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The Debut of the rSAT

03/09/2016 13:29 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

The debut of the "redesigned SAT" (rSAT) this month is no cause for alarm for college-bound students and parents.  While the test's design has changed, its impact on one's application has not. 

First, some facts:

  • The rSAT will create results identical to the old SAT; the results of both tests generate the same bell-shaped curve.  The ACT, an alternative exam, also creates this same curve.
  • The rSAT is now similar to the ACT in structure: four skill-assessment tests, plus an optional essay.  Yes - the test can be stressful and difficult; it pushes limits of capacity and duration.  But then again, so will college. 
  • The rSAT better aligns with problem-solving experiences students have encountered in college-prep coursework.  While the questions are no harder or easier than before, question-design is more familiar, and the "gotcha" element of previous SATs (e.g. math misdirects, obfuscatory vocabulary) has been reduced.  The optional essay is a design college-prep students will find familiar.
  •  The rSAT is tougher on us coaches.  The new design relies more on "skill competence," and less on "clever strategizing."  Many believe this is an improvement.

My advice to college applicants taking the rSAT is simple:

  • Start by exploring realistic college options.  For some, these scores carry significant weight; for others, these scores are meaningless. High School counselors and college websites have information about programs and expectations.   For those searching out-of-state options, I'd recommend Fiske Guide to Colleges and Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives.
  • Most juniors should take the test in the Spring.  If scores do not align with college expectations, one can then retake the test in the Fall.  College admissions will use your highest single-day score.
  • Request the exam pamphlet from your high school counselor, or do online research.  Free practice tests and advice are available from the test-writers (collegeboard.com, ACT.com) and private sites (e.g. khanacademy.com, petersons.com).  No one should walk into any exam unprepared.
  • If, after your research, you feel your score doesn't "fit your narrative" - that is, given the rest of your application, one would anticipate higher scores - a student can do a "deeper preparation" by delving further into online, textbook or private tutoring options. 
  • Consider taking both the rSAT and ACT.  Usually, results are nearly identical - but not always.
  • Understand that these tests are designed to measure years of accumulated skill-building, and that raising scores is neither easy nor guaranteed, even with fervent effort.  

In my 30 years of helping students navigate college admissions, I have seen students with near-perfect test scores not get into their school of choice, and those with "terrible scores" gain admission to competitive schools.  In truth, colleges seek students who have a record of academic success, share a passion in extra-curricular activities, and do not shy from opportunity.  Those who score higher on these tests tend to be the students with these characteristics.  But there are exceptions, and colleges are eager to consider the "bigger picture."

Most of all, students should work hard in school and spend their time wisely, because this tells everyone, colleges included, far more about one's ability, potential and character than any Saturday morning exam. 

Joshua Hirschstein, the Director of Lane Tutoring Service, Inc. in Eugene since 1990, and has been a test-prep instructor for over 30 years.

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