Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What the New SAT Means to You

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The start of a new calendar year means more juniors are now turning their attention to the college application process—and to the tests which are often part of that process.  Since College Board has announced changes to the SAT, this means some juniors may not be sure what tests to take, or how to prepare for them.

It would be easy to see this change as one more adjustment for college-bound families to make. But the switch gives students an opportunity to make the most of a new situation—especially since…

The change takes effect in 2016.  If you are a high school junior, absolutely nothing has changed.  All the test prep materials out there will still work, so you are good to go—which means you should pass this column along to your tenth grade friends.

Tenth graders, double down on your studies. No one has seen specific questions that will be on the new SAT, but the goal of the new test is to better measure what students understand from their work in the classroom.  As a result, the more you understand from class, the better prepared you’ll be for the test—just make sure you know the difference between memorizing (“Who was the first president of the United States?”) and understanding (“If the first US president was alive, what three things would bother him the most about government today?”)

Plan on taking the PSAT in the fall.  A new version of the SAT next spring means there will be a new version of the PSAT this fall—and there’s nothing like the PSAT to get you SAT ready.  Some schools will offer the PSAT test for free, but if your school charges a fee, it’s worth saving your pennies now for an experience that will pay off big dividends in eight months.  PSAT test prep materials will be available when you come back to school in the fall.

Give your school counselor support and space.  In the next year, your school counselor will have to interpret the current SAT; plan for the new SAT; help teachers adjust curriculum to meet the demands of the new SAT; revamp the test prep classes and seminars they offer so they’re ready for the new SAT, and make sure they understand how to interpret the subscores of an SAT that isn’t created yet. Much of a counselor’s work on your behalf is done when you aren’t around, and that will include more hours on the SAT this year. They’d much rather spend the time working with you—but for now, they will have to workfor you. The best thing you can do is be patient, and appreciative.

Be ready to take both the ACT and SAT next spring.  Just like two English teachers approach teaching differently, two college tests approach assessment differently—and one approach may make more sense to you than the other. Since that difference can play an important role in where you go to college, plan on taking each test next spring—and if you need help paying for the ACT, ask your counselor if you qualify for a fee waiver.

There are two kinds of excitement in planning for college—the kind that leads to worry, and the kind that leads to action.  The SAT announcement seemed to have come out of nowhere, but it can still take you somewhere.  Just where is largely up to you—and that’s the good kind of excitement.

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