Editor’s Note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter @kellywallacetv.
The new SAT debuted on Saturday for nearly 300,000 test-takers
Survey: Close to 60% said questions were straightforward
If you heard a mysterious sound last weekend, it was probably the collective exhale from nearly 300,000 students across the country, relieved to be finished with the SAT – a new version that had undergone its biggest changes in a decade, maybe ever.
The new SAT test, administered for the first time on Saturday, was designed to better reflect what students are learning in high school and will be required to learn in college, according to the College Board. The changes included eliminating the vocabulary section, making the essay optional, removing the penalty for guessing, and focusing on the areas of math that matter most for college readiness, the College Board said.
In advance of the exam, testing professionals and educators worried that it was more text-based and that more dense text in both the reading and math sections could end up hurting lower-income students and students who don’t speak English as a first language.
Judging by a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, one of the largest testing preparation services in the country, students encountered less trouble than they expected.
Nearly 60% of students said the questions were straightforward and easy to follow, according to an email survey of more than 500 teens who took the new SAT. (Three hundred of the teens are enrolled in Kaplan Test Prep and 200 are not, according to Kaplan.) About half, 48%, said the test was about what they expected, 30% felt the test was more difficult than expected and 22% felt it was less difficult than they expected, the survey found.
Fifty-eight percent of the students said they found the length of the sections tiring, according to the survey. The College Board, in its own online survey of more than 8,000 students who took the test, said that students, by “a 6 to 1 margin,” preferred the format of the new SAT over the previous version of the exam.
Forty-one percent felt the math section was more difficult than expected, according to the Kaplan survey. However, students did not seem wildly affected by not being able to use a calculator throughout the entire math section. (They can now use a calculator in only some sections of the math exam.) Fifty-six percent said they felt comfortable answering the math questions without a calculator, according to the survey.
When asked if the new SAT reflected what they have learned in high school, 16% answered “very much so,” while 56% responded “somewhat,” 23% said “not too much” and 5% responded “not at all.”
In the College Board survey, 71% said the test reflected what they were learning in school, and 75% said the reading section was the same as or easier than expected. Eighty percent said the vocabulary words used on the test would be useful to them later in life, as compared to 55% who answered that way about last year’s exam, the survey found.
Students may also may be hedging their bets by also taking the other college admissions exam, the ACT, the Kaplan survey found. Fifty-six percent of students taking the new SAT had either already taken the ACT or were planning to do so, while an additional 17% of students surveyed who had not previously planned to take the ACT said they were reconsidering that decision after taking the new SAT.
“An ongoing trend we’ve seen throughout the past few admissions cycles is the shift towards a two-test landscape, and what’s interesting is that even as some of the changes to the SAT make it more ACT-like, more students are taking both tests or considering the ACT option,” said Lee Weiss, vice president of college admissions programs for Kaplan Test Prep, in a news release.
“Students have been recognizing that they have more than one test option, and the shake-up caused by the SAT redesign has furthered this recognition,” he added.
Reaction on social media to the new exam was definitely mixed, with tweets ranging from “May have some hindsight bias, but that SAT killed my Saturday” to another thanking the College Board and Khan Academy, which offered free test prep to students, saying, “My guy felt ready & familiar w/ #newSAT - looking forward to May 10 scores!”
James Murphy, director of tutoring for the The Princeton Review in New England, is a freelance writer who has written critically about the new SAT and the College Board in The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He remains unconvinced the new exam is going to benefit students.
“It’s hard to take the survey questions seriously without seeing them,” said Murphy via email. “It is difficult not to suspect bias of a survey that has teenagers praising an exam.”
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Murphy questions what has really changed on the test, since reading comprehension remains a major component and the writing section still tests grammar, although in a new format. The math tests less geometry, and the reading tests less vocabulary, he said. “So is that what this comes down to? That’s how the test is more like school? I remain dubious (SAT word!!!!).”
Do you know anyone who took the new SAT? What did they think? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.