Multiple Choice

Did the new SAT leave students famished, satisfied or feeling like they had inside information on the essay? All of the above.
March 15, 2005

On Saturday, the College Board for the first time used an expanded and revised SAT, with a new essay portion being the most talked-about of numerous changes.

So Monday was a spin day to rival political campaigns, with groups that have an interest in the testing industry all offering their takes on the test.

Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions kicked things off, announcing that it had sent 100 interviewers to randomly selected test sites on Saturday to see how students reacted to the new test. The major problem was that it was too long, according to the results of interviews with nearly 2,000 test takers.

Eighty-seven percent of students said the 3 hour, 45-minute test was the longest they had ever taken, Kaplan found. Many students also complained that they couldn't have snacks during the test. Jon Zeitlin, head of SAT and ACT programs for Kaplan, said that the students' reactions showed that "the SAT has become a test of endurance, as much as anything else."

In case anyone missed the point, Kaplan provided a list of activities that don't take as long as the new SAT. They include root canal surgery and finishing the Boston Marathon (at least for the first 6,000 runners).

As for the substance of the test, Kaplan's poll revealed that most students found the reading or math sections to be the most difficult, not the new essay. But students did complain that 25 minutes was not enough time for the essay.

Timing questions also worried Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing and a leading critic of the SAT. Schaeffer said that his organization received numerous complaints over the weekend about how much time students spent on the test. He said that students who got tired or couldn't finish the various sections would end up receiving scores that do not reflect their potential to succeed in college. The new test "could undermine the SAT's already weak predictive validity," he said.

Schaeffer said he was especially worried about those students with disabilities who are given more time to take the test. "These poor kids were confined to the testing centers for well more than six hours."

Some students apparently felt lucky Saturday. One of the final practice essay questions used by the Princeton Review test prep service, in the weeks leading up to the SAT, was about whether majority rule is always correct -- the topic that was on the actual test. A spokeswoman for the Princeton Review said some parents were concerned that their children might have somehow had access to the test in advance, and called Princeton Review on Monday, only to be told that the test materials the service uses are "really accurate."

The Princeton Review spokeswoman also said that about 70 percent of the test questions were "recycled" from a 2002 test. "So much for the new SAT being 'new,' " she said.

As for the College Board, officials there declared the new test to be a success. Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman, said that board employees visited sites nationwide and found students "calm and cool and, very often, frankly pleased with the essay." There were few calls to College Board headquarters with problems and longtime board employees think that Saturday's SAT administration was "one of the smoothest in memory."

Coletti said that officials did hear some complaints about the length of the test, but said that was to be expected since this was the first time the expanded test was offered. "We know that will taper off," she said.


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