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What you need to know about Kaplan’s new SAT survey

New Kaplan SAT survey receives praise from college admission officers; concern from students

kaplan-sat-surveyTest takers who are members of the class of 2017 and beyond will encounter many changes when taking the SAT, which sees its first updates in 11 years.

But do these changes reflect K-12’s move toward Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and its own set of comprehensive assessments?

Not explicitly, says the College Board, but everything students encounter on this exam should be widely applicable to their work in college and career training opportunities.

“Our goal is to support college readiness and success for more students and to make sure that those who are prepared take full advantage of the opportunities they’ve earned,” said Katherine Levin, associate director of communications at the College Board. “Less than half of the students who take the SAT are college ready, and that statistic has remained constant over time. The exam will reflect and reinforce the key skills and knowledge that students are learning in their best courses.”

Levin added that “assessments such as the SAT must be integrated with rigorous classroom instruction, and through their results, propel students to greater opportunities. The redesigned SAT will reward productive use of classroom time and a focus on rigorous course work.”

Reps for Kaplan Test Prep, an SAT tutoring and college prep company, said the company believes  the SAT is still relevant in the CCSS era.

“The goals of the [Common Core State] standards are commendable,” said Christine Brown, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of K-12 and college prep programs. “This unified set of standards allows students to be fully prepared for colleges and careers and I look forward in the coming years to how these standards will transform the educational landscape. However, the SAT and ACT are not going anywhere and are still an important part of the admissions process.”

Kaplan Test Prep conducted separate surveys of admissions officers from over 400 of the nation’s top colleges and universities and of nearly 700 high school students, asking respondents about the changes in the SAT. The survey found that admissions officers are more supportive of many of the changes than the test takers themselves. “College admissions officers strongly support the upcoming changes to the SAT, but students are a bit wary about certain elements,” Brown said.

(Next page: Key takeaways from the surveys)

1.  A computer-based option: Perhaps the largest disparity among respondents in this survey was whether or not students should have the option to take the SAT online. Currently all students are required to bubble in their answer sheets with number two pencils. But now students will have the choice of taking the test electronically.

Results from the college admissions officers’ survey show that 82 percent of respondents support giving students the option to take the SAT on the computer, while only 36 percent of student respondents supported this change. Many of the students cited that they would not be able to do “scratch work” on math problems, would not want to look at a computer screen for the duration of the test, and would not want to have to worry about possible technical difficulties.

2.  Calculator use: Admissions officers and students disagree about calculator elimination on the SAT as well. Seventy-one percent of admissions officers in the survey support including math problems that can be solved without a calculator, compared with just 47 percent of students supporting this change. On the current SAT, test takers are allowed to use their calculator to solve any problem, while on the new SAT students will have to solve 20 out of 57 questions, just under half of the math problems, without a calculator.

“Calculators are important mathematical tools, and to succeed after high school, students have to know how to use them effectively and appropriately,” Levin said. “But the no-calculator section makes it easier to assess students’ fluency in math and understanding of math concepts. It also rewards well-learned technique and number-sense.”

3.  Optional writing section: In 2005, the essay section was added to the SAT increasing the scoring scale from 1600 to 2400. Sixty-seven percent of admissions officers and 51 percent of students support the essay section becoming optional instead of mandatory. In response to these new changes, 73 percent of admissions officers in the survey say they would not require students to submit an essay and the SAT will revert back to the 1600 scoring scale. Students can now score anywhere between 200 and 800 points on the math and reading sections.

4.  A history section: Adding a history section to the exam is a uniformly more acceptable change for both sets of respondents. Eighty-seven percent of admissions officers and 67 percent of students support the addition of a reading passage from American and/or world history.

5.  No wrong answer penalty: Admissions officers and students are equally in favor of eliminating a penalty for wrong answers. Now, students will earn points for the questions they answer correctly and will no longer face a ¼ of a point penalty if they answer a question incorrectly. Seventy percent of admissions officers and 73 percent of students support this change.

6.  No more fill-in-the-blank vocabulary:  Of all the new changes to the SAT, the omission of fill-in-the-blank vocabulary is the most popular among respondents. Eighty-five percent of students and 88 percent of admissions officers support this change. The focus of this section will be on editing and revising passages and vocabulary-in-context, which will require a greater emphasis on critical thinking.

Hayley Goodman is an editorial intern at eSchool News.

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