Wednesday, April 16, 2014

College Board releases preview of new SAT exam questions

Nick Anderson
April 16, 2014
The Washington Post

Attention, high school freshmen. If you’re planning to take the SAT in two years, you probably won’t need to memorize the definitions of words like “obsequious,” “propinquity,” “enervation” or “lachrymose.”
But you will need to be alert to the several possible definitions of words such as “intense.” In a given passage, does it mean emotional, concentrated, brilliant or determined? You might also face challenges related to historical documents, such as decoding President Abraham Lincoln’s multiple uses of the word “dedicate” in the Gettysburg Address.
This new method of assessing vocabulary, among the most prominent revisions to the SAT on display for the first time Wednesday, shows how the dreaded college admission test will change in early 2016. Once billed as a gauge of college “aptitude,” with roots in the controversial practice of testing people for their “intelligence quotient,” the SAT now is marketed as a measure of high school achievement.
The College Board, which oversees the SAT, said the exam will be more straightforward but remain rigorous. Whether students will see it that way, especially those taking the current version this year and next, is another question.
“The word on the street with my kids, the ones I’m working with now, is, ‘Drat, they’re making the test easier. Why don’t I get that opportunity?’ ” said Ned Johnson, a test-preparation consultant to students in the Washington area. “That’s the perception.”
The revisions, announced in broad terms in March, were fleshed out in detail Wednesday as the College Board released draft sample questions and a new framework for the 88-year-old test. They come as the SAT has been losing market share to the rival ACT, a trend especially striking after the College Board added a required essay to the SAT in 2005. The number of students taking the SAT declined in 29 states from 2006 to 2013, a Washington Post analysis found, while the number taking the ACT fell in just three states. The ACT, launched in 1959, has long described itself as an achievement test tied to the nation’s high school curriculum.
The SAT remains the leading admission test in the District, Maryland and Virginia, as well as in many states in the Northeast and on the West Coast. But the ACT, which added an optional essay in 2005 but otherwise has been largely unchanged for the past 25 years, has boomed in many SAT strongholds and is now more widely used nationwide.
The revisions appear to echo, in part, concepts embedded in the new Common Core standards for what U.S. students should learn in math and English from kindergarten through 12th grade.  [Emphasis added.  This is important to know, parents!  Common Core standards, despite criticism, will impact our students.]  Those standards have been fully adopted in 45 states and the District. David Coleman, the College Board’s president and chief executive, was a key architect of Common Core. He started pushing for a makeover of the admission test soon after taking office in 2012.
 The essay will take 50 minutes, instead of 25. Even though the essay will become optional, some colleges are likely to require it. The major change is that the essay will ask students to analyze a given argument rather than take a stance on a question. The College Board said students might be prompted to respond to a passage comparable to an excerpt from poet Dana Gioia’s essay on “Why Literature Matters.”
In math, students will have 80 minutes to answer 57 questions. Most are multiple-choice; some require students to provide answers themselves. The new math section will be 10 minutes longer and, unlike the current version, will require students to put away their calculators for 25 minutes.
“The calculator is a tool that students must use (or not use) judiciously,” the College Board said in a document explaining the changes to the test. The new exam focuses more tightly on algebra, problem solving, data analysis and “passport to advanced math,” which includes analyzing and solving quadratic and higher-order equations. The test also contains geometry and trigonometry.
The changes amount to a substantial overhaul of a test that for millions of Americans was a rite of passage. Critics say that the SAT and the ACT are needless barriers to access and that high school grades are a better way to measure academic potential. A growing number of colleges don’t require admission tests, but most selective schools do.
Read Anderson's full blog post HERE.

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