Hotly-debated new SAT format removes formulas and ambiguity


Alex Wang

While trying to study for the newest version of the SAT, I discovered many key similarities between the test and other standardized tests. By reducing subjectivity from the grading process while still requiring students to analyze broadly, standardized tests remain an effective way of assessing students.

by Alex Wang, Reporter

As I prepared for the remodeled SAT during the summer, I worked through over 20 sets of old practice problems, each with an essay and all three types of multiple choice sections. While many students and teachers thought the previous SAT felt too formulaic and narrow, I found that the problems in my practice tests allowed test-takers to consider different viewpoints, especially in the critical reading passages.

The new SAT format is a mystery for students, since past exam material is nonexistent. For some, the new format evens out the playing field for all test-takers by discouraging rote memorization. For others, the new format restricts the test-taker by reducing the open-endedness of each test question, especially in the “optional” essay section.

After preparing for both versions, I found that each type of test had merit.

In the previous version of the SAT, the multiple choice sections required a test taker to consider multiple viewpoints to answer all of the questions. Similarly, the essay portion encouraged broad thinking by asking open-ended questions.

The new SAT test narrows the scope of the topics and ideas explored by the student. For example, it limits the essay to document-based analysis — the provided documents guide the student’s writing. While the new essay encourages more narrow-minded thought, the multiple choice still involves analyzing multiple viewpoints.

These changes attempt to remove the ambiguity in grading each assessment. Rather than memorizing examples before entering the exam room, students are forced to think on the fly, adjusting to the documents they see on the test. SAT graders may also find it easier to judge a student’s focus and attention to detail by having the document selection — a kind of roadmap — right in front of them.


In other standardized tests, such as Advanced Placement (AP) exams, the subjects tested typically involve more factual knowledge and comprehension of the way things work. For instance, AP history tests contain essay portions that allow students to craft their own arguments based on the facts they learned in class.

Unlike either form of the SAT, these tests lack room for interpretation because every question has a single indisputable, correct answer. Such tests are forced to be straight-forward to make grading as consistent as possible.

Whereas students are not expected to take courses in preparation of the SAT, AP exams stem from AP coursework, making this less interpretive approach seem logical. And while the Fall 2002 edition of the Journal of Human Resources contained a paper that expressed that standardized testing is not objective, but rather based on subjective decisions made by the proctors of the tests, a June 2006 Public Agenda survey of public middle and high school students found that 79% of students think standardized testing is fair.

Although the new SAT format limits the number of ways a student can tackle a prompt, it still acknowledges the importance of considering various viewpoints. After considering the differences between forms of standardized testing, I realized that the SAT’s approaches seem consistent across the board.

Ultimately I’ve found that, rather than promoting narrow-minded thinking, standardized tests are purposely fair and objective. They allow students to interpret the prompt and respond accordingly.


alex wang
Alex Wang (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila and Winged Post. He enjoys Journalism because it allows him to work with others and express his ideas.