How the Class of 2017 and 2018 should approach the Changing SAT
— by Mark Greenstein & Ivy Bound’s Senior Instructors, April 2015
The difference between a “1600” top SAT score and a “2400” will go away starting in March 2016 when the SAT reverts to a 1600 scale. It will return to 800 points available on each of Math and Critical Reading. The “Writing” is an optional section that many colleges will not be concerned about. Read on to predict which colleges will be concerned…
The SAT with 2400 as a top score will end with the January 2016 test. 1600 was the top SAT score through January 2005 and will again become a “perfect” score starting with the March 2016 SAT.
The current “Writing” aspect is three sections of a ten section SAT:
- 25 minute essay, evaluated by two humans
- 25 minute multiple choice section testing error recognition, sentence improvement, and paragraph improvement
- 10 minute multiple choice section testing more sentence improvement
The new writing section proposes to be 50 minutes, where students read one or more documents to then opine and support their assertions. The criteria for evaluation have yet to be released, but we suspect that elements of good logic, good grammar, clarity, and reasoning will be involved in determining the score. The writing section will continue to be evaluated by two humans. The College Board has experimented with computer-generated evaluations, but has junked it for now.
Who needs to do the writing section?
Currently many students do not need to prep for the writing section. Only about 70 U.S. colleges currently demand SAT Writing scores. All but two of the colleges scrutinizing writing are among the most competitive “top 100” universities (as ranked by US News, about 50-60 national universities, and 50-60 liberal arts colleges). Among colleges evaluating the writing scores, this component is just as weighty as the reading and math. Among liberal arts colleges, the writing portion is often MORE important than the math.
For the Class of 2017, no college has committed to a “yes” or “no” about demanding the writing section. We suspect the roster will look somewhat similar to the roster of today, with the majority of the “Top 100” universities demanding writing scores and only a sliver of the rest demanding writing scores. Adding to the uncertainty is that no college has stated whether it will accept current-form SAT scores from the class of 2017 or require only scores from the revamped SAT. When the College Board changed to the current SAT (starting with the March 2005 test), most colleges accepted scores from either the new or the old test for the Class of 2006. We expect this to recur for the class of 2017. Especially if you have a strong vocabulary (or absorb new vocabulary well) plan to take the current SAT three times before it expires.
The Class of 2017 is the first class that will have a CHOICE to take the computerized or the paper SAT. We expect students choosing SAT over ACT to prep for the paper and computer versions and take both.
The Class of 2018 MAY have an opportunity to post a great score on the current SAT before it expires. This is potentially a waste of time, because your target colleges may not accept the current SAT. However, if even ONE accepts the current SAT you might advantage yourself greatly if the new SAT proves harder for you. Especially if you have a strong vocabulary (or absorb new vocabulary well) consider studying in 2015 and taking the current SAT three times before it expires.
Our general suggestion regarding prep for the SAT Writing depends on your situation. There are exceptions to all rules, but with a lot of experience behind us, here are Ivy Bound’s suggestions for students with the following expectations:
- Class of 2017 seeking a Top Tier liberal arts college: prep for the Writing unless your PSAT/SAT score is 770+ ; plan on taking three SAT Subject Tests in the subjects of your choice.
- Class of 2017 seeking a Top Tier math / science program: prep for the Writing unless your PSAT/SAT score is 760+; take four SAT Subject Tests; include Math Level 2 and at least two sciences.
- Class of 2017 with the time / commitment to do everything possible to assure the best admissions / scholarship opportunities: prep for the Writing irrespective of your PSAT score; take at least four SAT Subject Tests, more if on a good day you can score 700+.
- Class of 2017 seeking a 4-year college but otherwise undecided: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and perhaps Writing. Prep when you have the most time; consider 3 – 4 weeks in the summer as a “part time job” doing SAT Prep. Summer SAT Prep may be better than Spring prep, especially if you have SAT Subject tests to take or if you have a crowded spring schedule. Be prepared to prep for Writing. Take the SAT in the fall if your target colleges change “upward” or if the same colleges alter their standards for the class of 2017. Take SAT Subject Tests or AP tests in the subjects where you are strongest.
