On October 14, 2016 students got their first peek at the updated PSAT. In March the College Board will roll out the first version of the newly formatted SAT. The good news perhaps is that an informal survey of student’s reaction seems to allay the fears of parents and students. Most students reported that it was not as bad as they expected. All the students noted that they were pleased the vocabulary section was updated. They also all acknowledged that there were questions on the math sections that presented a challenge however, not beyond what they had expected. Although this initial reaction is encouraging, until students get their scores back, the jury is still out on the overall perception of the newly formatted test.
Perhaps the most important information test takers and their parents seek however, is how best to prepare for the test. It is no secret that test prep is a multi-billion dollar industry. In explaining the rationale for the updated format of the exam, College Board has acknowledged concern that affluent test-takers may have an edge on lower-income students. In response they have by partnered with the Khan Academy to provide free test preparation services to all students.
Interestingly but perhaps not surprising, many of test prep services are recommending that students forgo taking the new version of the SAT and take the ACT instead. Perhaps in a couple of years when they have all had the opportunity to ‘learn’ how to best teach the newly formatted test, they will change their tune. In recent years the number of students taking the ACT has surpassed those taking the SAT. Many students sight that the ACT seems more relevant to what they are learning in school. According to the College Board in fact, one major reason for the SAT redesign was to make it more aligned with in class academic learning instead of aptitude as it was in the past. The name of the test was changed in 2005 after an initial overhaul of the exam was undertaken in order to shift the focus of the exam. Specifically the writing section was added and the scoring scale changed to 2400. The College Board has since acknowledged that this revision was unsuccessful, hence the latest version is in contrast to the last attempt as it includes some seemingly significant changes. The SAT which previously stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test before 2005 was renamed: Scholastic Assessment Test.
The biggest concern for students and parents of course how best to prepare for the updated exam. While some students may take the advice of the test prep services and avoid it at all costs, it is clear that a significant number of students will indeed sit for the college entrance exam.
What follows are a few hints on how to start the test prep process.
Create a test-prep time line that suites the individual student
Students learn at different rates. If your student is particularly prone to test anxiety, earlier exposure to the test can be helpful. It is important however to strike the balance between plenty of time and not enough. If a student starts prep too early it can feel overwhelming and actually result in pre-test burn-out. Sit-down with your student and actually create a task time-line. Most experts agree that a good way to gauge study start time is by taking a practice exam. As a general rule students should wait until the summer after their sophomore year of high school to take a full-length practice exam. The study time-line should be somewhat dependent on the score achieved from the practice exam. Students scoring particularly high can hold off while those needing more work should shoot for the last of month of summer to start studying.
Establish a study strategy
Once you figure out how long you will need to study, it is time to focus on the most effective format. There are an array of options out there. Choosing the right approach can create quite a challenge. Options range from individual tutors to group classes both on-line and in person. Students should consider both the option that fits best into their schedule as well as the option that best matched their learning style.
Study what you don’t know first and last
The recency effect dictates that people tend to remember best what they learn last and first. This principle should guide a student’s approach to studying. Students are best served the area they feel least comfortable with first and last. They should review and study the areas the feel more comfortable with in the middle.
Set aside time to take practice tests
The more comfortable a student feels with the type of questions being asked, the greater their performance on these questions. Although there is less opportunity to practice answering test questions on the new version of the SAT, students should be sure to repeatedly review the material that is available.
Preparing for college entrance exams can certainly feel like a cumbersome chore. The revision of the SAT can make the task feel all the more daunting. The College Board has assured students that the new version of the test is more applicable to the academic information and skills they are currently acquiring in the classroom. Students who take a step-wise approach to studying for the exam can at least feel confident that they are well prepared to take on the challenges that the new version is sure to present.