The New SAT is a Better Test for Students, Colleges

September 2004, By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman, MA

In the spring, the SAT will get a new look. The revamped test will include a writing test, expanded math questions and critical reading from a variety of texts. In this guest column, Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman of Oak hill discusses the changes. She is director of Tutoring For Success, Inc., a local company that provides tutors (www.tutoringforsuccess.com).

The stress is enormous. The baby boomers’ kids are graduating seniors, and the competition to get into colleges is fiercer than ever, in spite of skyrocketing tuition costs. The only common factor that colleges have to compare applicants from a great diversity of high schools nationwide continues to be the SAT.

The SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” and its purpose was to measure a student’s aptitude for succeeding in college. There has been much controversy regarding how closely SAT results actually measure success in college. I took the SAT’s twice, and while my math score increased by 80 points, my verbal score decreased by 100. So I was skeptical.

Jay Matthews reported in the 6/23/04 Washington Post that many extremely successful people, including many household names, had low SAT scores. In June, 2002, the College Board changed the SAT to an achievement test, measuring instead what students have learned in grades K-12. Beginning in March, 2005, the New SAT will be born. Here are the changes:

The analogies section will be replaced by new, short reading passages.
The New SAT adds an essay section and two grammar usage sections. The length of the testing period consequently increases by 45 minutes. The top overall score increases from 1600 to 2400 to accommodate the writing component.
The reading comprehension section will expand with the addition of a variety of short passages.
The quantitative comparison section goes; more challenging math problems, mostly Algebra 2, will be added.
Happily, though vocabulary will still be part of the test, students will no longer need to memorize long lists of vocabulary words for the analogies section. This is great news for those of us who are good readers but don’t do well with isolated vocabulary words, most of which we will never see or use.

Finally, colleges can assess students’ writing without relying on college essays that might have been ghost written. The writing section allows 25 minutes to write a cohesive, persuasive essay based on one or two quotes by famous people. Students will be asked to respond to the quote(s), pick an opinion, and support it. By employing examples from art, history, science, and literature, the student will demonstrate that he has been reading and paying attention in school. According to Michael Jay Friedman, Ph.D., a former instructor in International Relations at U-Penn, “Anything that requires high school students to master the proper structure of an essay is beneficial.” Janice Lloyd, principal of Falls Church High School, states, “The persuasive essay will enhance teacher expectations and provide high school and college bound students the opportunity to assess their preparation for college.”

Adds Carole Heller, M.A., an English and SAT tutor, the new test will underscore the fact that schools should focus on strengthening grammar, vocabulary, writing, and test taking skills starting in junior high. “All of these skills are absolutely crucial for succeeding in college.”

Who can dispute the addition of reading comprehension questions? What college skill is more important than reading? Even better, the wide variety of subjects will allow students to find areas that interest them and demonstrate that they are well rounded.

Few people will argue against eliminating the tricky quantitative comparison section. More challenging math problems will more effectively measure math achievement. According to Linda Thomson, Principal of Fairfax High School, “As a former math teacher, yes, I think adding Algebra 2 level questions is a good thing..the same study skills and self discipline that enable students to be successful in Algebra 1 and 2 should predict success in most college curriculum areas.”

Our reaction to the New SAT should not be fear, but delight. In college, you need the ability to read effectively, write grammatically correctly and persuasively, and think logically. This is what the new SAT will measure. The Virginia Standard of Learning already features writing and grammar for each year of high school. According to Robert J. Elliott, principal of W. T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, “We feel very confident about the changes for Woodson students, in part because we’ve been emphasizing writing and encouraging students to take as demanding a load as possible the past few years.”

Many of today’s college bound students take test preparation courses or receive tutoring to raise their scores. I am optimistic that with the New SAT, we can minimize teaching students how to handle tricks and focus instead on strategies and content.

Meanwhile, you can start preparing for the New SAT in pre-school and continue in grades K-12 by reading and writing regularly and for pleasure. And don’t forget to do your math homework. The New SAT will measure it all.

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