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“The New SAT’s Experimental Section” or “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the wheat fields again”

March 1, 2016

 

 

Oh no, Toto! We’re still not back in Kansas! It turns out that the gigantic thing behind the barn is the New SAT’s experimental section, about which vague and often conflicting rumors have echoed for months.

 

Because an experimental section was a standard feature in the Old SAT – and in every SAT since 1926 – a reasonable expectation would be that there’d be one in the New SAT…

 

…but we’re dealing with the College Board here, so meeting reasonable expectations – or any expectations, for that matter – really shouldn’t be assumed.

 

A prime example of what appears to have been an incorrect assumption came from the College Board’s partner, Khan Academy, which seems to have assumed that the New SAT wouldn’t contain an experimental section. We’re guessing that’s because its “partner” (where else would Khan have gotten the information?) told Khan or implied to Khan that the New SAT wouldn’t have an experimental section — and the result was Khan displaying (see lower right in the image below) the “Optional Essay” subsuming the entire 50 minutes that used to be devoted to the 25-minute, non-optional Essay and the 25-minute experimental section.

 

In addition to Sal Khan, other bright, knowledgeable, and well-informed people were equally certain about the demise of the experimental section. For example, on May 31, 2015, Rebecca Safier of PrepScholar wrote to students,

 

Apart from familiarizing yourself with all the changes in content and format to the SAT, will you need to alter your test prep at all as a result of the elimination of the experimental section? [emphasis added]…

With no more experimental section on the SAT [emphasis not added], you should consider each and every section as important to your performance and overall scores.

 

James Murphy of the Princeton Review, guest-writing in Valerie Strauss’s February 27th Washington Post column, echoed the spirit of Khan’s assumption and Rebecca Safier’s post when he noted, “In all the public relations the company has done for the new SAT…no mention has been made of an experimental section. This omission led test-prep professionals to conclude that the experimental section was dead.”

 

But then, curiously, no mention had been made of the elimination of the experimental section in the College Board’s newest version of The Official SAT Study Guide — including no mention of its elimination in the Guide’s Chapter 2, “Eight Key Changes to the SAT.” Maybe the CB meant “Nine Key Changes…” but forgot the last one, because the elimination of a section that had been around for 90 years sounds like a “key change” to us. On the other hand, nothing in the new The Official SAT Study Guide mentions anything about the SAT retaining an experimental section, either.

 

So, end the suspense: Will there be an experimental section in the New SAT, “Yes” or “No?” Based on what we’ve learned for the College Board, the answer is “Yes” and “No”…maybe, and not for all test-takers, and no – we’re not makin’ that up.

 

Here’s verbatim wording from the CB’s SAT Advising and Admission Handbook – 2015-16:

 

To allow for pretesting [experimental questions that might or might not be included in future SATs], some students taking the SAT with no Essay will take a fifth, 20-minute section. Any section of the SAT may contain both operational [scored] and pretest [experimental] items.

 

Which “some students” taking the SAT but opting out of the essay will take that fifth, 20-minute experimental section and which won’t? How will the CB decide? For all we know, that decision made will be based on the test-takers’ hair color.

 

And does “Any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest items” mean exactly what it says, which is that questions # __, __, and __ in the Reading, Writing and Language, and/or Math sections might be questions for which correct answers won’t increase the students’ scores, even though the students sweat bullets, expend energy, and waste their time trying to get them right?

 

When Valerie Strauss asked the CB for clarification on the above, the germane part of the answer she got from Kate Levin, the CB’s Director of Assessment Communications, was

 

To allow for pretesting [experimental questions that might or might not be included in future SATs], some students taking the SAT with no Essay will take a fifth, 20-minute section. Any section of the SAT may contain both operational [scored] and pretest [experimental] items.

 

Golly, thanks for clearing that up, Kate.

 

Score at the Top

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