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New SAT Format Poses Challenges for Students and College Admission Process

It’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, and a group of a dozen students are gathered in a cafeteria turned classroom at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center in the Bronx.

The school day has long ended for the students, but learning has not.

At KHCC, a community center that offers after school programs for the youth, these high school juniors are taking part in their weekly SAT classes in preparation for the massive test on May 7 that all high school students in the country with college aspirations are required to take.

Only now, this vital test will be different.

The College Board, the private nonprofit corporation responsible for administering the SAT has implemented new changes to the test that have altered the way SAT prep classes are taught, and how some colleges prioritize the test.

“It’s been a challenge to try and figure out how to bridge what I used to do and trying to figure out how I teach this new stuff that they don’t necessarily all know,” Marlene Delgado, college success counselor at KHCC says.

Among the changes to the test: the new SAT will no longer penalize students for answering questions wrong; the essay will be optional; the test will be three hours instead of three hours and 45 minutes; the math section will contain more algebra and data analysis questions instead of geometry questions; the critical reading and writing sections will be consolidated into an evidence-based reading and writing section; and the score will range from 400 to 1600 and not 600 to 2400 as it used to be.

The adjusting of the SAT has been known since March 5, 2014, when the College Board announced its plan to change the exam, but for Delgado and J.C. Soto, who teach SAT prep at KHCC, they have had to modify how they prepare their students for the test.

With no prior exams as examples to base their preparation on, both have resorted to tips and practice questions from the College Board website.

And while the changes have caused some grief for those preparing students to take the test, some believe the alterations have been made with the students’ success in mind.

“Anything that makes the test more fair and equitable to more students I’m in favor of,” Caitlin Read, executive director of admissions and enrollment operations at Manhattan College says. “I think if this will be more closely tied to what students are learning in school and to their socio or cultural backgrounds, to have that factor more heavily, to represent better the demographics of students who are college bound, I think that’s a good thing.

“Obviously with a new test there are definitely things that come with it,” Read says. “Adjusting to receiving new scores, and comparing new scores to old scores, I think those will be bumps in the road. But ultimately I think that the College Board is moving in the right direction towards addressing some of the criticism that they’ve received and making the test more representative of a student’s ability to do well in college, and that’s really what we use the test for to kind of gauge can a student be successful in college.”

For Kevin Balkaran, a 16-year-old junior in the SAT prep classes at KHCC who took the PSAT under the old format last year, the changes will be beneficial.

“I think it’s going to be easier because you can’t really lose points for getting something wrong,” Balkaran says, “and if you guess on everything that you don’t know, you have more of a chance to get more points, rather than losing.”

However, with the changes comes the possibility of students scoring lower on the test, due to the lack of prep under the new format of the test. With not much to base the prep on, Delgado fears the first year of the new SAT will serve as a trial run.

“Normally when a test like this changes the kids always do worse,” Delgado says. “At first just because it’s not what they’ve been practicing all these years. … Most of these kids, their PSAT’s wasn’t even this test so they haven’t seen it before until now.”

The possibility of lower scores is a legitimate concern, and at Manhattan College, Read and the admissions team are well aware. But they will continue to view the SAT as part of the entire college application process, not the most important aspect.

“We don’t see the SAT as the be-all end-all of the admissions process,” Read says. “We take a holistic approach, so we look at the SAT in conjunction with a lot of other factors. We truly feel that a student’s academic transcript is the best representation of their ability as a student. … It will in no way negatively impact our applicants.”

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