The first administration of the revised SAT exam will take place this Saturday, and college admissions experts remain unsure as to whether students have been able to adequately prepare for the new test.
Some college consultants have gone so far as to steer students away from the SAT and towards its competitor, the ACT, fearing the chaotic period of transition could hurt some students’ exam performance.
“We have been advising students to switch over to the ACT, and I think that’s still the best advice for now,” said Anna Ivey, founder of the college admissions consulting firm Ivey Consulting. “Once the new test is out and people take it, and test prep is all caught up, then we might recommend that people go back to taking whichever test plays more to their strengths.”
This perceived shift to the ACT is taking place despite agreement among some college admissions observers that part of the reason for creating the new SAT was a desire to make it more similar to—and competitive with—the ACT. The SAT, long the most popular college entrance exam in the U.S., was surpassed by the ACT in number of test-takers for the first time within the past five years.
David C. Mainiero, co-founder and director of operations at InGenius Prep, said the College Board, which develops the SAT, may be attempting to “co-opt the popularity of the ACT.”
In developing the new exam, the College Board has removed many difficult vocabulary words, “concentrating much more on the basic skills, like being able to read a passage and understand what it’s about,” according to Parke P. Muth, a former associate dean of admissions and director of international admissions at the University of Virginia.
In a statement, Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 expressed his support for the changes.
“The College Board has done a great deal of research in constructing the new SAT in a way that will focus on aspects of English and mathematics and will be particularly important for successful college academic work and in the world beyond college,” he said.
The new SAT also features a revamped essay, which will require students to analyze documents the College Board deems historically influential, including “founding documents” such as the U.S. Constitution and the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. The new essay, unlike in previous iterations of the test, will be optional. Only a few colleges and universities, including Harvard, will require the essay component of the test.
“Because the previous writing test was one of many predictors of academic performance, we hope the new test may be helpful as well,” Fitzsimmons said. “We also believe that it is very important for Harvard to take part in this experiment given the importance we place on writing.”
Those arguments notwithstanding, Muth said the College Board has continued to receive criticism from those concerned that scores obtained on the new exam might be hard to compare with old results. Others, he said, fear that scores might go down across the board.
Mainiero suggested that much of the anxiety over the revised test may arise from the fact that there are only four publicly released practice tests for the new SAT.
“People feel safe when they have a whole repository of past tests and practice questions to go through tried-and-true strategies,” Mainiero said. “When people don’t have that kind of cushion to fall back on, they get kind of anxious.”