Opinion: Why the Best Time to Take the SAT is This May

Published : Tuesday, February 16, 2016 | 11:53 AM

For some students, especially those who will be the first in their families to go to college, the choice is simple. The SAT is the only test. It’s the test students hear about and the test students think they “need to take to go to college.” Some students, however, know that the choice isn’t that simple. The choice is between the ACT and the SAT — a choice not between content but performance. Essentially the choice is made predicated on which test will yield the best score.

It’s no secret that the SAT has been losing “favor,” and it’s no surprise that the New SAT resembles the ACT — its only competitor. The SAT has presumably shed its old identity as a test that is trying to trick students and now emerges as a test that is a re-interpretation of the ACT.

I have an inkling that many parents will steer their students away from the New SAT simply because they don’t know what to expect. But I argue that now is the best time to take the SAT. For the sake of full disclosure, I teach College Access Plan’s (CAP’s) free after school SAT class at four PUSD high schools. We teach the SAT not because we are in cahoots with College Board; we teach it to meet community need. Many of the students we strive to serve have never heard of the ACT and neither have their parents. Around these parts, you only know of the ACT if you have institutional knowledge passed along to you. This is the West Coast after all.

The reason why I argue that now is the best time to take the SAT is because it is new. Now is as fair as the SAT is going to get. Not as many people have seen the test. Not as many people have been able to dissect it, extrapolate from it, or learn from it. Socioeconomic, cultural, and institutional disparities will never be eradicated from testing, and, let’s face it, test prep is one of those things that puts students at an advantage or disadvantage. However, with the limited number of tests out in the ether and with Khan Academy videos available to those with internet and computer access, the field is, as far as I can see, as even as it gets.

Also, both the ACT and SAT are graded on a scale adjusted to ensure that different versions of the test are comparable. Now is when there is no comparable version for the New SAT to be measured against. Students will be compared against their testing cohort. The ACT, however, needs no adjustment. It is the same test it has always been, and scores this May will be scaled to previous tests. For the ACT, now is just as good a time as any other time to take the test, just as it has always been. This, of course, greatly advantages students who have the ability to invest the time and resources — sometimes over many years — to prepare for this one test.

The reality is that two historically ACT states, Illinois and Michigan, have recently inked contracts with College Board to replace the ACT and take the SAT state-wide. Many in my industry believe that the SAT is going the way of the dodo, but College Board’s aggressive attack on the ACT — and subsequent success — indicates that the death of the SAT may be greatly exaggerated.

If I had it my way in the current state of college admissions, all students would have the time, support, and resources to take both tests and determine which score to submit to schools based on whichever test plays to each of their individual strengths. In fact, through its partnerships with both CAP and Princeton Review, PUSD provides students this unique opportunity by offering free classes on the ACT and the SAT. I’m not arguing that one test is better than the other. What I am arguing is that now is not the time to write off the SAT. There is a brief window where it will be advantageous to the student to take the SAT, not because of a change in format or content, but because of change itself. Being forced to adjust usually equalizes things a bit.

College Access Plan’s free SAT courses are offered at Muir, Pasadena, Marshall Fundamental, and Blair high schools starting February 22nd. Visit www.collegeaccessplan.org for details.

About the Author

Joanne Do is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Engagement at College Access Plan, a nonprofit organization that partners with the Pasadena Unified School District and community organizations to provide middle school, high school, and college students with the tools they need to identify and fulfill their best-fit postsecondary dreams. She is an avid reader and a runner who is obsessed with the intricacies of cultural capital.

 

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