SAT changes coming in 2016

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Mar 31, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell SAT prep teachers Lynn Smith, left, and Susan Kingshill, right, help Tuscola High School junior Mary Ashely McCrory with vocabulary words during a tutoring session. McCrory is receiving help from Smith and Kingshill to prepare for the SAT in May.

When students open their SAT test books in spring 2016, they’ll encounter an SAT that is more organized and realistic than ever before.

Earlier this month, the College Board announced that the SAT would undergo major changes for the first time since 2005. The College Board is an organization that prepares and administers standardized tests that are used in college admission and placement.

An optional essay portion and no penalties for wrong answers — these are just two examples of the extensive revisions being made to the SAT college entrance exam.

In addition to not requiring a timed essay, the test will dwell less on archaic vocabulary and will return to the 1600-point scoring scale. The test will do away with vocabulary words such as "pertinacious” and "toady" and will emphasize more practical words that are used in school and in the workforce.

College Board officials previously reported that the change is needed to make the exam a better representation of what students learn in high school and the skills they need to develop.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so Haywood County’s current high school freshman will be the first to take it in their junior year. Students will have the option of taking the test on a computer.

The essay portion will now measure students' ability to evaluate and explain how the writer builds an argument, instead of measuring the consistency of the writing and not the quality or accuracy of the reasoning. The original essay gave students 25 minutes to respond to a writing prompt, but the revised essay will give students a total of 50 minutes to analyze an argument of a previously written essay.

Some school districts and colleges the students apply to may still require an essay portion of the SAT.

Instead of testing a wide range of math concepts, the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, which are considered most needed for college and future careers. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.

This is the first SAT upgrade since 2005 — when the essay portion was added and analogy questions were removed. There have been other notable changes to the test, such as in 1994 when antonym questions were removed and calculators were allowed for the first time. The test originated in 1926.

ACT competition

Since 2005, the ACT has steadily closed in on and surpassed the SAT in popularity. Statistics show that in 2012, a total of 1,666,017 students took the ACT and 1,664,479 took the SAT.

It may look like the SAT is losing momentum, but actually the number of test takers has grown, and the ACT is growing much faster — perhaps because 12 states now require, and pay for, all public high school juniors to take the ACT.

The ACT may also be more popular now because many top high school students are choosing to achieve impressive scores on both tests. In North Carolina, many top universities will look at both SAT and ACT scores.

With tough competition coming from the ACT, it's no surprise that the changes being made to the SAT will make it the test more like the ACT. For example, the essay portion will now be optional and the new version of the SAT won't be as hung up on vocabulary — much like the ACT.

SAT prep

Susan Kingshill and Lynn Smith both work with local high school students through WNC Prep Services, which offers testing assistance and private tutoring for students taking the SAT. The two teachers have been assisting with SAT prep for well over 10 years.

While the changes will not affect the SAT until 2016, both Kingshill and Smith are already thinking of ways to make adjustments to their curriculum.

“In education change is inevitable — just got to go with it,” Smith said. “We will change what we need to meet the demands of the test.”

When the writing portion was added to the test, it changed the grading scale from 1,600 to 2,400 points. Kingshill said the updated SAT would be combining the critical reading section with the grammar portion of the writing section.

“Our next step is to buy trade books and start studying,” Kingshill said. “I just say, ‘bring it on.’ I’m not scared of a test — it’s a piece of paper, that’s my attitude about it. I try to bring my attitude to the students.”

Kingshill, who previously taught the SAT course at Tuscola, first began to focus on SAT when she realized her daughters struggled with testing. After taking one daughter to a review class, she realized that high testing scores could be taught and weren’t just about IQ scores. That was when Kingshill began staying after school to help any student who wanted to learn.

“I don’t think that this test should keep a student from going to where they want to go to school when you can help them,” she said. “I have no opinion whether (the SAT) is right or wrong, I just know it helps to be tutored on it.”

WNC Prep Services, which has been around for four years, is already working with high schoolers to prepare for the next round of SAT tests coming up in May.

Mary Ashley McCrory is a junior at Tuscola High School who is hoping to go to school at UNC Chapel Hill. After taking the SAT for the first time last fall, she realized she needed some extra help with SAT prep, so she went to Smith and Kingshill.

After four weeks of private tutoring, McCrory said she could already tell a difference.

“I’ve definitely gotten better at memorizing in general,” McCrory said. “I’ve got a lot to learn, and I have to be committed. It's helped me set my goals learning in a certain amount of time.”

McCrory hopes to be a premed student at UNC Chapel Hill and knows the competition is fierce. She said she wanted to get extra SAT help to receive the highest score possible.

“My weakest subject is English, so I’ve been working with Ms. Kingshill on grammar and vocabulary,” McCrory said. “I’m already noticing a difference, and it has helped in my AP classes and in writing essays.”

Any parents/students interested in working with WNC Prep Services should call 828-421-4862.