Change spawns anxiety, partial truths, and myths about what’s coming next.
And when change occurs on a college admissions exam such as the redesigned SAT coming in March 2016, those myths can lead to decisions that are expensive for parents and stress inducing for students.
From what I've heard so far in the public rhetoric, most experts are either praising the new exam fervently or denouncing it fully.
Some of us, though, are taking the middle road of "let's wait and see."
Even though we have some published materials from the official test maker and an estimated curve, we don't have hard facts from real test days. Until I've taken the test in the real testing room and know that the test matches the practice materials that College Board has provided so far, I don't feel comfortable teaching this new exam to students.
I'm advising students to take the ACT instead. It's a known exam with tried and true techniques to help students maximize their scores.
This means that most juniors (Class of 2017) should take the ACTinstead of the new SAT to avoid the stress of the unknown.
If juniors want to give the new SAT a shot, I'd advise them to focus on the ACT in their junior year and plan to take the new SAT in the fall of 2016. This gives College Board time to work out the inevitable kinks and allows us test prep teachers to know with more certainty what to expect from the new exam.
But for starters, here are five myths about the new SAT and how to navigate them:
Myth No. 1: Because there’s no penalty for guessing, the new 1600 SAT will be easier than the current 2400 SAT.
The guessing penalty on the current SAT, while seemingly devious, serves a helpful purpose. It forces students to slow down and focus on their accuracy.
Removing the guessing penalty will significantly change the dynamic of the new exam and the mentality of students on test day.
With nothing at stake for wrong answers, students begin to guess wildly and focus on finishing a section rather than focusing on the correct answers they need to achieve their target scores.
Bottom Line: This change won't make the test easier. Students will still need to focus on accuracy over speed to improve their overall scores.
Myth No. 2: You won't have to study vocabulary.
While it's true that the so-called "SAT Words" - arcane, abstruse, esoteric language no longer used in everyday writing - are being removed from the new SAT, in their stead we will be getting words more familiar to students.
However, there's a catch! (There always is!)
The answers hinge on the secondary or tertiary definitions of seemingly common words.
For instance, there is a question in the New SAT Blue Book that asks how “embraced” is used in the context of a specific sentence. The answer choices are “lovingly held,” “readily adopted,” “eagerly hugged,” and “reluctantly used.”
Without context, students might make a case for the first three of those answer choices. Or, perhaps, they only know the word embraced to mean "hug" and would eliminate the second choice as well.
While, ultimately, the contextual sense of the word will help you, the words themselves can't really be studied even though the new SAT does include in a few mid-level "SAT Words" such as “ambivalent.”
Bottom Line: College Board seems to be encouraging students to learn the skill of contextual discernment rather than building their vocabularies. This is an important skill; however, students who have stronger vocabulary and better reading skills will have a distinct advantage over students who don't. This is true on the current SAT and will hold true on the new SAT as well.
Myth No. 3: An optional essay means students won't have to write.
I already have to dispel this myth around the ACT's optional essay, and my answer for that exam is the same as my answer for this one.
An "optional" essay is a bit of a misnomer. The essay is optional only in that a college has the option of requiring it as a part of its admissions process.
Said another way, it's optional for colleges to require it, not for students to take it if it's required.
Most students don't have fully finalized college lists at the beginning of their junior year when they are beginning to prepare for and take these exams. That means that students should cover their bases by taking the essay.
Bottom Line: Take the essay to ensure that all of your SAT scores will be accepted when you apply to colleges.
Myth No. 4: The new SAT includes statistics so you should take statistics not precalculus.
This myth is dangerous because, arguably, precalculus is the more challenging of the two classes. If you are capable of taking precalculus, I would not change course simply because there are a few statistics questions on the new SAT. There are precalculus questions on the new SAT, too!
Even though I am a test prep teacher, I don't believe in teaching to tests at school. Students are at school to learn - to push themselves academically and to expand their minds.
Limiting that opportunity in any way for the sake of a standardized test is a mistake.
Now, if you're not prepared to take precalculus and statistics is a good option for you, by all means, take stats. But don't take it because of the new SAT. Take it because it is the best fit for you academically.
Bottom Line: Don't alter your education to fit a standardized exam. Challenge yourself in school and, when the time comes to test, a prep course can give you the additional skills and strategies you need to tackle that exam.
Myth No. 5: The new SAT is an easy test and everyone will do well! Yay!
I hate to rain on the parade here, but this is just not true. The new SAT will be different than the current SAT. In fact, it looks a little bit like an ACT. That doesn't make it easier or harder; it just makes it a different exam.
In fact, there are some elements of the new SAT that I think will make it more challenging, such as the math section (no calculators allowed!), the new essay, and the reading section questions on data analysis.
Bottom Line: The new SAT isn't an easier exam or a harder exam than the current SAT or ACT. It's simply different.