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New SAT seems to be a step in the right direction

By Ellie Kruglikov

The new SAT debuted this past Saturday, March 5.  In Alameda, my fellow test-takers and I centered at Encinal High School for the first test session of the new SAT.  The atmosphere was definitely anxious, with nobody quite sure of what they were in for.  Once the test began however, many people’s anxiety seemed to melt away.

The name SAT carries a stigma.  People are inherently more stressed and concerned about taking the SAT than about almost any other test.  However, this can arguably be futile.  While it’s understandable to be concerned about a test so important to colleges, the reality is that with a test important nationwide like the SAT, not much prep is possible, nor should it be.  

The number of students I see taking SAT prep classes or using private teachers is extremely surprising.  The issue is that, while prep like this can drastically improve a student’s score, it is also extremely expensive, and therefore leaves an uneven playing ground for students in different financial situations.  Poorer students, unable to pay the hundreds or even thousands of dollars necessary for just a few weeks of prep class, are at an automatic disadvantage for a test that determines much of their future.  

This is an issue that the new SAT tried to avoid.  To me, that effort seems to have been successful.  

While there is now free online prep available with services like the Khan Academy, the SAT should not be a measure of one’s resources or ability to study–it should be a measure of one’s ability to interpret and understand, a skill applicable in all aspects of life, not just in multiple choice testing.  This is what was made clear to me in my experience with the new SAT.

My preparation was negligible, and while that might be concerning to some or be viewed as sheer laziness, that’s how I wanted my first run through the test to be.  I wanted to test my raw skill, see if all of those years of schooling had worked for me.  I had enough faith in my abilities that I was not and am still not worried about failing the test, but to me it seemed like an interesting experiment to go into a test so often heavily prepped for with nearly no experience or forethought put into it.  

That, and of course, a slight bit of laziness.

The English section was certainly a relief for me, and from my understanding much more reasonable that the previous edition of the SAT.  While the old SAT required studying antiquated vocabulary, the new version had no focus on individual words or anything else that required SAT-specific preparation.  

To me this is a huge advantage, not only for students unable to afford prep classes, but also for the colleges hoping to get a fair view of their potential students through this test.  Presumably colleges do not want students who are only successful due to their resources or privilege, but students from all walks of life who are able to think and understand anything you put in front of them.  

A test that does not allow for as much preparation enables colleges to pick students who are quick-thinking and able to succeed in any situation, and of course gives a more fair playing ground to students applying to college with fewer resources.

In terms of college acceptance, an additional advantage to the new SAT set up is the introduction of the optional essay.  Now, many colleges do not require the essay portion of the test, allowing students considering colleges in the CSU system and many others to waive the SAT portion of the test.  While I do think that writing is an important skill for colleges to gauge for incoming students, a timed essay does a very poor job of judging one’s actual writing ability, so  I see no issue in doing away with the timed essay, especially when colleges can get a more accurate idea of one’s writing ability through the untimed admittance essay.

Of course, I do also have some qualms about the new SAT, one of which lies within the optional essay itself.  While the old SAT allowed students 25 minutes to formulate an argument essay based off of a short prompt, the new SAT gives students 50 minutes to write a rhetorical analysis essay based on a 750-word passage.  This form of essay, while giving a more accurate judgement of one’s writing due to the extended time, tests a far less relevant writing skill.  Rhetorical analysis is both less useful in the real world than argument, and is covered far less thoroughly in school.  Only some students may have an introduction to this type of essay when taking the SAT, giving an unfair advantage to some students, while argument is a skill reinforced since middle school, that can accurately and fairly test students.

The math portion of the test definitely seemed unusually and unnecessarily wordy.  The solid paragraph of context for a math problem can convolute the actual question and cause issues for even those who understand the mathematical concepts required to solve a problem.  I understand that the goal of this is to make sure students can understand how to use math concepts as they apply to real life, but the way in which this was done caused more trouble than it was worth, a comment I’ve heard from many test-takers.

All around, though, I think the new SAT is a definite improvement from the archaic vocabulary and rushed essay skills tested in the old SAT.  While the test no longer requiring studying is an advantage to all students, it mainly and successfully serves to level the playing ground for all students and remove any past discrepancy in test scores that resulted from a student’s resource, and not their true intelligence.  At a time when colleges are more expensive and competitive than ever, and minorities are consistently underrepresented on college campuses, this new SAT is a necessary step in the right direction.

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