Hand completing a multiple choice exam. Alberto G. / Flickr
Hand completing a multiple choice exam. Alberto G. / Flickr

March 2016: high schoolers all over the country are worried about tests, papers, college, and prom.

Another thing to stress about? The new SAT.

As of the beginning of this month, the standardized test we all know and love is getting a reboot. The test, which has been around in form or another since 1926, has recently experienced its most dramatic changes since its conception.

In theory, the differences are supposed to push the SAT into an exam that more accurately reflects what students are learning in school, instead of forcing students to learn entirely new concepts just for the sake of the test.

So what is actually changing in this dramatic overthrow?

As a whole, passages in each of the reading and math sections are becoming more in depth. The “evidence-based” reading and “text-based” math sections mean that students will have longer and more difficult passages to analyze.

Despite this, the dreaded vocabulary section is being cut out. No longer will students agonize to learn obscure words that they likely won’t see anywhere but the SAT critical reading section.

The essay, currently mandatory, is now optional. But even if a student chooses to write it, he or she will find that the prompts have become more evidence-based as well. Instead of expecting personal anecdotes as evidence on an open-ended question, the essay now requires the student to analyze a given text and answer a more specific question.

Some parts of the math section will not allow for the use of the calculator, and there will be a greater focus on algebra 1. Further, the number of options for each question will narrow from five possibilities to four, and there will no longer be a penalty for guessing. The maximum score one can achieve on the exam will become 1600.

A test that mimics the Common Core

College Board insists the SAT will now better adhere to Common Core standards, theoretically mimicking math and reading benchmarks set by each state. This should make the questions on the SAT more applicable to the information students are actually learning in school.

But whether the new exam will benefit students is up for contention. Sure, the SAT should mirror what students are learning, but if a student goes to a school that has not taught the information well, according to Ned Johnson, co-author of “Conquering the SAT,” then the test will not serve the student.

Similar criticism has come up with regards to the greater emphasis on evidence and text-based analysis. Students for whom English is a second-language or who live in low-income areas are less likely to have been exposed to as much difficult reading throughout their lives, according to James Murphy, tutoring manager for the Princeton Review. He believes these students are most likely to suffer at the hands of the test.

Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at the College Board, says the new exam does not give a differential advantage to any racial or income group.

What students think

The first new SAT was administered less than two weeks ago and taken by nearly 300,000 students around the country. In a survey done by Kaplan Test Prep of 500 of these test-takers, 60% of students said the exam questions were straightforward and easy to follow.

Only 16% thought the exam “very much so” reflected what they were learning in school. 56% said “somewhat,” 23% said “not too much,” and 5% said “not at all.”

Whether these assessments say anything definite about the nature of the new exam is uncertain. Whiled the majority of surveyed students believe the test reflected what they were actually learning, almost 30% did not see the test adhering to the same standard.

In a survey by the College Board of 8000 students who taken the first new exam, students said they preferred the latest SAT by a 6 to 1 margin. For better or worse, it appears the new exam is here to stay.