivated to achieve by personal satisfaction rather than by money or fame? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

The essays are graded by trained high school or college teachers with at least three years of experience teaching writing. Each essay will be scored independently and will earn a score from 1 (lowest) to 6 (highest). The scores will be combined to give the writer a final score ranging from 2-12. A score of a 6 is awarded to students who produce an “outstanding essay that demonstrates clear and precise mastery.” The College Board does not expect a student to write a perfect, final copy essay response within the given time; therefore, a student can still earn a perfect score with one or two minor mistakes. Students who are able to support their thesis statement with various examples and clearly demonstrate critical thinking abilities will earn a 6. Students who demonstrate competent writing ability will earn mid-range scores, while other students who are unable to organize, support, and defend their point of view will earn a 1 or 2.

Because so many LD and AD/HD students have difficulty with written language, it is imperative that they practice responding to prompts using a general formula. This type of structure can range from a five paragraph essay to a basic format using an introduction, body, and conclusion. Using a set structure will allow students to focus on development of ideas rather than basic organization in the beginning. Taking too much time to think about how to organize the essay will take precious time away from the development and support of the thesis statement. Many LD students have difficulty just getting started, but if they have practice writing to various types of prompts and have a framework in which to put their ideas, they will only benefit.

In addition to the essay, students are expected to identify and fix grammatically incorrect sentences and paragraphs. The following example, supplied by the College Board, is a question that may appear in the Correcting Sentences section:

Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book and she was sixty-five years old then.

A. and she was sixty-five years old then

B. when she was sixty-five

C. at age sixty-five years old

D. upon the reaching of sixty-five year

E. at the time when she was sixty-five

The correct answer is B.

Scores on the multiple choice portion of the writing rest are averaged with the score from the essay to give students a Writing score ranging from 200-800.

The math section

Another major change is the addition of Algebra II questions on the Math section. The current SAT only contains arithmetic, Algebra I and Geometry; however, beginning in March, the test will include more difficult Algebra II problems, such as functions. Many parents have asked if their child will be at a disadvantage if he has not been on the math “fast track”, meaning that the student has taken Algebra I as a ninth grader, Geometry as a tenth grader, and Algebra II as a junior. Of course, any advanced math classes are beneficial, but the content on the new test should be covered in an Algebra II class before the test is taken in the spring of the student’s junior year. Also, most students take the SAT twice, once in the spring and then again in the fall of the senior year. It’s also important to consider that students to not have to complete all of the questions in any of the sections to earn an above average score. Because the problems in the math section are presented from easiest to hardest, many students may not even get to the most difficult problems such as the one below:

The projected sales volume of a video game cartridge is given by the function:

s(p) = 3000 / (2p + a )

where s is the number of cartridges sold, in thousands; p is the price per cartridge, in dollars; and a is a constant. If according to the projections, 100,000 cartridges are sold at $10 per cartridge, how many cartridges will be sold at $20 per cartridge?

(A) 20,000

(B) 50,000

(C) 60,000

(D) 150,000

(E) 200,000

Correct Answer: C

Explanation

For 100,000 cartridges sold at $10 per cartridge, s=100 (since s is the number of cartridges sold, in thousands) and p = 10. Substituting into the equation yields:

100 = 3000 / ( 2(10) + a )

Solving this equation for a yields:

100(20 + a) = 3000

20 + a = 30

a = 10

Since a is a constant, the function can be written as:

s(p) = 3000 / (2p + 10)

To determine how many cartridges will be sold at $20 per cartridge, you need to evaluate:

s(20)= 3000 / (2(20) + 10) = 60

Since s is given in thousands, there will be 60,000 cartridges sold at $20 per cartridge.

The critical reading section

The new reading section has one major change – it no longer contains analogies, much to the delight of high school students throughout the country. In place of analogies are additional reading comprehension questions. Along with sentence completions and long reading passages, students will also see short passages followed by comprehension questions. The follow short passage is an example provided by the College Board:

Directions: The passage below is followed by two questions based on its content. Answer the questions on the basis of what is stated or implied in the passage.

Dinosaurs have such a powerful grip on the public consciousness that it is easy to forget just how recently scientists have become aware of them. A two-year-old child today may be able to rattle off three dinosaur names, but in 1824 there was only one known dinosaur. Period. The word "dinosaur" didn't even exist until 1841. Indeed, in those early years, the world was baffled by the discovery of these absurdly enormous creatures.

1. The reference to the "two-year-old child" (line 2) primarily serves to

(A) challenge a popular assumption

(B) highlight the extent of a change

(C) suggest that a perspective is simplistic

(D) introduce a controversial idea

(E) question a contemporary preoccupation

The correct answer is B.

Because of the addition of the writing section and changes to the reading and math section, the new SAT will be much longer than the current version. The present test lasts 3 hours and 20 minutes including two ten minute breaks, but the new test will last a whopping 4 hours and 5 minutes with three ten minute breaks. That is one long and stressful day! Many LD and AD/HD students who would like to take the test under nonstandard conditions, such as extended time, are now thinking twice about applying for accommodations. Furthermore, the College Board is not easily granting accommodations and is making it more difficult than ever to get any nonstandard condition.

Carol Ann Tomlinson (1995)