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Survey: Admissions Officers and High School Students Differ in Support for 2016 SAT Changes

In March the College Board announced major revisions to its SAT exam, changes that would be introduced to high schoolers who belong to the class of 2017. Among the redesigns to the college entrance exam are a return to the 1,600-point scale vs. the 2,400-point scale in place now; the ability for students to take the exam on a computer or in print, as it is now; and a restructuring of the duration and focus of the tests, such as the introduction of "evidence-based reading and writing."

Kaplan Test Prep, which is a major provider of test preparation products for that exam as well as others, recently asked college admissions officers and high school students what they thought of the upcoming changes. The company found that admissions officers were generally more supportive of the modifications than the students, and the difference of opinion surfaced in several areas. Overall, 79 percent of admissions officers support the SAT changes; that's an increase from last year when the count was 72 percent.

While 82 percent of college admissions respondents support allowing students the option of taking the SAT on a computer, only 36 percent of students surveyed support a computer-based SAT. Among student concerns: that there could be technical difficulties and that they won't be able to do "scratch work" on math problems if they're using the computer.

In another change, math will consist of a 55-minute segment that can be solved with a calculator and a 25-minute segment that must be done without a calculator. While 71 percent of admissions officers said they support inclusion of math problems that must be solved without the use of a calculator, that approach is less popular with students; only 47 percent of students said they support the revision.

Two-thirds of admissions officers surveyed said they support making the essay optional in the SAT, as it is now; a slight majority (51 percent) of students said they concur. That said, 73 percent of admissions officers reported that they don't plan to require applicants to submit the essay. (That essay portion was added to the test in 2005, which bumped up the scoring scale from 1,600 to 2,400; the loss of the essay requirement will knock the scoring back to 1,600.)

Admissions officers and students said they agree on the elimination of the "wrong answer penalty." Currently, student scores are dinged a quarter point for every wrong answer submitted. Seven out of 10 in both groups told researchers they support this change.

Of all the changes coming in the SAT, the one that most resonates for surveyed students is the dumping of fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions. Eighty-five percent of students said they favor its elimination, as did 88 percent of admissions officers.

Kaplan's executive director of K-12 and college prep programs, Christine Brown, has some advice for students who are wary of the coming changes: "The best thing students can do, no matter which test they plan to take, is to practice in a realistic setting," she said. "Practice boosts confidence on test day, which is key to scoring well. For those who are particularly anxious about taking a new test, there's always the option of taking the ACT, which is equally accepted by colleges." As she noted, the ACT, will also be changing, "but not dramatically."

The survey queried 403 admissions officers from United States colleges and universities, and separately polled 684 students who took a Kaplan SAT course.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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