Summer vacation is officially over for most students, and the academic workload resumes—but for the Class of 2017, the most important decisions they have to make aren't just about how to haul all those heavy books, manage piles of homework, and set their morning alarms with enough reminders that they'll actually rouse from summer slumber.
The new SAT has been trending up a storm with college counselors across the country for months now. You may want to check out my eight-part series detailing what's different on it.
The consensus among the pros about how juniors this year should approach testing may not only surprise you, but could affect decisions that determine your college options in no small part. The increasing popularity of the ACT (since 2012, more students have been taking it than the SAT) means the College Board has been feeling the heat. The new, completely redesigned SAT was therefore scheduled to replace the old familiar model. Launch date? March of 2016.
Unfortunately, the minimal amount of SAT preview materials that the College Board has released has left many professionals scratching their heads: Some are saying the new test design appears to be the ACT on steroids. For example, the vocabulary section will be replaced with questions about the meaning or implications of important words within the context of a written passage. The reading and writing sections of the exam will now largely focus on the student's command of evidence found in either a passage, graph, table, or piece of data (e.g., "What portion of the text best supports the answer to the previous question?"). And the revised Math section will contain questions relevant to science, social science, career-related scenarios, and other real-life situations. Sound familiar?
Being the special kind of teacher-geek I am, I took one of the pre-released new SATs a few weeks ago when they first came out, and I can tell you this: I felt like I was taking an ACT. Having tutored both tests for many years, it was really interesting to notice how new Coke tasted like old Pepsi, so to speak. After all, these tests are commodities being marketed—let's not lose track of the big business that drives this. But I digress . . .
OK, there is a potential upside to the SAT redesign: If it really is a more challenging version of the ACT, then a student's projected areas of strength can be measured on a more granular level. A competitive college may have a better understanding of the capabilities of a student in his or her area of interest, which may in turn help them to better understand if the student is prepared for the workload and environment of the college's department and academic rigor.
The problem with the new format is that there is not, as of yet, any tangible gauge of whether or not the redesigned SAT will accomplish just that. Because the test has not yet been "tested," the students taking the exam in March of 2016 will actually be the control group for which this hypothesis is researched. Who wants to be a guinea pig when your future is at stake?
Although the new SAT is risky, I've been working with my team to help it not scare students. (Side note: My own daughter is in this class, so I have a personal stake in this as well.) A recent survey conducted among independent college counselors resulted in an unprecedented, nearly unanimous opinion: 91% now advise that the class of 2017 take the ACT. The consensus comes from the notion that test scores are still an important part of college admission. Placing your future in the hands of an unknown test for which admission representatives won't have any scoring rubric can be seen as too much of a gamble.
Furthermore, the argument goes, the results from the first session in March won't be released for six weeks due to the fact that the College Board does not yet know how to grade, curve, or scale the results. For a junior, this could prove problematic with regard to whether or not to schedule a spring ACT session or another SAT before the fall, when the curve is generally a bit less favorable.
One other thought: If you've already aced Algebra 2 (a substantial chunk of the math section) and feel academically prepared to take the old format of the SAT this fall as a junior, take it. If you are not happy with your score, you can always try the new one in March. The ACT is of course also an option.
What my team and I have been working on for over a year now is a way for students everywhere, regardless of socioeconomic status, to retain their option to prepare for the new SAT as well as the ACT in an online, digital program called the GATE System. We even have a fun mobile app coming out called Passport to the New SAT, which you'll be able to find in the iTunes store after October. It's an animated baseline test that we hope will delight while educating. Crazy, right? I know. We're a little kooky out here in Los Angeles.
When it all wraps up in the end, and you're tossing your mortarboard cap into the bright blue sky, it won't matter one fig which test you took, or whether you take none at all. What matters is that you breathe deeply and embrace a future that is bright with promise. That is something even a guinea pig can celebrate.
Cool footnote: The list of test-optional colleges expands exponentially each year.