SAT: Basic Information and Helpful Preparation Resources
SAT is one of the most popular standardized tests used to evaluate high school graduates that apply to US colleges. The test is owned and developed by a private not-for-profit US organization - the College Board and it is administered both in the US and abroad. In 2018, about 2 million students took the SAT– most 4 year colleges require their applicants to submit an SAT result. Besides the common SATs, 20 SAT Subject Tests fall into the following general categories: math, history, English, languages, and science.
The test is important because it assesses core abilities describing student preparedness for college and consequently, helps decide which candidates to favor during admission. Such key abilities include reading and understanding the material and correctly interpreting evidence, understanding the language in context and properly applying it, analyzing and evaluating visual, textual, and numeric data, reasoning logically, making calculations, etc.
Recent SAT Changes
To prioritize complex logical reasoning and analysis skills over test-taking skills, the test is back to its traditional two-part format. Unlike the two mandatory sections (3 hours to complete), the essay section (50 minutes) would be optional. Both concepts and vocabulary are being tested increasingly in context rather than as isolated elements.
The reading section can now contain questions that build on other questions but also data analysis questions, which is a reflection of a greater focus on reasoning abilities and analytical skills. The proportion of geometrical and abstract questions got reduced leaving place for more practical problem solving, graph interpretation, and data analysis.
Importantly, the number of options to choose from in multiple-choice questions was reduced from 5 to 4, which means greater chances of picking the right answer. In the same context, the penalty for wrong answers (0.25 points) has been eliminated, so there is no more need to leave questions blank. The score range and the total number of questions also changed.
Along with the changes to the test format itself, there are also updates to the adversity index proposed by the College Board recently. While the adversity score was proposed to combine data about a student’s neighborhood and school into a single figure, the new system called Landscape uses separate figures for both. Not only colleges but also students would be able to check these scores. While these changes are intended to better reflect the struggles faced by disadvantaged students, this system still faces criticism and skepticism. Thus, there is a certain level of support for the new system among admission directors, but many more are still hesitant about using it.
Online SAT and How it Works
The SAT is also available online, although, to date, only a couple thousand students take the online SAT yearly compared to the 2 million who take the traditional version. Nevertheless, this is likely to become the norm very soon as it happened with other tests, such as the TOEFL.
The online SAT has the same structure, number of questions, allotted time, and even the same fees as the paper-based test – the only key difference is the interface. Completed tests are sent for evaluation via the Internet directly to the College Board. Importantly, online tests would enable the paradigm of adaptive test-taking - adjusting the difficulty of each next question based on how correct the provided answers are.
This part provides a series of 5 passages and 52 multiple choice questions based on them, which have to be answered within 65 minutes. Passages fall into the following categories: the US or world literature (both classical and modern); the US founding documents or texts from the Great Global Conversation; social sciences, for instance, psychology, sociology, economics; and natural or life sciences.
Questions test understanding of word meaning in context, the use of rhetorical devices. They require to locate/ cite evidence of interest in the passage and to explain how the evidence is used to support arguments or claims. They also ask to interpret, analyze, and synthesize key ideas or data presented in the passage or as part of the questions. Examples of questions could be choosing the correct or closest meaning of the word “intense” given the context of a passage, or picking which claim from the multiple-choice list is supported by a specific paragraph.