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Thursday, March 13, 2014

The SAT is a-changing! And so is the ACT, but not as much…

In March2014, David Coleman, the head of the College Board held an hour long press conference.  During his talk, he spoke about a number of ways in which the SAT had been eclipsed by the ACT.  If you are not aware, the ACT and SAT are the two tests used by American colleges as a major factor to determine each applicant’s ability to be successful at their college or university.
In the past, the SAT penalized students for incorrect answers, included math through algebra II, included intensive vocabulary, had a required essay, and was a reasoning test. The SAT questions often included extraneous information and asked test takers to ferret out data the needed to answer the question, which might be posed in a circuitous, indirect, or somewhat misleading manner.  The test was focused on students’ ability to reason.
Beginning in March, 2016, the SAT will closely resemble the ACT.  The SAT will revert to its previous format which only included a critical reading section and a math section.  The highest score will revert to the 1600 we parents are more accustomed to. Like the ACT, the essay for the SAT will be optional.  The redesigned SAT will incorporate the Common Core standards and will require students to support their answers with evidence and citations from the reading passage.  The source documents for the reading passages will be selected from a range of disciplines, including one scientific passage, just as they have been on the ACT.  The vocabulary portion of the redesigned SAT will eliminate the higher level, erudite words and focus on words “widely used in college and career.”  The math section will draw from fewer topics and calculators will only be allowed to be used on certain portions of the math section.  Keep your eyes open for details on which math topics will be on the new test.  The redesigned SAT will be available both in paper and in a digital form.
Additionally, the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy to provide free SAT prep.  However, free test prep has been available for years.  Most students need to have informed, supportive adults pushing them to do test prep.  Those who can afford higher quality online or in person test preparation courses or tutors are strongly encouraged to do so.  Low income students will also receive four college application fee waivers.
Beginning in the Spring of 2015, the ACT will be available in digital format as well as on paper.  In at least  ten states, the ACT is required.  The ACT has four sections: critical reading, math (through pre-calc), science, and writing.  The top ACT composite score is a 36.  Additionally, the ACT has, for many years, regularly conducted curriculum surveys to  ensure that what’s on the test matches what’s being taught in schools and required by colleges.
Why, you may ask, did the SAT change so much?  The top reason cited is the fact that they have been steadily losing market share and, in the past couple of years, have tested fewer students than the ACT.  So, business competition is the primary reason.  Additionally, they want to align themselves with the Common Core standards which are being rolled out in most of the states. There is a targeting of certain texts, rather than a broad reading of history in the CC Standards as well as the redesigned SAT.  As more details come forth, the adequacy of this approach to equip students to think critically and have an adequate base of foundational knowledge will be able to be explored. (The ACT is taking the CC standards into account, too.)
In April 2014, the College Board will be releasing the specifications and extensive examples of the redesigned test.  More information may be found at
In the end, it will be critical that students have solid grades in conjunction with excellent test scores in order to be accepted into their target colleges and universities.  As both tests change, college admissions staffs are highly likely to emphasize the high school credentials of each student more.

So, What about Test Prep?.
There are two ends, or results, of test prep.  First, students tend to score higher on the SAT and ACT, AP and SAT subject tests.  Second, students become better prepared for the academic challenges of college.  A number of schools administer placement exams when new Freshmen arrive on campus.  The extra effort put forth doing test prep should also assist students on these exams, and in their first college courses.
For a number of years, I have been an affiliate of  They are already in the process of preparing to give students the opportunity to take practice tests both online and offline (pencil and paper).  Additionally, they will offer study programs for the new SAT starting in Spring 2015, well before the new SAT is launched.  (Yes, for a time, they will offer courses to prepare students for the current format of the SAT and for the redesigned format.)  I will continue to offer a 20% discount on all of their test prep tutorial courses.  Order yours by calling the office at (858) 705-0043 with your credit card info, student's and parent's names and emails, and the name of the eprep course you want. 

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