New SAT Scores: Not as Simple as We Thought

Converting scores from the old SAT (out of 2400) to the new SAT (out of 1600) should be easy, right? The old SAT had 3 sections--each out of 800 points--and the new one has 2 sections--each out of 800 points. So multiply your old score by 2/3 and you get your new score. A 1500 on the old SAT would be a 1000 on the new SAT. A 1200 on the new SAT equates to an 1800 on the old SAT. Right? Isn’t this the way it should work?

WRONG, says the College Board. Yesterday, May 10th, they released a series of complicated concordance tables. The tables show, essentially, that higher scores are the new normal. The 1800 on the old SAT that we thought would be equivalent to a new SAT score of 1200? Actually equivalent to a 1290. The 1500 on the old SAT that we thought would be equivalent to a new SAT score of 1000? Actually equivalent to a 1090.

So what are the key takeaways here? First, don’t think comparing old and new SAT scores is as simple as multiplying by 2/3 (or 3/2). Make sure to consult a concordance chart. I’ve created a simplified version, which I’ve printed below and which is always available at PremierEdgePrep.com/resources. Also be careful when converting ACT scores to new SAT scores--make sure you are using an up-to-date concordance chart that reflects the College Board’s new scales. Second, if you’re a junior taking the new SAT or a sophomore beginning to prepare for it, don’t get too excited by what seems like a high score. Unfortunately, it’s not worth as much as it used to be.

 

Why the New SAT Could Be a Disaster--for Students and the College Board

Whenever my students (or their parents) complain about the necessity of the SAT, I give them this example: Suppose the SAT and ACT didn’t exist. Two students apply to the same college. Student 1 was a successful student (A’s and B’s, some honors/AP classes, some activities and leadership experience) at the most difficult private school in the area. Student 2 attended a tiny high school in the middle of nowhere that had few offerings--no honors classes, no guidance counselors, few activities. Student 2 had perfect grades, but no one from Student 2’s high school had ever applied to this college before. How does the college compare Student 1 with Student 2? How might Student 1 have done at Student 2's high school? Or vice versa? Will Student 2 be able to handle the rigor of classes at the college? If only there were some standardized way of comparing the two students… Perhaps a test that measured the critical reasoning abilities and basic English and math skills needed to succeed in a college classroom?

The SAT does a beautiful job of helping colleges compare students across schools. It does help predict first year college GPA, as well as 4th year GPA and future income. It is as consistent and fair as any standardized test out there, and the rigor that goes into each question is well-documented.

As most everyone has heard by now, the College Board is rolling out a new SAT in 2016. The primary motive behind the impending change is to address claims that the SAT can be “gamed” or “beaten” through test-prep techniques. The College Board wants to make a test that is fairer and more open, one that gives students from all walks of life an equal opportunity to succeed. Given the changes that have been announced, I suspect the new SAT may end up doing the exact opposite.

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Major Changes to the SAT Announced

On Wednesday (March 5th), the College Board announced a major overhaul and redesign of the SAT. While my predictions that the new SAT would eliminate difficult vocabulary and include a document-based essay were correct, the College Board went much further. The new test, effective starting in the spring of 2016, goes back to the 1600 scale and includes a number of sweeping changes.

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Should I Guess on the SAT?

In my first SAT tutoring session with a new student, I always ask two questions:

  1. What do you know about the SAT "guessing penalty"?
  2. Should you guess on the SAT?

The range of answers that I receive is wider than a California freeway. There are a lot of conceptions--most of them misconceptions--out there about guessing on the SAT. So what's the deal? How does the SAT scoring system work? And as a student taking the test, how does that affect you? Should you never guess? Should you always guess, even if that means just filling in a random bubble?

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DON'T Go to the Best School You Get Into? Really?

“When it comes to choosing your undergraduate institution, you should never go to the best institution you get into. Never. Go to your second or your third choice. Go to the place where you’re guaranteed to be in the top part of your class.”

 

In the video above, Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of The Tipping Point and Outliers, argues that it is irrational for students to choose to attend elite universities rather than less elite ones. Gladwell attributes the choice of most students to attend the best college possible to something he calls Elite Institution Cognitive Disorder: “When we have an opportunity to join elite institutions, we are so enormously flattered and pleased with ourselves that we do things that are irrational.”

