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Articles / Preparing for College / The New SAT: Opinions Vary

The New SAT: Opinions Vary

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Sept. 16, 2014

If you are at all connected to the college admissions world, you probably know that there are big changes coming to the SAT in 2016. As you may have inferred from some of my previous writings, I'm not a big fan of standardized testing. although I do understand the need for it. I think that a college applicant's worth can be judged far better than by merely a simple set of numbers.

One recent news item that I found especially irritating comes from Harvard professor, Steven Pinker, who feels that the Ivy League "is broken" and that only standardized tests can fix it. The College Confidential discussion forum crowd, as you might suspect, had myriad takes on this contention. To wit:

- I found the "argument" about standardized testing to be not simply facile, but naive as well. More than once it's occurred to me that in too many cases, what these tests measure is the ability of students to hone their test-taking skills through test-prep books and test-prep classes.

- I agree. The emphasis is in the wrong place. Pinker made a few good points about the lack of transparency in the admissions process, although his response is laden with stereotypes about "well-rounded" students (specifically, his view that they're not a high form of intellectual)- and he could've just focused on those offensive points instead of defending something he didn't need to (which is also very, very tough to defend).

- "Just as troublingly, why are elite universities, of all institutions, perpetuating the destructive stereotype that smart people are one-dimensional dweebs?"

How are they doing so? Every year, the top schools all brag about how much HIGHER their scores have gotten AND how their classes are more diverse and do all kinds of interesting activities. That's your own insecurity talking, I think.

Well, regardless of what you think about the SAT, good or bad, a recent survey has shown that there is a deep divide on what people think about those upcoming changes.

A recent Kaplan survey explains:

... There are big SAT changes in store for test takers who are members of the class of 2017 and beyond: harder math, the addition of historical reading passages, shifting of the essay from mandatory to optional, reverting back to a 1600 point scoring scale, no wrong answer penalty, no more fill-in-the-blank vocabulary, and a computer-based option. But what do college admissions officers, who will be evaluating these test scores, and teens, who will take the revamped admissions test, think of the upcoming changes? In separate surveys of admissions officers from over 400 of the nation's top colleges and universities* and of nearly 700 high school students**, Kaplan finds admissions officers are generally more supportive of the SAT changes than college applicants — with particularly wide disparity in support on the issues of computer-based testing and calculator elimination ...

Highlights of the details:

- Digital Divide: Results from Kaplan's 2014 college admissions officers' survey show that 82% of respondents support allowing students the option of taking the SAT on a computer. In contrast, only 36% of students surveyed support a computer-based SAT — with many citing concerns about not being able to do 'scratch work' on math problems, challenges in looking at a computer screen for four hours and potential technical difficulties.** Currently all SAT exams are administered in paper and pencil.

- Divergent Views on Division…and Algebra: A strong majority (71%) of admissions officers support including math problems that must be solved without a calculator, while less than half (47%) of students support this change. As it stands now, a calculator is permitted for the current SAT; on the new SAT, test takers will not be allowed to use a calculator on 20 of the 57 math questions. What this change means is that test takers will need strong fundamental math skills, such as mental percentage calculation.

- Writing Section Goes Optional: Two-thirds (67%) of admissions officers say they support making the essay optional, instead of mandatory, while just a slight majority (51%) of students support this change. (Note: the essay is currently optional for ACT takers.) Additionally, 73% of admissions office say they don't plan to require applicants to submit the essay. The essay was added to the exam in 2005, increasing the scoring scale from 1600 to 2400. With this change, the scoring scale returns to 1600.

- History Lovers: 87% of admissions officers support the addition of a reading passage from American and/or world history — a change that 67% of students also support.

- No Disagreement on No Wrong Answer Penalty: There's also consensus among admissions officers and students about eliminating the one quarter point penalty for wrong answers, with 70% of admissions officers and 73% of students supporting this change. The ACT does not have a wrong answer penalty.

- Good Riddance, Fill-in-the-Blank Vocabulary: Of all the announced changes to the SAT, students most strongly support this one, with 85% in favor of its elimination. Instead, the exam will focus on vocabulary-in-context, as well as revising and editing write-in passages. This change also has the support of 88% of admissions officers.

Overall, 79% of admissions officers surveyed support the SAT changes — up from 72% last year.

“College admissions officers strongly support the upcoming changes to the SAT, but students are a bit wary about certain elements. Specifically, students are most concerned about shifting to a computer-based format and having to answer some math questions without a calculator," said Christine Brown, executive director of K-12 and college prep programs, Kaplan Test Prep. “The good news for students is that the wrong answer point penalty and the unpopular fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions will be eliminated. The best thing students can do, no matter which test they plan to take, is to practice in a realistic setting. Practice boosts confidence on test day, which is key to scoring well. For those who are particularly anxious about taking a new test, there's always the option of taking the ACT, which is equally accepted by colleges. Keep in mind that the ACT is changing in 2015, but not dramatically."


If you would like to get all the information about SAT changes from the horse's mouth, check the College Board's explanation. This may give you a more objective understanding of what will take place.

Perhaps the most succinct CC forum comment about SAT changes came from a thread discussing those changes:

- SAT morphs into ACT. Next up: Farewell to subject tests.

I like succinctness!


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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