What is the SAT?

By Dennis Schulman on

The SAT is, of course, a very important test in determining college admission, but what exactly is it and what does it measure? In my workshops I tell students that the test doesn’t really measure “intelligence” or necessarily predict how successful one will be in college. There is no test that can do that. On the other hand, the colleges need some way to select students. So this multiple choice test was created. Other criteria are definitely important to colleges, and their importance varies depending on the school. Included are GPA, extra curricular activities, essay writing and personal interviews. But the SAT remains a major factor.

The new SAT, which began with the March 12, 2005 test, is divided into three parts, math, critical reading and writing. Each is tested equally with three sections and a total of 800 points possible. The math and critical reading portions are 70 minutes long while the writing portion is 60 minutes. That’s a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes. There is one additional section of 25 minutes, which is not graded but is used for creating future tests.

The math portion concentrates on problem solving skills, otherwise known as the dreaded word problems. The math goes no higher than algebra II yet even some students with much higher-level math skills have difficulty with some of the questions. The problem solving skills required for much of the test are skills not emphasized in high schools. They include guessing and checking, plugging in numbers, logical reasoning and others. Some questions don’t look very much like math questions but instead are testing reasoning ability. This is in contrast to the ACT test, which is more geared towards questions students would see in their high school math classes. By learning the proper techniques, students can improve significantly on the math portion of the test.

The critical reading portion includes two types of questions: sentence completion, and reading comprehension. There are 48 reading questions and 19 sentence completion. For the sentence completions, techniques are helpful but vocabulary is critical. A long-term vocabulary improvement program is extremely helpful. For the workshop, I offer suggestions on stretching the vocabulary the student already possesses and how to make educated guesses when you don’t know the exact meaning of all the words. The reading requires critical reading skills, being able to interpret meaning from a passage. The readings are always on a wide variety of topics. Being able to read quickly with good comprehension is a challenge for many students. Experimenting with different techniques can help in these questions also. In all areas of the test, practice can help a great deal. The actual tests are published by the College Board in a review book and offer the best opportunity for practice. I provide the students with this review book in my classes.

The writing section includes 2 sections of grammar and one essay section. The grammar questions are improving sentences, identifying sentence errors and improving paragraphs. The essay section is 25 minutes long and the student is given a prompt to write about.

So what does the SAT test? – Reasoning ability, vocabulary, reading comprehension, all done at a high speed. There are many different types of intelligence and this test focuses strongly on the “left brain.”

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