Fortunately, the change is actually great news for parents and students, even if the College Board is making it for all the wrong reasons. To understand why this is all happening, you'll first need:
A Brief History of the SAT's Changes:
In 2005, the SAT switched from a two-section, 1600-point test to a three-section, 2400-point test. They added an extra "Writing" section, worth 800 points, which tested the proper usage of English grammar, and added an essay to gauge student writing skills. They also did away with analogies, which were thought to be "pure vocabulary" and put less privileged students at a distinct disadvantage.
One small problem: the entire enterprise fell flat. The new writing section is a joke. Very few colleges take it seriously, almost no one cares about or even reads the essay, and colleges often release score expectations only for the Reading and Math sections. They pretty much act as if the new test was never released in the first place. The Writing section is "icing on the cake" - it's great if you have high scores, but high scores in Writing, without high scores in Math and Reading, won't get you admitted.
Another small problem: analogies weren't the issue. The issue is SAT vocabulary in general, which tests words like "expectorate," cantankerous," etc. - obscure vocabulary words that are nice to know, but not particularly indicative of a student's abilities or intelligence - just indicative of whether or not he can afford a tutor or has been read to a lot as a child. Everyone shares their frustrations about these vocabulary requirements, and recognizes how pointless they are.
Also a problem: the College Board lost the confidence of a lot of parents. How could a test that everyone has taken for decades suddenly change its entire scoring system? Parents used to the 1600-point scale suddenly had no idea what the new scores meant. A test that many felt was an "IQ test," and that was scientifically formulated for optimal student evaluation, suddenly made a nonsensical, seemingly arbitrary revision to its entire format that no one seemed to like.
The biggest problem: since the changes to the SAT in 2005, the ACT has also overtaken the SAT as the most commonly-taken college entrance exam in the country. It's more simple, more straightforward, and it hasn't changed. It doesn't test for obscure vocabulary (just simple, "within context" words in their reading passages, such as "empirical" and "oblivious," etc.). And that trend is continuing onward - the ACT eats up more of the SAT's "market share" every year.
So now, the SAT has decided to change yet again. Because the College Board's strategy didn't work, and because the ACT is becoming increasingly more popular, they're caving in and making a test much more similar to the ACT. The entire thing reminds me of the "New Coke" fiasco from decades past. It would be funny, if it weren't so sad and ridiculous. So here's what to expect, how to prepare, and a more in-depth look at what the College Board has in store for you (and how to deal with it):
The New SAT: The Watered-Down, "Less Bohemian" ACT
First, the SAT will be switching back to the 1600-point scale that everyone knows and loves. Only a small group of students will now have to explain to everyone what a 1900 on the SAT "actually means." There will be one 800-point verbal section, and one 800-point math section.
Second, the SAT will now be 45-minutes shorter. Phew.
Third, the SAT will make the essay optional. No one cared about it to begin with, and the College Board is finally "admitting" this by falling on their own sword and basically telling everyone that they made a mistake. But they're still keeping it around, just in case students feel like writing it. OK.
But the real changes are coming to the content. The SAT is no longer going to test for insane vocabulary words. They're getting rid of obscure mathematical concepts and sticking with more straightforward geometry, algebra, and arithmetic concepts. Or, in other words, they are making the SAT exactly like the ACT, praying that parents will still choose it because it's "the devil that they know."
As an SAT and ACT tutor, I'm often shocked by how many parents shun the ACT because they think it's "alternative" or "bohemian." The ACT is an extremely difficult, challenging test full of real, relevant material. But because it used to be taken only by Midwestern students, and many parents aren't familiar with it, the SAT still enjoys one huge, intangible advantage: it's seen as "the more serious test." Now, hilariously, the SAT will be acting more like the ACT to be seen as "more legitimate."
If you want to see some of the bumbling reasoning behind this, please take a look at some of the statements from the College Board in this recent USA Today article:
The College Board Falls on Its Sword
The College Board is a HUGE fan of pretending that its tests are objective, relevant analyses of student performance. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I say again and again in all my books, guides, and conversations with parents, but they still like to maintain the charade.
The SAT and ACT are BOTH ridiculous, and don't really gauge student ability or level of performance - but colleges care a lot about them. If colleges demanded that students juggle bowling pins for admission, I'd teach bowling pin juggling. Both tests are easily gamed, and both tests give enormous advantages to any student who prepares for them properly.
The College Board cannot stand SAT tutors, SAT prep classes, and basically anyone else in my industry for one simple reason: we're proof that their running narrative is a lie. They constantly maintain that "one cannot prepare for these tests" - yet this is such an obvious untruth that they've spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry geared toward preparing students for these tests. It's like an architect claiming that his new building can't possibly burn down, then taking out $1,000,000,000 in fire insurance the same day.
The only test that you can't actually prepare for is an IQ test (though even then, there are some methods that have been shown to work). There's no such thing as a test that you can't prepare for. How would that even be possible?
The new SAT is being launched with a bizarre PR spin: it's now "the people's test." The College Board is partnering with Kahn Academy to provide free online SAT prep (which I think is awesome - I have nothing but respect for Kahn Academy, and it's amazing that kids will be able to access some high-quality prep materials for free) in an attempt to show that their test is no longer "solely for the privileged." But, like any test, the new SAT will follow the same golden rule that all tests follow:
Any student can be taught to take any test, and the students who receive the best instruction the most frequently will be the students who get the best scores.
The irony is almost unreal. In an attempt to make their test "less arbitrary," the College Board is actually pointing out to the nation just how arbitrary their test really is.
So what can you do to prepare?
Here's my step-by-step guide to help parents and students get through this ridiculous ordeal unscathed:
1. If you're planning on taking the SAT before 2016, it's business as usual. The new test doesn't get launched until then, so you have plenty of time to prepare for the SAT using the methodologies at hand.
2. If you're planning on taking the ACT, then it's business as usual. This won't affect you in any way, shape, or form.
3. No matter what, always figure out whether your child should take the SAT or the ACT before beginning a prep program. I'll be releasing a free, comprehensive guide on this topic shortly. Some students are "meant" to take the SAT or the ACT, so figuring this out ASAP is important regardless.
4. If your child is a freshman in high school (or younger), plan on preparing for the ACT. The most beautiful thing about teaching these two tests is this: students who prepare for the ACT get better at taking the SAT and vice versa. They are extremely similar exams that test nearly identical material and concepts. So if your child is young, and you want to get a head start, look at the ACT. If the new SAT ends up being better for your child, the prep will "cross over" quite easily. You won't waste a second preparing for the ACT regardless of which test you choose to take.
That's all there is to it.
I'm disappointed with the College Board for throwing parents into such a tizzy, but fortunately for you, there's really nothing to worry about. These changes won't be groundbreaking - they'll be going back to business as usual (minus some vocabulary words, esoteric math concepts, and unread essays). The SAT will always be important to the colleges that use it as an admission standard, so if you've already been prepping, fret not - your scores will still apply. If prep is a long way way, stick with the ACT for the time being. And above all else, remember this:
There isn't a test in the world for which you can't prepare. If your child works hard, follows the right strategies, and take his or her time, high scores will always be attainable.