- Class of 2018 seeking a top tier college: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and Writing. Especially if you have a busy academic-year schedule, consider starting in Summer 2015 so as to be ready for three, or all four of these: October, November, December, January SAT. This is POTENTIALLY a waste of time, because your target colleges may not accept the current SAT. If taking the current SAT before the change, plan to take the New SAT in March and again in at least one of the following 2016 times: May, June, October, November or December. Plan to take it again in 2017 if you lack a score that puts you 50 points above the top 25%ile for your target college’s students (these 25%ile numbers are available in the US News Annual “Best Colleges” report).
- Class of 2018 seeking an athletic scholarship: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and PROBABLY Writing (if even one target college is scrutinizing Writing scores). Consider starting in summer 2015 so as to be ready for three or even all four of these: October, November, December, or January SAT. This is POTENTIALLY a waste of time, because your target colleges may not accept the current SAT. If taking the current SAT before the change, plan to take the New SAT in March and again in at least one of the following 2016 times: May, June, October, November or December. Plan to take the SAT again in March and as many times as necessary until you get a “likely letter” from your coveted college.
- Class of 2018 seeking a 4-year college but otherwise undecided: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and perhaps Writing. Prep when you have the most time; consider 3 – 4 weeks in the summer as a “part time job” doing SAT Prep. Be prepared to prep for Writing. Take the SAT in the fall if your target colleges change “upward” or if the same colleges alter their standards for the class of 2017. Take SAT Subject Tests or AP tests in the subjects where you are strongest in May and June of each year, starting Freshman year.
- Both Classes can get more certainty by taking the ACT. No college needs the SAT if it sees a high ACT score. The ACT is making some incremental changes, but not as glaring as the SAT’s. There is still an SAT advantage to a student who has a strong vocabulary, and a high SAT advantage if that student has not taken math beyond Algebra I and Geometry. See other articles about the ACT vs SAT.
HOW IVY BOUND PREPARES ITS STUDENTS
For SAT, Ivy Bound Test Prep offers private tutoring, semi-private tutoring, and classes. All students receive binders of strategies and practice materials; all receive practice tests licensed from The College Board, and all are invited to group “Test-and-Review” sessions at no charge.
Classes for Math and Critical Reading (CR) generally run 35 – 45 hours (including practice tests) over 11 – 14 weeks. Tutoring for Math and CR generally runs 20 – 35 hours, more if starting PSAT (or SAT) scores are below 500 and less if starting PSAT scores are above 700. Students should plan to begin 3 – 5 months prior to their target SAT date, and know there is nothing wrong with starting earlier, so long as the student has had a semester each of Algebra and Geometry.
Ivy Bound’s Writing Prep is 10 – 12 hours of class (8 – 12 hours is the likely time commitment if doing private tutoring), and includes Ivy Bound instructors evaluating six essays submitted by the student. While Ivy Bound focuses on ACT and SAT test prep, many students find that a byproduct of the writing prep is improved essay and grammar skills for their English classes.
Ivy Bound instructors happen to like the writing section as an academic exercise. Writing remains the most “coachable” of the sections. Ivy Bound’s students tend to make dramatic gains in a short time. The fast-paced single essay is the element of standardized testing most replicated in colleges at exam time. Unfortunately, the majority of colleges have not embraced it, and to our knowledge none has used the writing section for what it does best: capture a student’s creativity, thoughtfulness, and expression devoid of adult help, which polished application essays do not do.
Because some students do not need writing prep, Ivy Bound generally keeps the courses separate, and charges less if only doing Math and CR. Students who wish to add ACT prep receive an additional book and binder for the ACT “Science Reasoning“, the one section that is unlike any SAT test.
Ivy Bound’s success rate is very high. Last year’s score increases among diligent students again exceeded 170 points (Math + CR, based on a previous SAT or PSAT) and we look forward to more members of the Class of 2017 and 2018 joining in similar success.