The Current Status and Importance of SAT Exams

College entrance SAT exam results have long been recognized by educators at both the high school and college levels as the most significant indicators of post-secondary readiness. In recent years, however, there has been some criticism of SAT content and a feeling that a new format was required. It was claimed that too many students who were capable of passing SAT exams were subsequently weak academic performers at the college level. Recent changes to the exams have attempted to remedy this shortfall.

The new SAT exam for college entrance, now called the SAT Reasoning Test, places a much greater emphasis on critical thinking skills. It is not only a more challenging survey of student ability, but it also examines the extent to which students are prepared to cope with the academic requirements of a college course. The previous SAT exams had similar objectives, but some aspects of the old format were felt to be inadequate.

The SAT Reasoning Test is designed to evaluate a student’s ability in dealing with fundamental language and logico-mathematical reasoning situations. The analogy tests which were an integral part of the old format have been removed, and the exam is now set up in three distinct sections – Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. The test content comprises a substantial amount of material, and students are allowed almost four hours to complete it.

The reading section of the test requires much more than simple comprehension. Students are expected to be capable of assessing the point of view expressed in passages of various lengths. This is not new, but some evidence of critical thinking is now required as well. Students must show that they are capable of analyzing a proposition and offering an alternate viewpoint that can be clearly sustained by facts.

High school curriculum is clearly evident in the mathematics section of the new SAT tests. Many students in the past have entered college math courses without a solid understanding of high school content, but the new tests in algebra and geometry are designed to identify gaps and weaknesses that need to be addressed. Some multiple choice questions remain, but the new format places a much greater emphasis on problem solving and the ability to find solutions through logical reasoning.

Perhaps the most significant changes to the new SAT format lie in the writing section of the test. College professors have felt for years that many new students are not able to write essays at the level required in a post-secondary institution. The new SAT seeks to address this concern by having students write a short essay propounding a position that they can defend logically and clearly. Excellent grammar, spelling, and punctuation are obviously required, and the paper must be written at an appropriate level. These essays are evaluated by two graders to ensure fairness and consistency.

Students who seriously intend to enroll in college programs will need to formulate a definite preparation plan. It is no longer sufficient to rely on ordinary day-to-day school work to keep up to date and informed. Practice tests will be needed to ensure that the new SAT format is well understood, and because writing ability is now such a priority, serious students should consider finding a writing tutor who can help them improve their skills.

The SAT Reasoning Test should be viewed as a welcome improvement. Students can be confident that it will realistically assess their readiness for post-secondary education.