Revamped SAT won’t lessen test stress, experts warn

By Leslie Postal

Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

Published: Thursday, May 8 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

The SAT exam, perhaps most famous for its obscure vocabulary words, is getting an overhaul, with a debut in spring 2016. The announced changes make many students think the redone SAT will be easier and perhaps more like its rival, the ACT.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Blaise Masterson has spent many Saturday afternoons prepping for the SAT college admission exam that he took last weekend.

“The SAT can be a dreaded curse,” said the junior at Lake Mary High, who usually doesn’t fret much about tests.

Often viewed as the tricky but key hurdle students need to clear for college acceptance and scholarships, the SAT brings similar worry to many students. And even its soon-to-be-revamped version likely will generate major stress, experts say.

The exam, perhaps most famous for its obscure vocabulary words, is getting an overhaul, with a debut in spring 2016. The announced changes make many students think the redone SAT will be easier and perhaps more like its rival, the ACT.

“I wish I was taking the new SAT,” said Gloria Nashed, 15, a 10th-grader at Lake Highland Preparatory in Orlando already studying for the SAT she’ll take in October.

It will be this year’s ninth-graders who likely will be first to take the new SAT, however, so Gloria, Blaise and others with upcoming test dates must still tackle the current exam.

“All these kids are thinking, ‘OK, great, I’m stuck with the harder exam,’ ” said Chris Rose, assistant division director for the University of Central Florida’s Continuing Education program, which oversees UCF Test Prep, where Blaise, 17, has been studying.

But the changes likely won’t make the SAT any less anxiety-provoking because the scores still will carry so much weight, said Vicki Englehart, dean of college counseling and guidance at Lake Highland.

“It’s never been a piece of the process that I have enjoyed, and my students don’t either,” she said.

To her, student achievement in academic classes provides a far better predictor of college performance than any one test, but in many college admissions’ offices, the scores still count.

Many of the changes make the new SAT sound similar to the ACT.

The ACT has often been called the easier exam because its four sections — English, math, reading and science — better mirror what students learn in high school compared with the SAT’s more abstract math and reading sections.

Many students now take both tests to see which leads to better scores.

Most of the SAT changes sound positive to Gloria, who said she has great grades but fears she won’t score well enough on the SAT to gain admission to top universities. “They will put my application aside,” she said.

Lake Highland sophomore Andrew Dunlap, 16, said he’s done better on practice SAT exams than on the ACT ones, so he wondered whether the changes would hurt students such as himself. He is already studying for SAT, though he won’t test until sometime next school year.

“My mom makes me do 20 SAT vocab words every week,” he said. “I learn a lot of words.”

But he understands the complaints about the SAT, with a reading exam that seems to showcase snippets of boring passages, and “if you don’t catch that little detail,” you might answer incorrectly.

A national survey done by Kaplan Test Prep found many students liked most of the proposed changes, with the demise of the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary — “the bane of many students’ test-taking experience” — winning the most support.

But the new test could prove hard for students who lack strong fundamental math skills or the “stamina” to read long passages, it noted.

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