What You Need to Know About the Revised Scholastic Aptitude Test

Created in the 1920's, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) has been around for as long as most of us can remember and continues to be a significant benchmark used by America's best colleges and universities to select each year's incoming freshman class. The test's familiar format has spawned a variety of test preparation resources, from text and online references to tutorials and classroom courses. In 2005, however, the SAT received a dramatic makeover that changed its content, format, and scoring, requiring significant alterations in the way students prepare for the exam.

Here, we'll review a few critical elements of the new format, each essential to maximizing your test results on the SAT.

Why change a good thing?

The SAT has never been a static, unchangeable test. It has evolved to meet the educational standards of the best colleges and universities and to reflect the material emphasized by the majority of American high schools. The most recent revision prior to 2005 occurred in 1994, when antonym questions were removed, longer reading passages added, open-ended math questions added, and calculations permitted. The current changes were implemented to reflect the importance of clear and succinct writing not only as a skill to be used in college courses, but as one necessary for success in a wide range of careers.

What's new, what's gone, and what's changed?

Let's start with what's new--to better reflect the value of clear and effective writing, an essay has been added to the test as a separate section, distinct from the verbal and mathematical reasoning sections. Students are presented with a thesis, which they may defend or reject, and are asked to complete the essay in 25 minutes. Students are free to structure their writing in any style that best conveys their point (expository, compare and contrast, or other techniques). Students may draw on any and all areas of their knowledge and experience in completing the essay portion of the test.

Now, for what's gone--analogies have been eliminated from the test because it was determined that they did not adequately reflect today's high school curriculum. It was also felt that the analogies encouraged memorization of vocabulary rather than reasoning skills.

Other than these factors, what's changed? The math section has been expanded to embrace concepts covered by most high school "Algebra II" courses. Again, the change represents an attempt to keep the SAT in step with today's high school curriculum, and to emphasize the skills most desired by top colleges and universities.

How is the test scored?

The first thing most students notice is that the familiar 1600-point scale has been replaced by a new, 2400-point maximum. Verbal, math, and writing sections are each scored to a maximum of 800 points per section.

Because the essay is not as immediately quantifiable as the other elements, it is scored based on the complexity of the idea expressed, the thoroughness with which the ideas are supported and developed, and the writer's facility with language. While spelling and grammar are not directly tested, they do reflect each student's clarity of thought and do figure in the overall assessment of the essay section. Each essay is evaluated by two independent readers using a 6-point scale. Each reader is unaware of the other's scoring. In cases where the two readers' scores differ by more than one point, a scoring leader resolves the conflict. The essay is scored as one-third of the point value for the full writing section.

Making the most of the new format

There are still many ways to reinforce the fundamental areas addressed by the test, including basic mathematical formulas, principles, and relationships; vocabulary; and reading comprehension skills. As in earlier versions of the SAT, a wealth of test-prep materials are available, both in print and online. Find the ones that work best for the style in which you learn. While it may be more difficult to prepare for an unknown essay question, you can sharpen your critical thinking and writing skills through practice. For example, you could select a news story or topical issue from the media, and set a 25-minute time limit in which you address a specific viewpoint on the story. Then have a family member, teacher, or advisor critique the essay for clarity, effectiveness, and grammar. But as with any test, it is important to be relaxed, comfortable with the material, and well rested on test day.

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