The first group of students took the new SAT last week. Some took the test as part of a school-mandated test day on March 1 while others registered on their own to take it on Saturday, March 5. In total, the College Board reports that nearly 277,000 students were registered for the Saturday exam. Another 186,000 will likely take the test by the end of the month through state-mandated testing on a school day.
We’ve talked to students who took the exam, read their tweets, and their posts. We’ve also read all of the material released by the College Board and other outlets to answer some of the most pressing questions students had about the first exam.
Did the content of the exam match the released materials?
Most students report that the material they saw on the real exam was pretty close to the material on the four exams released earlier this year by the College Board. It also seemed to largely match the PSAT from October. According to the College Board, students reported the highest alignment in the Reading section, but students did say they felt very tired by the end of the longer Reading section. The most common complaint has been that some students found the Math No Calculator section to be harder than the previously released materials. Many have reported that there wasn’t enough time to finish this section in particular.
Keep in mind, though, that there are also definite reports that the College Board administered multiple versions of the test on Saturday. Thus not all students took the same exam. There do seem to be great differences in students’ individual reactions based on which version they took.
Were there any issues? What about the experimental section?
Reports indicate that the administration of the exam was fairly smooth this weekend. Students mention only a few issues with proctors or materials.
The only consistently reported issue seems to surround the experimental section. The College Board never explicitly announced that the test would come with an experimental section, but test prep professionals determined last week that there might be one. We were right. The experimental section was given only to students who did not take the essay or have testing accommodations. It was also given at the end of the exam and was clearly announced as experimental by the proctors during the test. Moreover, only some of the students who didn’t take the essay received an experimental section. The biggest proctoring problem we have heard is that some proctors accidentally gave the experimental section to students who were taking the essay. This issue likely arose from the fact that this new experimental section in place of the essay is a new, last-minute addition by the College Board. In most cases, students knew enough from last week’s new stories to alert their proctors that because they were doing the essay, they were not supposed to do the experimental section. In these cases, the proctors realized their mistake and let the students skip the experimental. But a small number of students accidentally took both the essay and experimental section, even though they didn’t have to.
Was the redesigned SAT better than the old SAT?
The College Board—the organization that writes the SAT—conducted a survey of more than 8,000 students who took Saturday’s exam. These students reported by a 6 to 1 margin that they preferred the new SAT over the old. However, it’s important to keep in mind this preference is likely why these students chose to take the new SAT instead of the old or instead of the ACT; the number is a probably inflated by this selection bias and likely does not represent the opinion of high school students as a whole.
Was the redesigned SAT more popular than the old SAT?
The College Board’s numbers do look impressive. As noted above, 277,000 students voluntarily registered to take the March exam and another 186,000 will take the exam on a school day because their states require it. All in all, 463,000 students will take the test by the end of March.
As part of its press releases and interviews with the media, the College Board claims that this number is higher than the number who took the old SAT in March 2015. The test representatives point to this larger number as a big vote of confidence for the new SAT. But it’s not clear if the College Board is referring only to the voluntary takers (277,000) or including the students who are forced to take it in school, many of whose states instituted this rule for the first time in 2016. A recent article in Education Week published updated numbers on SAT test-takers in 2016—overall, there was an increase of 1.5% in total number of SATs administered in March of 2016 compared to March 2015. That number reflects the increase in state-mandated testing (89.6%) but voluntary test takers are actually down 22.6% since last March. This is likely due to students already finishing their SAT testing before the change, moving to the ACT, or deciding to sit this one out and see what happens.
When will more information be available?
Because all test prep professionals and adults were barred from this first administration, student reactions and official press releases from the College Board are the only real gauge we have yet on how the day went. But rest assured we will be in there in May taking the exam and will have deeper insights then.
We will also know more once the College Board releases the scores and conversion charts for this exam on May 10.