Unless you’ve been hiding under a non-wifi enabled rock this week, I’m guessing that you’ve heard about the massive overhaul of the SAT.  The changes, which have been expected for some time, were announced last week and are set to take affect in 2016.  If your student is in 11th grade or older, then the College Board’s announcement will not impact him/her much, if at all.  However, the news might be relevant to a very small number of 10th graders (who could be retaking the SAT in January of 12th grade); and it is definitely big news if you have a student in 9th grade or younger.

So what did the College Board announce?

The exam will get a complete remodel in 2016 with changes that include:

  • Elimination of the required writing section (many colleges never use this to evaluate admissions criteria anyway) and back to the 1600 scoring scale familiar to most parents. The new writing section will be optional and scored separately, like the ACT.
  • Elimination of obscure vocabulary words that are rarely or never used in real life, like the ACT.
  • An emphasis on “evidence-based reading”, like the ACT, where students will be given an historical reading passage and be required to identify where the author uses evidence, and how that evidence is used to make a pursuasive argument.
  • Elimination of the penalty currently ascribed for wrong answers, like the ACT
  • An option to take a computerized version; like the ACT, which plans a computerized version in 2015.

The new SAT will also attempt to correct for inherent socio-economic biases that critics and educators have long ascribed to the test.  Point of fact:  the very same week the College Board made this announcement, an independent inquiry announced the results of a study that showed ZERO  link between a student’s performance on the SAT and their performance in college (or life).   The study supported the oft-cited notion that good SAT scores were more often predictive of a student’s socio-economic status (and amount of test prep that they could afford) than their capability, intelligence or potential. So, effective immediately, Khan Academy, the widely acclaimed non-profit tutorial site (that Bill Gates fell in love with for his own children) is now offering free SAT prep and resources on-line.  Definitely worth a looksy if your child is in 10th or 11th grade.

That pretty much wraps up the highlights.   If you’d like more detail on the specific changes, you can always click here to read the complete transcript of the College Board’s Announcement.  I did read it, and I also poured through much of the analysis and commentary that followed… and I spoke with three colleagues (Test prep guru and Broward Tutorial Founder/Owner Michael Eldeiry; a College Admissions Officer who represents a competitive Northeast University with Test Optional Admissions policies; and a college guidance counselor from a well-respected independent high school with a rigorous college prep curriculum).  With input from them, I’ve put together a few nuggets and takeaways that I think you’ll find at least interesting and hopefully helpful (especially if you have a 9th grader or younger college-bound student at home):

1. Everybody calm down (my wife and 9th grade daughter included).  While these are big changes to a critical component of the college process, they are unlikely to materially affect the Admissions process. (see points 4 and 5).

2. That said, for the next 2 years, my gut tells me to recommend the ACT for all 10th and 11th graders.   The current SAT is now a lame-duck test for 2 more years, and by announcing these changes the College Board is admitting that their current edition is not the optimal standardized test (or measure) for college admissions.  Same ACT recommendation for 9th graders, but for different reasons.  I’m not entirely comfortable with having this class beta test a new format.  Ninth graders have time though, and I’m taking a wait and see approach.  Regardless, in short order, I’ll be encouraging all of my clients to opt for the ACT when signing up for their online ePrep subscriptions.

3. Furthermore, despite the Khan Academy partnership and my ePrep affiliation, I’ll continue to recommend that most students enroll in a good test prep program like those offered at Broward Tutorial.  Technology-based learning is a wonderful supplement and can provide a great educational foundation on demand, but I’m not sure that it can replace entirely a great student-teacher process.  There’s just something about having a live accountability partner that technology can’t replicate.

4.As well,  I believe that – surprise – the changes are more market-driven than educational.  The College Board has been losing market share to the ACT for years and last year the number of students who took the ACT exceeded those who took the SAT.   Many students prefer the more concrete, relatable assessment style of the ACT.  Hence, you’ll note that the College Board’s makeover makes the SAT look a lot more like the ACT.

5.  I also think that many colleges will continue to de-emphasize all standardized tests in their Admissions process.  I’ve written in great depth about this growing trend in years past.  You can click here to read about the Test Optional movement and to see a list of all colleges that currently do not require the ACT or SAT for admissions.  Note that there are many highly competitive schools on this list including Wake Forest, Bates, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Smith College (where my mom went), Connecticut College (where my stepsister went), Union (where my stepfather went), American (where Jill got her MBA), and many more.

6.  Finally, while colleges may be de-emphasizing test scores in Admissions, your student’s test scores may continue to matter when it comes to financial aid, particularly as it relates to non-need Merit scholarships, institutional endowment awards, private scholarships and government- related grants (hence point number 3).  I can think of numerous examples where quite literally a few points have translated into a few thousand dollars in scholarship money.   I’ll be discussing these examples, and frankly all the ways colleges discount prices (including by offering incentives to applicants with higher-than average test scores), at my college planning workshop in Weston tonight (3/11/2014).  You can visit my website:  www.CollegePlanningAdvice.com to learn more.

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