This past March, the College Board announced plans to release a new SAT in the spring of 2016. Details about the impending changes are being released in stages; however one of the most notable changes since the initial announcement has been to the writing portion of the exam.
While writing and reading are currently separate components of the SAT, they will be combined in a ‘verbal’ section on the new exam. At present, the essay portion of the writing section counts for 30% of the overall writing score. On the revised SAT, the essay score will be reported separately, using a 2-12 scale.
The essay on the new SAT will be labeled as “optional,” meaning that students are not required to complete the essay portion of the exam. This is similar to the current version of the ACT exam, with the essay also considered optional. However, this is a bit misleading, since nearly all of the more selective colleges in the country require ACT test takers to submit an essay score. We expect that many colleges will regard the “optional” essay on the SAT in a similar fashion.
On the current version of the SAT, students are asked to offer an argument in response to a statement. The standard instructions are to “discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree” with the prompt. Essay graders have been instructed not to take into account whether the evidence students provide to support their arguments is factually accurate. It has also been demonstrated that longer essays are correlated with higher scores. Accordingly, many students have adopted a “kitchen sink” approach to the essay, tossing in as many details as they can think of, regardless of the appropriateness of this evidence.
The new SAT essay is intended to end this practice and to focus more on a student’s reasoning and analytical skills. Students will be provided with an argument that they will need to analyze with respect to the quality of the reasoning displayed. For example, students will be asked to identify an argument’s underlying assumptions or to discuss what kind of evidence might strengthen or weaken the logic of the argument.
Student responses on the new essay portion of the exam will be evaluated for both clarity of communication and demonstration of critical thinking skills. In recognition of the increased complexity of the new essay task, students will be given 50 minutes to complete this portion of the SAT, which is double the amount of time allotted on the current exam.
For more information about changes to the SAT, Sandweiss Test Prep released a video explaining the most notable differences.
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Featured photo from Pixabay.com.