How much do you know about the ACT and SAT?
I thought I knew a lot, but I learned more when I attended an illuminating session on standardized testing at the recent annual conference of the Western Association of College Admission Counseling.
I’m sharing some of the presentation that was put together by Adam Ingersoll, who is co-founder of Compass Education Group, a large test-prep firm in California.
I was particularly interested in what Ingersoll had to say about the SAT’s future. The College Board announced that changes were in the works earlier in the year, but didn’t divulge any details. Anytime the SAT undergoes change, it generates anxiety among teenagers and parents.
Here is my post on the SAT announcement back in February:
One thing that I learned during the session, however, is that a remodeled SAT could take years. Here is one of Ingersoll’s slides that illustrates how long it has taken for other major standardized test changes:
What Might Happen to the SAT
Here are some of Ingersoll’s observations:
One motivation for the SAT changes is the test’s public relations problem.
Unlike the ACT, the SAT is considered an aptitude test. With the best of intentions, the test was created many decades ago as a way for elite schools to find students with intellectual promise who were not attending the Ivy feeder schools that catered to the wealthy.
SAT used to stand for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but now SAT stands for nothing.
While the ACT receives a lot of credit for being an achievement test, Ingersoll thinks that the gap is narrower than the ACT folks suggest.
Currently the SAT math section goes no higher than geometry while the ACT includes Algebra II and Trigonometry. Ingersoll predicts that the College Board will change the math section to include the same math that the ACT covers.
Unlike the ACT, the SAT imposes a guessing penalty on test takers for wrong answers. Many test prep companies encourage guessing on SAT questions if the test taker can eliminate one or more answers as incorrect.
Ingersoll thinks the College Board will eliminate the penalty.
The test prep expert had an interesting recommendation regarding the guessing penalty. He suggests to students that they don’t guess on the last several math questions which are always the hardest.
Ingersoll thinks the reading section will largely remain the same. He thinks it’s pedagogically defensible. He also noted that you can’t go to a test-prep tutor for a few weeks and raise your reading score. If you are able to raise your score, it’s because you became a better reader.
David Coleman, the new head of the College Board and a former Rhodes Scholar, is most unhappy with the essay, which will definitely be changed. The essay will probably be a less open, free-flowing writing sample and become something more relevant. Ingersoll has heard that students are more likely to have to read some college-level material and write a narrower essay based on the reading.
As far as I’m concerned, the craziest aspect of the SAT essay now is that you can make up anything you want. If you say that eboli is a fruit drink or that Lindsey Lohan is the president of the United States, you can’t be penalized!
By the way, the essay, which takes 25 minutes, represents only 30% of the writing score. The rest is multiple-choice grammar questions. Ingersoll doesn’t expect the grammar section to change.
The grammar section is the most coachable part of the test. A teen who focuses on being able to spot the most common grammar mistakes should be able to boost his/her writing score.
Here is Ingersoll’s list of the most common writing errors that are in the SAT:
In my next post, I’ll share more about the SAT.