Published: July 31, 2015
By: Janice Greenwood
Many students in Alabama take the ACT, but depending on where your child desires to go to school, the SAT may also be a necessity.
Starting in spring 2016, the College Board will be redesigning the format of the SAT. Because many students elect to prepare for the SAT well in advance, students who will be taking the new test may wonder how best to prepare for the changes.
In addition to extracurricular activities, college admissions essays, and the rigor and selection of high school courses, SAT scores are an important aspect of a college admissions application. In A is for Admission, Michele A. Hernández , the former assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth College, writes that SAT scores can often be granted greater consideration than a high school transcript, particularly in cases where high schools do not release ranking data, or when students hail from smaller schools.
Hernández further explains that the SAT gives admissions officers a national standard by which to judge students. While an “A” in a school in Alabama might not mean the same as an “A” in a school in Florida, where standards may be different, a 2200 on the SAT means largely the same thing.
In the past, many students preparing for the English portion of the SAT memorized long lists of vocabulary words and took mock tests. A student’s vocabulary could make a huge difference on whether a student broke the 700 barrier. To this end, many students learned word roots and etymology. Popular test preparation books such as The Princeton Review and Barron’s included vocabulary lists of thousands of words.
So, how has the English test been changed? For one, students will no longer have to memorize long vocabulary lists. According to the College Board, vocabulary will still be tested, but starting in 2016, a student’s vocabulary will be assessed in the context of reading passages, rewarding students who are close readers, and who have the ability to understand complex sentences and texts from a variety of sources. Students may still choose to study word roots and etymologies, but being a skilled reader able to identify context clues will have more success on the 2016 SAT.
According to the College Board, students will also be required to provide support to substantiate their answers, meaning that the test will evaluate a student’s ability to read closely, gather evidence, and identify key points in a text. Students will be required to select a quotation from the passage that best supports answers to prior questions.
The College Board also announced that the SAT will also use founding documents, such as the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers. The inclusion of these texts takes out some of the guesswork about the kinds of passages that will be found on the test; it also gives students preparing for the test a clearer reading list to study.
So, what are the best ways to prepare for the English sections of the redesigned SAT? For one, the College Board encourages students who are taking the redesigned SAT to stop using flashcards to memorize esoteric words. Instead, students should focus their attention on becoming better close readers. One way students can prepare themselves is by reading the founding documents that will appear on the test and also to focus their attention on English classic literature. Students should also choose books that are appropriately challenging, with sufficiently new vocabulary that can allow them to challenge their reading for context skills.
When a student encounters unfamiliar words, he or she should use context clues, when possible, to make an educated guess about the meaning of an unfamiliar word. Afterward, the student should look up the word in the dictionary. One good way to build vocabulary organically is to keep a personal word journal in which new and unfamiliar words are recorded and defined. Over time, a student can build his or her vocabulary significantly using this method.
According to the popular guide, Admission Matters written by Sally P. Springer, Jon Raider and Joyce Vining Morgan, the SAT has received criticism for being culturally biased and a poor predictor of college success. In the document Test Specifications for the Redesigned SAT, the College Board explains that its primary motive for redesigning the SAT is to provide a test that can show how likely students are to succeed in college without the need of remedial help. The College Board’s redesign is motivated by the desire to make the test a better predictor of college success and a more valuable tool for admissions officers.
The redesign will change the way students study for the SAT, but good study and reading habits also go a long way. By reading challenging books, and by learning new words organically and through the use of context clues, students not only become better readers, but will also improve their SAT scores in the process.
Janice Greenwood is a freelance writer and private college admissions tutor. She graduated from Columbia University with an M.F.A. in creative writing.