But even if there are psychological factors affecting what universities students choose, what exactly makes it irrational to choose the most elite one?

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More Info on Changes to the SAT

Latest Info

David Coleman, the President of the College Board, spoke this week at a conference for college admissions counselors, where he reinforced and expounded on the changes that will be coming to the SAT.

Coleman first announced changes to the SAT in February, saying that the SAT should become more aligned with common core standards in order to do a better job testing content that students learn in school. While his announcement was short on specifics, Coleman had previously identified the essay and the SAT's arcane vocabulary as the targets most ripe for change. 

At the NACAC conference in Toronto, Coleman gave us further reason to suspect changes will come mostly to the essay and vocabulary. See the article at InsideHigherEd.com for the most detailed report on Coleman's remarks.

Analysis

Essay

The essay section of the SAT will probably not go away; it will simply change its form. We're more likely to see something like the DBQs found on the AP U.S. History exam or the Analyze an Argument writing prompts found on the GRE.

Personally, I welcome the change. The essay is my least favorite section of the SAT to prepare students for. I've seen that SAT math tutoring often increases students' overall math intuition and reasoning, that SAT reading tutoring often increases students' ability to comprehend and analyze complex texts, and that SAT grammar tutoring often increases students' grammar fundamentals, but I almost never find that SAT essay tutoring increases their writing ability. Teaching the SAT essay involves teaching a bland formula, as well as encouraging unsavory yet effective tactics like using canned examples and blatantly false evidence.

I have no doubt that a more analytical or responsive essay prompt, such as the one found on the GRE, would be just as coachable, if not more so, than the current SAT essay. After all, if a typical high school English curriculum prepares students well for any type of writing (excluding creative), it would be the type of short persuasive writing currently tested on the SAT. Analytical prompts, meanwhile, would be just as easy to beat through sound strategy, yet learning the strategies to do so would be more likely to improve students' overall writing skills. I, for one, eagerly anticipate a new and revised SAT essay.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary is the other aspect of the SAT that Coleman has singled out as an area for change. I feel ambivalent about changes to the difficulty level of SAT vocabulary. On the one hand, the vocabulary on the SAT rewards students who spent their childhoods as active readers, steadily mastering the complexities of the English language. The SAT also consists largely of words that students will see often in college level texts and well-regarded news publications. On the other hand, I do think the SAT goes a little too far with some of the more difficult words. I'm a huge proponent of expecting high school students to know words like ambiguous and capricious and to figure out words like irreverent and inscrutable, but it is a little absurd to expect 16 and 17 year olds to define words like treacly, perfidy, and diaphanous. I hope that the SAT maintains the basic structure of sentence completion questions--which are fantastic for testing students' ability to recognize and utilize context clues--while only altering the difficulty level of the vocabulary.

I'll be sure to provide info and analysis as further information is released regarding changes to the SAT.

 

Where Should You Take the SAT?

 Today, September 6th, is the deadline to register for the October 2013 SAT. If you waited until today (or wait until the late registration deadline on 9/23) to sign up, you will probably not have too many options for a testing location. However, students who sign up early usually have the option of taking the SAT at their own high school or at a different school nearby. This begs the question, should you take the SAT at your school or at a different school?

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Should You Take the ACT Instead of the SAT?

I frequently find myself helping students choose between the SAT and the ACT (or both), and I am often astonished at the sheer quantity of misinformation out there.  The most common piece of misinformation is that colleges prefer one test to the other.  This is blatantly false.  All 4-year U.S. colleges accept and give equal consideration to both tests.

While the SAT vs. ACT topic is far from uncharted territory--just try googling “SAT vs. ACT”--most articles on the topic dwell on structural differences between the tests, such as length of sections, math content, and the ACT Science section.  Yet, high school students and their parents tend to have little inherent interest in these structural characteristics.  The question that students (and presumably, if you’re reading this article, you) really want answered is “Which test is better for me?”

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Welcome

Welcome to the Premier Edge blog! On the blog, I intend to post full-length articles (starting with one about when to choose the ACT over the SAT), commentary on new developments in the education world, and short test prep tips.

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