New Castle News


March 7, 2014

Our Opinion: College admission test undergoes real-world changes

NEW CASTLE — In the realm of education, the Scholastic Aptitude Test has something of a make-or-break reputation.

That’s because a student’s SAT results — or those of its counterpart, the ACT — are a major factor in the admissions decisions by colleges. While grades, interests and other concerns are part of the mix, we think it’s safe to say that for many students, the SAT may be the most important test they ever take.

So when the College Board, the organization that oversees and produces the SAT, announces major changes to the test, people take notice. And so it was this week, when the latest revisions to the college entrance exam were outlined.

Perhaps most significant was the revelation that the essay portion of the SAT will now be optional. Another major shift will be the fact wrong answers on the test won’t result in the taking away of points on the overall score.

But there is much more to the SAT revisions, and most appear to be designed to have the test measure skills and abilities that count in the real world. For instance, in the vocabulary section, outdated terms — such as “prevaricator” and “sagacious” — will no longer be on the test. Instead, students will see words they are more likely to encounter, including “synthesis” and “empirical.”

We suppose that sort of change makes sense, just so long as “twerking” and “photobomb” don’t show up on the SAT.

On the math portion of the new SAT, students will be able to use calculators on only some sections. And again, the focus of the test is being reshaped so students will be measured in math areas they are most likely to encounter in the real world or future workplaces.

In short, the goal of the revamped SAT is to make it more practical and the results more applicable to what young people will encounter in their lives. We’ll buy that.

But we’re not so sure about the optional essay aspect of the SAT test. Supposedly this was done to reduce stress on at least some test takers, but life itself can be stressful. Forming thoughts and ideas in a coherent fashion is an important aspect of success. Students should be prepared to do this and be tested on it.

And then there are the calculators. We understand these devices are readily within reach of anyone with a computer in the workplace, home or classroom. In a real-world setting, people will resort to calculators to perform all sorts of math tasks. So why shouldn’t the SAT be any different?

Well, tests are supposed to gauge whether students understand what they are doing, and not just punching keys. That’s why many math tests want to see the work used to get results.

That may not be what happens in the real world, but it’s a good way to prepare for it.

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