What Do the SAT Test Specifications Tell Us?
The College Board seems to be following through on its stated desire to make the redesigned SAT test more meaningful and reflective of the knowledge and skills students should be learning in high school. The level of detail and transparency provided in yesterday’s release is a big change from the old test, which was often perceived as unfair and susceptible to gaming and test-prep, giving some students an advantage over others.
The test specifications for the SAT Reading Test include:
- The total number of questions, broken down by category: words in context, command of evidence, analysis in history, and analysis in science.
- Number of passages, with word count and passage content, as well as text complexity for each
- Number of graphics
- Descriptions of the skills that will be assessed
- Example test questions for each of the skills
These details and example items demystify the test and clearly articulate the kinds of learning activities that will help prepare students. In the past, students tried to improve their scores by memorizing arcane vocabulary lists and learning how to identify distractor responses to guess the right answer — and only those with access to (and money for) expensive test-prep could do so.
This level of detail is also provided for the Writing and Language Test and the Math Test. In addition to algebra, problem-solving, and passport to advanced math, “Additional Topics in Math” will be included on the math test. This means that some geometry, trigonometry, and the Pythagorean theorem are making their way back onto the assessment. They are not a large portion of the test (10 percent), but they are a change from the original information provided and a signal from College Board about what type of high school math is necessary to be college-ready.
Another significant step is a change to the score report that will be given to students with the redesigned test. For the first time, in addition to the test composite and domain scores, a score profile articulating a student’s strengths and weaknesses on the core skills assessed will be provided to students. For example, a student might be strong in problem-solving and data analysis, but weak in the core algebra skills, directing them to the learning they need to focus on to improve their college readiness.
One note of caution that warrants continued attention: The SAT is a norm-referenced test and, as such, is intended to rank and differentiate students (think: bell curve, with most students falling around the average and few earning perfect scores or landing at the bottom of the scale). As test development continues, it will be important to watch how College Board balances its commitment to “improving the ability of the test to predict college success” — which, in the past, meant tricky questions that only a few students could get right — while also having it reflect “the best of high school courses” — which suggests all students should be able to do well if they are provided the right learning opportunities.