With a new, redesigned SAT exam set to debut in March in the U.S. and in May internationally, test anxiety is even more intense than usual among students hoping to attend American colleges and universities. Fear of the unknown is sending some teens to expensive test-prep tutors. Others have decided to skip the SAT in favor of the ACT – another standardized exam that is accepted by almost all U.S. institutions as part of the admissions process.
Many high school counselors are focused on managing the anxiety students and parents feel about the changes to the SAT, which is administered by the College Board. But there’s no need to panic. Most experts agree that the key to success on the SAT is practice.
At The Webb Schools in Claremont, California, where international teens account for 20 percent of the student body, counselors are directing high schoolers toward the free online test-prep resources provided by the College Board and Kahn Academy at www.khanacademy.org/sat. Anthony Shin, the school’s assistant director of college guidance, said he’s confident that the uncertainty will dissipate once students start taking the new version of the test.
“I think it will be fine because the SAT has been redesigned before, and ultimately it all works out,” he said. “It’s never as dramatic or disastrous as students build it up in their minds to be.”
Many of the differences are already known, and some of them may benefit international students, according to Jim Montoya, vice president of the College Board. The test, given in more than 180 countries, was designed “with input and feedback from international educators,” Montoya said. Key points favorable to international students include:
However, some test-prep advisers warn that other changes could make things more difficult for those who don’t attend high school in the United States. That’s because the new SAT will be more closely tied to the curriculum and teaching methods of the Common Core program, which is now standard at many American schools.
Michael Boothroyd, executive director of college admissions programs for Kaplan Test Prep, points out that the new test reflects the way American schools teach — which includes integrating subjects such as math and reading — and students without that background may have a harder time.
To play it safe this year, many students in the U.S. and overseas are opting for a known quantity: the ACT.
Charlotte Kriftcher, a high school junior in Stamford, Connecticut, says she decided to take the ACT for several reasons.
“The ACT is shorter, having less sections, and the English is easier on this test then it is on the SAT,” she said. “Knowing about the changes to the SAT also made me choose the ACT because I didn’t want to take a test with minimal review options.”
For international students, standardized test scores can be an important distinguisher in the admissions process, Boothroyd of Kaplan Test Prep says. Many have decided to hedge their bets this year by taking both the SAT and the ACT.
“Overall, we see high-achieving, ambitious students taking both exams,” Boothroyd said. “Since every college takes both scores, or either one, there is no reason not to explore both.”
At The Webb Schools, some juniors will take the new version of the SAT in the spring, while others will take the ACT because they know what to expect from it, Shin said.
“We always have a good healthy population that just does one test or the other.”
In contrast, at the American University Preparatory School — a boarding school in Los Angeles, where 40 percent of the students are international — counselors are taking a more cautious approach. Founding head and CEO David Unruh said all the school’s students will take only the ACT this year.
“It’s our view at this time that, given that we have a very broad range of international and domestic students, the ACT provides more of platform and is more predictable,” Unruh said. “We are not comfortable with the changes in the SAT in terms of preparation. … For us, the ACT, given its longevity and relative stability, is a better choice.”
Free practice questions and full-length tests are available at www.khanacademy.org/sat.
SNAPSHOT: THE NEW SAT
By KAREN PAYNE
(Kendall Gaynes contributed to this article.)