There are big changes coming for students who are taking the SAT test starting in March, 2005 as part of the process of getting into a college or university. For the first time since the SAT’s were introduced in 1926, analogies, or “houses are to wood as bunkers are to…,” will not be on the test. On the math side, quantitative comparisons are being dropped in favor of more advanced algebra questions. The revamp will be completed by adding a series of multiple choice questions related to grammar and paragraph structure and a twenty-five minute essay. A perfect score will now be 2,400, or 800 on the math, 800 on the writing and 800 on the critical reading sections. The new test will last for a total of three hours and forty-five minutes versus the old three hour test. What should parents be aware of about the test overall and about the verbal side of the new test?
What has stayed the same? Students will still have one quarter of a point deducted for each incorrect answer. Therefore, students need to strategize about how to effectively skip answers that they will probably get wrong. There will still be an “experimental section” that will test the validity of questions for future tests. Students will not know ahead of time whether the extra section is in math, critical reading, or writing. As before, the experimental score will not be calculated into the total score, but will be used for statistical analysis. There will continue to be a sentence completion section that tests vocabulary and logic.
What is different on the verbal side? Reading comprehension may now include short paragraphs along with longer passages and paired readings. There will be three types of writing multiple choices sections. In the Error Identification section, students will be asked to choose which underlined part of a sentence is wrong or if there are no errors. In Improving Sentences, students will correct portions of a sentence so that they are grammatically correct and not redundant. Students will look at grammar, coherence and organization in Improving Paragraphs. The Essay will go one of two ways. Either the student will have one quote to agree or disagree with in writing, or the student will be presented with two shorter quotes and asked to pick one to support in his or her essay.
As a parent, what should you be aware of as far as how the test is constructed? The dice may or may not be in favor of your child. Every SAT is “the same.” This means that over the thousands of students that have taken experimental portions of the test, every portion that is used in a real test pans out the same way, with a certain percentage scoring very high, a certain percentage scoring almost very high, a certain percentage scoring not as very high, and so on. This can be a problem on an individual basis because your child is not like the other thousands of students, but one individual who may or may not do as well as hoped on an individual test. Typically, again, over a statistically significant number of test takers, students will score better overall the more tests that they take. The bottom line is that you should be prepared to have your child take the test more than once.
Are the questions “tricky?” They can be. Remember that written grammar is different than the way that you and I speak on a daily basis. You can not always depend on your “ear” to figure out what, if anything, is wrong with a sentence. The test also can run smack into conflicts with what a student is being taught when, for example, learning creative writing. The test more or less considers good writing to be short and to the point, where students are often taught that descriptions and a certain amount of wordiness is good for variation when writing. The test will also include sentences that are grammatically correct, but are inverted so that they “sound wrong.” As far the grammatical side of the test, students really should break out the old grammar rules and study up.
The reading comprehension section can have its pitfalls as well. Remember that the test wants students to pick the answer that the test writer thinks is correct. This may seem obvious, but answering correctly can sometimes mean picking the best of what a student considers to be bad answers.
What can your child take away from the verbal side of the test that will help in the future? Your child can learn better writing skills and have an increased vocabulary. Students need to know how to organize and write an opinion essay in order to score well on that portion of the test. And, your child must be willing to memorize a lot of words to increase their vocabulary, an incredibly boring task. But, it can pay off in an increased score in both the sentence completions and reading comprehension sections and an improved ability to communicate as he or she goes into college.
As an SAT tutor, I have seen star athletes break down into tears over the pressure. I have seen out-of-control parents with expectation levels way out of reach of their child. I have seen probably-should-be-perfect-score-level students struggle to understand why a reading comprehension test question that sounds so right is really wrong and complain that a sentence that is grammatically correct would never be seen in literature or heard in speaking. Be realistic about what your child can achieve. If you and your child want to improve his or her test score, there are practice books that you can buy at your local bookstore, you can hire a tutor, or you can contact a company that specializes in tutoring the SAT’s in either a group or individual setting. While taking this test and doing as well as possible is very, very important, it still is only one day out of many that will shape your child’s future. Do you still remember what score you got when you took the test?