April 16, 2024
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In my first two articles, I highlighted some of the changes to the Math portion of the new SAT, along with some sample problems. I have given this third article over to my Verbal co-teacher, Ann Brodsky, who has been with me for over 10 years and who will analyze the “new” Verbal section.

High school students preparing to take the SAT are usually filled with:

(A) trepidation (B) disquietude (C) consternation (D) angst (E) all of the above

(Answer: E)

The SAT has always generated a fair amount of stress, but the redesigned exam scheduled to launch in 2016 is causing something closer to panic. Why the alarm bells? Because we still know so little about the new test. The College Board has mostly obfuscated the matter by publishing lengthy treatises containing a lot of educational jargon but scant real information about the test itself. The little we do know suggests that major changes are in store.

Here is the College Board’s take on the redesigned Verbal SAT, along with my analysis:

1. Critical Reading (“Verbal”) and Writing will now compose one section, called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”

Reading passages will continue to represent the humanities, science, and the social sciences, but with the addition of a “founding document” and a “text that is part of the great global conversation.” You can Google the founding documents, but what on earth is the “great global conversation”? I trust it’s not what kids are reading on Facebook, but the College Board is offering little other guidance.

2. Good News/Bad News.

First, the good news: The new exam will test “relevant words in context” rather than “a superficial familiarity with obscure words.” This is College Board-speak for “So long, SAT words.” Few will be lachrymose at saying goodbye to those lists of admittedly little-used words. (“Abjure,” “blandish,” or “recondite,” anyone?) Now the bad news: The fill-in-the-blank word problems may be disappearing, but any college-level reading text will still contain copious sophisticated language.

3. The essay will be optional, although the most selective colleges may require it.

The SAT essay has been fraught with problems since its inception. Among educators, it’s viewed as anything from a joke to merely a poor indicator of, well, anything. The new essay may be more educationally sound—students will have 50 minutes instead of the current 25, and will be asked to analyze the arguments made by an author—but it will be much harder to learn in a prep course.

4. What are graphs and tables doing in the Verbal section?

The new test is going to include “informational graphics” for some of the history/social studies and science reading passages. Here’s a sample problem from the College Board website:

Orientation of hatchling loggerheads tested in a magnetic field that simulates a position at the west side of the Atlantic near Puerto Rico (left) and a position at the east side of the Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands (right). The arrow in each circle indicates the mean direction that the group of hatchlings swam. Data are plotted relative to geographic north (N = 0°).

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage and graphic that if scientists adjusted the coils to reverse the magnetic field simulating that in the East Atlantic (Cape Verde Islands), the hatchlings would most likely swim in which direction?

A) Northwest B) Northeast C) Southeast D) Southwest

(Answer: B)

Unless you enjoy this sort of thing, stay away.

Additional problems to be aware of:

1. Delays in reporting: Students who take the March 2016 SAT will probably not receive their scores until after the College Board reviews the results of the second new test in May.

2. Pacing: the new SAT increases the time allotted per question, but the amount of text for each question is expected to increase as well. So will the new SAT feel less fast-paced than its predecessor? Doubtful.

3. Errors: One SAT prep pro has already found mistakes in the sample questions provided by the College Board. Quality control is a hallmark of standardized testing, but CB is under enormous pressure to meet what some view as an unrealistic deadline.

This is starting to look like a no-brainer for next year’s juniors: take the old SAT. The only apparent negative to doing so is that you’ll have to learn some arcane vocabulary words. (Hint: think of an old man getting onto the “ark” with his “cane.” He probably uses old-fashioned words you’ve never heard of, like “ark-cane” = “arcane.” See, that wasn’t so bad.)

Next year’s 11th-graders have a choice between the many unknowns of a new test still undergoing revisions, and the certainty of a decade-old exam supported by as many years of test-prep expertise. The College Board would like the Class of 2017 to believe that any minor “kinks” in the new test will magically iron themselves out in time. But with students already feeling the pressure of college admissions, how much time are you willing to gamble? For students starting their junior year in the fall, the following is one SAT question that’s easy to solve:

If you’re currently a high school sophomore, you should:

(A) Be wary of the College Board’s marketing hype; any new test is vulnerable to rollout problems. Don’t sign up to be a guinea pig.

(B) Avoid the new test, unless you want a dose of charts and graphs to analyze along with your reading texts.

(C) Stick with the test that has ample review materials already available. Gold’s SAT uses only actual problems from actual SATs that have been given in the past.

(D) Stick with the test-prep pros, who know the current test inside and out.

(E) All of the above.

Ann Brodsky is a language educator and consultant, specializing in SAT prep, ESL, Business English, and Accent Reduction. She can be reached at [email protected]. Howard Goldberg can be reached at [email protected]

By Howard Goldberg

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