Key Changes to SAT/ACT– A Disturbance in the Force!

Jedi Manual (002)

Several years ago, more American students took the ACT than the SAT for the first time in our nation’s history. Immediately, on the heels of that, The College Board set out to re-design their test. Ahhh… competition. In its wake, the ACT made concrete adjustments too. A palpable disturbance in the testing force- an interstellar battle of epic proportions.

From the outset these announcements have created consternation in the college admission and counseling field for a few reasons. First, simply change. Anytime you alter something, it’s going to cause some skepticism and unrest. Secondly, the very nature of standardized testing, which inherently brings with it some level of anxiety. But fear not, Young Skywalker, because as with anything new and unfamiliar, information is the best weapon for alleviating concern.

You can read more on The College Board and ACT sites, but here’s your abridged Jedi manual:

  • Test Preparation (a new lightsaber)– One of the best results of the redesigned SAT is The College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy. On this site, you are able to receive free tips, practice questions and tests, as well as strategies for improving your scores in all sections. The test prep industry has become exceedingly overpriced for the results it delivers. Providing this service through Khan Academy not only eliminates cost but allows flexibility in scheduling on your own time and access to expert advice as well. If improving your score is a goal, you should take advantage of this incredible partnership.
  • Mechanics: No penalty for wrong answers– Unlike in the past, on the SAT, students won’t be penalized for wrong answers, which aligns with the ACT’s traditional structure and historically has been student preference. Like Jedi training you’ll benefit from strategy, practice, and a healthy dose of the force. Use deductive reasoning, use process of elimination, or always pick C.  “In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • New Scoring Framework— SAT scores are back to a 1600 total scale (think Darth Vader coming back from the dark side of the force—not that this is about choosing sides). Both the Evidence-based Reading & Writing and Math sections will be scored 200-800. The ACT has also changed the writing score scale to be 2-12. The SAT change is probably most helpful to parents, counselors and administrators who never adjusted to the 2400 scale, but it also emphasizes the uncoupling of the writing section from the other sections. The ACT change makes writing scores more clear for students, as they will reflect ACT’s clearly articulated rubric within the four writing domains.
  • Content and Questions— Both ACT and SAT emphasize that the exam is based on information students have learned in the classroom and contains wonted reading passages and less clandestine vocabulary (see what I did there?). This change will better align the tests to what students have studied in school, hopefully making the SAT more palatable for a broader range of students across The Galactic Empire.
  • Test Optional– Keep in mind that over 850 schools in our nation do not use test scores to make admission decisions. Fair Test keeps a list of these here. These are schools who have determined, based on their institutional priorities, campus culture, and historical data that test scores do not need to be reviewed in order to enroll a qualified, successful class. Either that or they are simply trying to drive up application numbers, as some cynics would argue. Jedi mind trick? You decide.

yodaGeorgia Tech (and any school utilizing a holistic admission process) includes testing as only one part of the admission decision. Traditionally standardized tests have helped to predict freshman GPA, and all universities will now be rebuilding correlative data, regression formulas, and analytics to assess test scores’ predictive quality in the coming years as we enroll students who have tested with the new versions of both tests.

Students should be closely reviewing websites and asking very pointed questions to colleges about how they will be using test scores- particularly in the coming year. At Tech, we will identify the date of the test taken to ensure we understand which test we are evaluating but will continue to look for a student’s highest section score from any test date.

Flipping the script

So, again, due to the changes and “being the first” to go through the admission process with these new scores, many seniors and their parents are understandably nervous. But remember, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)  Instead, consider this: any expert in the testing industry will tell you that there should never be a “cut score” used in the admission process. On the ultra-conservative side, statistics show that there is no predictive variance in student GPA performance on campus within a 50 point band for each SAT section, or a two point spread on the ACT.

Having spent time at conferences this summer with nearly 100 college admission deans and directors from schools using a holistic process, I can say with confidence that they recognize if there were ever a year to de-emphasize test scores and their place in the process, it’s this one.

It all means, what does? (For more Yoda translations go here) Scores matter, sure. But due to testing alterations and lack of data, grades, rigor of curriculum, and your ability to demonstrate how you will improve a college campus and those around you through extra-curricular impact and essay and short answer writing will be even more critical. Bottom line: “Stay on target.” – Gold Five 

Author: Rick Clark