When College Board President David Coleman announced changes to the SAT tests last week, he also took aim at the multi-million dollar test prep industry with pointed comments about “tricks and tips” used to outsmart the widely used college admissions test.
Harriet Broder has been doing SAT test prep for more than 35 years and her Potomac-based Breakthrough Test Prep company has a client base of area students from many local public and private schools.
To Broder, the College Board’s latest change to the SAT doesn’t change much and Coleman’s take on test prep doesn’t cover the full picture.
“I couldn’t sleep at night if I were just helping people one day in their life,” Broder said. “You have to teach credible skills.”
That means reading comprehension, reading efficiency and a mindset going into the SAT test that Broder said many students don’t have.
“They go into it thinking they’re the victim and they’re being tricked,” Broder said. “You have to change your intention from, ‘I always do poorly on the reading passages,’ to something more positive. All the tips and tricks will fall through the cracks if that belief system of, ‘I’m going to do well on this test,’ is not in place.”
Changes to the SAT test starting in spring 2016 will include an optional essay. The existing essay section will be removed and the test will go back to a 1600 point scale with 800 points possible for the reading section and 800 points possible for the math section. The so-called guessing penalty, for which points are deducted for wrong answers, will be no more.
Each exam will include a reading passage from a founding document such as the Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights or from a popular discussion of those texts. The College Board used Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From the Birmingham Jail” as an example. The vocabulary words will also change.
On her blog, Broder wrote the changes are just the latest in a long line of College Board reforms because of outside pressure. In this case, observers say the SAT making the changes at least in part because more and more students are choosing to take the competing ACT.
“It’s all about the money,” Broder said of the College Board’s intentions.
As for how she will prepare her students, Broder said not a lot will change.
Broder goes through a consultation process with interested students and their parents: First an 11-question either/or survey to see if the student would rather take the SAT or ACT. Broder also gauges how much the student reads, what she said is a critical factor in how prepared that student is for the reading section of the SAT.
“Kids don’t read anymore. It’s not an acceptable pastime,” Broder said. “It doesn’t matter whether they put passages from the founding fathers or the ‘Letter From the Birmingham Jail.’ Kids still have to know how to improve their reading efficiency and comprehension.”
Broder does that with reading recall drills and quizzes, skills she said students have told her help into college and beyond. She also has a math prep instructor. She said the best time to start test prep is the summer before junior year.
And even before the changes, Broder said the SAT and ACT are testing skills that go beyond memorizing complex vocabulary words on flash cards.
“I believe that these tests do measure something valid about how the student reads and how the student problem solves,” Broder said. “This test is not so much about what you know, but how you are able to deal with what you know.”
Photo via Breakthrough Test Prep