The New SAT: A modern update on an old enemy

By Mr. Alex Merrill

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On Saturday, Oct. 1, many Seniors took the SAT. This was the first time the SAT was offered in the 2016-2017 school year. Was this an accurate test of CVU studentsintelligence, a necessary evil to get into college, or just another money sucking exercise sponsored by the college board?

The SAT was first created in 1926 as a college admissions test. Since then it has been modified many times. The newest changes occurred last spring and were the most significant in over twenty years. In fact, this SAT has been dubbed “The New SAT.” The biggest change was making the essay section optional. Other changes include returning to a 1600 point scale, making the vocab section more relevant to student learning, and aligning the curriculum to common core standards. These changes have made the test more popular with some educators, but many opinions remain unchanged.

After interviewing several Seniors most said they had taken the SATs twice. Victoria Thompson was the exception, saying that she was satisfied with her scores from the first time she took the test. The College Board claims that well over 50% of students will improve their scores the second time around. Katherine Mathon, who took the SAT twice last year, said that she did see an improvement. Maya Townsend just took SATs for the second time and said she felt like she did better; though she admitted she will not know for sure until official scores are released.

None of the students interviewed thought that the SAT provided an accurate overview of their academic abilities. Part of this is because the tests are obscure and do not test students on many of the skills that they have learned in school.  Students also could be overestimating their abilities if they receive a score that is lower than anticipated.  CVU principle Adam Bunting agrees that standardized tests generally do not give the whole picture of a student. He thinks that they are generally over-relied on and we ask our kids to take too many.

Despite the fact that there are almost 800 colleges that are listed as “test-optional,” I could not find any Seniors that had opted not to take any test. This may suggest that most kids feel that SATs will help them get into their dream schools and that they are not as dreaded as frequently thought to be.

A few students raised the question of unfairness. They claimed that SATs scores are extremely skewed based on income. After further research, it appears that these claims are justified. Because the SATs can be so important for getting into college, an enormous amount of pressure is placed on students to do well and an entire test prep industry has popped up. Wealthier families can afford more books, online programs and even personal tutors, while other families can not. Because of the SATs bizarre format, these programs are often highly effective. The College Board has insisted that this has not been the case. However, with the release of the new SAT, the College Board released a comprehensive practice program for free in conjunction with Kahn Academy designed to level the playing field. This certainly helps to level the playing field, but it still seems you can ace the test with money. Additionally, the college board has not released free practice for many of its other tests including the SAT subject tests and AP exams. This means that, while one part of the college testing process has been improved, other portions are not as good.

For generations the SAT has been a college admissions staple. The tests have always had its fans saying that it is the best academic snapshot colleges will get in the days of unequal grade inflation and weighted GPAs. Yet critics say that one can only gleam so much information from a test and tests do not evaluate all students equally. Despite recent changes that require students to take fewer tests, many students still choose to take them. Because of the entrenched nature of college admissions it seems like SATs will be taken by future generations of students.