A History Of The SAT In 4 Questions

January 22, 2016

This weekend, college hopefuls will line up for the last time to take the SAT.

That is, at least, the current version of the famous college entrance exam. The SAT, which remains a pillar of college admissions, has gotten a serious makeover (its first since 2005), and a new test will roll out in March.

Since students took the first multiple-choice SAT back in 1926, the test has changed considerably — both in style and in substance. To mark this latest makeover, we thought we’d offer up four examples of SAT questions from across the exam’s history that reflect _____ changes in America.

A. Sociological

B. Pedagogical

C. Political

D. Mustard seed

E. A, B, C

As for the new SAT, Cyndie Schmeiser, the chief of assessment at the College Board, says it was time to stop doing a few key things. Among them: asking students “the definitions of words that perhaps they crammed for the night before the test but may not use.”

The new test, Schmeiser says, will include vocabulary, but within a reading passage. Less cramming, more context. Also, students can expect to find an increased emphasis on using evidence in a passage to back up answers.

The College Board hopes the redesign will provide a more accurate measure of a student’s college and career readiness — a phrase made famous by advocates of the Common Core learning standards. Those standards, in reading and math, are now being used by the vast majority of states, and the SAT’s chief rival, the ACT, is surging in part because it was first to adapt to the core. Now the SAT is playing catch-up.

The entire testing landscape is changing alongside the SAT. Now that most states are using common standards, a few are debating whether to replace some traditional, end-of-year high school assessments with a test that many students, especially 11th-graders, already take: the SAT or ACT.

At least half a dozen states have already gotten permission from the U.S. Department of Education to use one of the college entrance exams as an official high school assessment. That’s welcome news for students in, say, Connecticut, who should spend less time testing as a result.

The irony is, as states embrace these college entrance exams in new and powerful ways, many colleges are doing the opposite. Just this week, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report calling on admissions offices to go test-optional or, at least, to pay less attention to tests and more to a student’s “concern for others and the common good.”

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