Commentary

Soporific and Antiquated Test

During Extended Period Week last term, the College Board announced its redesigned Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). I, like many students in my grade, expressed an immediate reaction of anger and dismay when I learned that the changes, which include a now-optional essay section, the lifting of penalties for wrong answers and a shift in scoring from 2400 to 1600 points, will not be put in place until the spring of 2016, months after I will have to take the SAT. I later realized that it is not my inability to take the new SAT that is problematic to me. Rather, it is that I will have to take the SAT in its current outdated, ineffective format. The College Board’s website describes the current format of the SAT as a “college admission test that lets you show colleges what you know and how well you can apply that knowledge.” Unfortunately, this statement is untrue, as the current format of the SAT does not directly test the knowledge and skills that high school students learn, encouraging instead futile memorization, over understanding and problem-solving. According to the College Board website, the revisions aim to “focus on the knowledge and skills that […] are most essential for college and career readiness and success.” It is highly doubtful, however, that the recent changes will be able to fix any of the SAT’s issues by only changing the content. The test format needs to be completely revised as well to emphasize problem solving and learning, among other skills that are necessary in higher education and beyond. Otherwise, the SAT will remain just another test that discourages reasoning and learning, failing to provide much useful insight to its test-takers and the colleges they submit their SAT scores to. As it stands, the SAT constitutes only 18 percent of what it takes to succeed in school, according to Claude Steele, a professor of social psychology at Stanford University. In an interview with “Frontline PBS,” Steele said, “The SAT is not going to get you very far with predicting who’s going to do well in college.” This being said, if the SAT is not a strong indicator of future academic success, it does not fulfill its purpose. One of the causes of this disconnect between the SAT’s purpose and its performance is that, despite the changes, it does not correlate with what is taught in schools. As a result, colleges place school grades and class rigorousness at a much higher priority than test scores. The new SAT aims to address this gap by “testing students in a different way… It will be more geared towards what you are learning in class and how you are learning it,” said Sean Logan, Director of College Counseling at Andover, in an article published in last week’s issue of The Phillipian. Even with the SAT’s new revisions, the College Board fails to address the SAT’s fundamental flaw. The test’s multiple-choice format does not promote or measure any of the skills that students truly need in college or the workplace. In the real world, no one is measured by his or her ability to choose the “correct” answer when presented with five choices. Most occupations do not involve selecting the “right” answer from “wrong” answers that were purposely designed to deceive or intimidate the worker. The multiple-choice format also counteracts the College Board’s efforts to enhance the SAT’s content. In an interview with “CNN” last month, College Board President and CEO David Coleman said, “No longer will it be good enough to focus on tricks and [try] to eliminate answer choices. We are not interested in students just picking an answer, but justifying their answer.” While this is a goal that the College Board should definitely strive for, it will never be achieved with a multiple choice format. Students will always guess on multiple choice tests, and there is no way for students to “justify their answers” in such a format. Additionally, the removal of penalty points will only encourage more guessing. Instead, the reformed SAT should require students to solve problems, create solutions from given situations and justify their solutions. If they provide a solution that does not work or was not thorough enough, they should receive immediate feedback on why that answer was incorrect and what could be improved for the next time. Students should have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes instead of feeling discouraged when they receive scores on a test that they cannot even remember taking, let alone recall what they were thinking when they solved the problems. These reforms will not be easy, but the recently-announced revisions are indicative of increasing awareness of the SAT’s shortcomings. With a strong vision of what skills are truly necessary for future success and an upheaval of the multiple-choice format in exchange for one that will be able to measure students’ grasp of these skills, the College Board will be able to transform the SAT into a well thought-out, problem-solving-heavy and useful resource for students and colleges alike.