Among changes coming to the SAT college entrance exam in 2016 is a new provision that there will be no penalty for wrong answers.
It’s no secret that strategies for taking the high stakes test are seen as almost as (if not more) important than the content. In the past, students have been coached to answer questions when, by process of elimination and other methods of sifting evidence, they can say with near certainty which answer is correct, according to Franklyn MacKenzie, director of secondary education at Central Kitsap School District.
Calculated risk taking is a useful skill that schools endorse, Mackenzie said. Under the new standard, the SAT will reward that behavior to a much greater level. That is, they won’t be penalized for taking that risk if they happen to be wrong. Schools typically encourage such calculated risk-taking, MacKenzie said. Now the test will be more like what students experience in school.
Chris Swanson, career and college counselor at Bremerton High School, also sees the no-penalty-for-wrong-answers change as a positive. In the past, he said, SAT coaches have made kids crazy by telling them not to answer questions if they’re not almost 100 percent sure. For eager students it feels like slacking and counter-intuitive to what they’ve been taught on school tests.
Swanson believes the old strategies won’t work well on the new SAT. The new test also calls on students to demonstrate why they know something is right, a huge trend in schools these days.
“It sounds to me like in the future those strategies will likely not be the keys to success that they are today, but rather your ability to provide the evidence to back up answers,” Swanson said.
The change could be a good thing for cautious students. But what if you have a student who is perfectly comfortable taking risks, who sees the change as a green light to answer questions willy nilly. The College Board’s press release on the SAT changes doesn’t say how or if the test will screen for such an approach. Perhaps, as Swanson suggests, the call for evidence-based answers will weed out the wanton risk-takers.
Sample questions due out in April are likely to provide more insight into what new strategies will be called for.
Students, what SAT strategies have you found most useful? What was the hardest thing about the test? Knowing what you do now, is there anything you would have done differently to prepare?