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Is the new SAT geared to mimic the ACT?

The College Board recently released draft questions illustrating the scope of the SAT’s first redesign since 2005. The new model, to be implemented in 2016, aims to demonstrate students’ mastery of concepts taught in high school rather than measuring skills and words they might rarely or never use in real life.

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The SAT has been losing market share to competitor ACT Inc. since adding the mandatory essay in 2005 and changing its scoring scale from 1,600 to 2,400. In its overhaul, the essay is being dropped, the scoring will return to 1,600 and students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers.

“This will be the first admission exam that requires students to cite evidence in support of their understanding of texts in both reading and writing,” College Board President David Coleman and Chief of Assessment Cynthia Schmeiser wrote in a letter accompanying the examples.

Under the reading portion of the new test, students will be asked to analyze relevant words in context.Current and previous tests have been sharply criticized for the use of esoteric vocabulary that a typical 17-year-old test-taker would not use and acquired only through memorization. Word choices from practice tests on the New York-based College Board’s website include sagacious, trenchant and raconteur.

An example from the redesigned test would have students reading the following passage: “The coming decades will likely see more intense clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions. Some regions could end up bloated beyond the capacity of their infrastructure, while others struggle, their promise stymied by inadequate human or other resources.”

Students would then need to choose what the word intense most closely means: A) emotional, B) concentrated, C) brilliant, or D) determined. The only correct answer is B.

The math section of the redesigned SAT will measure problem-solving and data analysis, including use of ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. A sample questions shows how students would demonstrate understanding of a scatterplot chart of a real-world situation and draw information from it.

With the new test, math will count for half the score as opposed to only a third in the current test. It will no longer allow students to use calculators for part of the math test – a huge disadvantage for students who are dependent on calculators for even the most basic of arithmetic skills.

The test will also promote what it refers to as founding documents, texts relevant to U.S. history or to “global conversations,” such as a 1974 speech delivered by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan during impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon, or President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“The Board is making a genuine effort to improve the test in the sense of making it more relevant to college work,” said Robert Sternburg, a psychologist and professor at Cornell University who has studied entrance exams. “To the extent one wishes to predict freshman-year grades, it probably won’t make much difference because the SAT, ACT and all similar tests are really largely tests of general intelligence.”

Sternburg also said he would like to see testing companies measure skills such as creative thinking, practical thinking or ethical reasoning.

The SAT lost ground to the ACT Inc. for the first time last year in the number of test takers. ACT reported 1.8 million students in the class of 2013 took the test, an 8% increase from 2012, and topping the 1.66 million students who took the SAT.

The ACT already has an optional essay and does not penalize for guessing.

“We see where they are headed, and those are features very much associated with the ACT, said Paul Weeks, ACT’s vice president of customer engagement. “We will let people draw their own conclusions.

Acknowledging that the revised test is likely to cause anxiety for families, the College Board will give students and test-prep providers a full two years to prepare for the changes. It will also provide free test prep to all students through the Kahn Academy. Students will begin taking the new test in the spring of 2016.

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