New SAT could be more difficult for international students: The Princeton Review AVP; www.collegeboard.org

Micheal Gamerl (AVP, The Princeton Review) recently visited India, in association with Manya Group, to clear the confusion about SAT exam and its changed format. Road shows were organized for schools, administrator, students, and parents to talk in detail and the new SAT changes and to answer their question regarding the same.

We had the opportunity to interview with Mr. Gamerl regarding the new SAT. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

Question: What are the reasons behind the change in SAT format?

Michael Gamerl: The College Board has made plenty of announcements giving various reasons for the change. However, what we at the Princeton Review have seen is that the SAT is becoming second place to the ACT in the US. Not a lot of Indian students are aware of the ACT exam, yet it’s more popular in the US.

College Board will give lots of reasons around it, but one of the main reasons they are not necessarily admitting to is the very simple fact that they want to recapture the US market share and they want to try to become the number one test as they once were.

Q: So you mean ACT is overshadowing SAT in terms of popularity?

MG: Yes, but only in the American market and not internationally. In any business, if one competitor was to one day become number-one, the competitors will have to bring some changes in their product. And perhaps the SAT is noticing that the students want to take a test that is similar to the ACT structure. The reason for the Princeton Review to make this assumption has to do with the fact that the changes that the SAT is making are all the elements that the ACT had all the while. I will give you a couple of examples.

In multiple choice questions, ACT provides the students with four answer choices while the SAT provide five answer choices.

ACT does not deduct marks for wrong answer, whereas the SAT has negative marking system in place.

If you’re are a student, which test would you choose? It’s not surprising that the students prefer fewer answer choices, and no negative marking. So it is no co-incidence that the new SAT is more like the ACT.

Q: Between SAT and ACT, which is the more popular exam among international students?

MG: SAT is still more popular internationally. The fact of the matter is that ACT doesn’t do as good a job marketing their test as College Board does. So there is less awareness around ACT in big international markets like India, China etc. College Board has done a much better job at promoting in these markets and other parts of the world.

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Q: Do you think the new change can affect SAT test negatively in India?

MG: It certainly can. It is my personal opinion that the new SAT could prove to be more difficult for international students. An example of the change SAT is implementing is the use of US historical documents. Clearly, an international student will not have clarity regarding US historical documents. Maybe an excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s speech about sending a man to the moon will appear on the SAT. Of course, American students will be familiar with the speech, as they are required to take American history during high school. Now, how many students in India would have studied American history? They might feel a disconnect answering such questions, so certainly it will have a negative impact if they aren’t trained in the classroom.

Q: So you feel the SAT is becoming US centric?

MG: Absolutely, the SAT have always been very US centric and these changes maintain that trend.

Q: Which new changes in SAT do you think are not very relevant?

MG: Although the College Board says they want to make SAT more relevant for today, I find the statement contradictory as they are not going to allow calculator on one of the math section. In this time and age, calculators are used in every college and job. So this change is the direct opposite of the College Board’s claims.

Q: Do you think students preparing for the SAT will find the changes easy? Or will it be more difficult?

MG: Students who, till now, have been preparing for the old SAT will find it difficult. If they feel the preparation for the old format is going to see them through the new SAT, they will be in for a surprise. They will have to start all over, as the previous training is not going to carry over to the new version of the exam because the tests are so radically different.

Q: Which books and resources do you recommend for the new SAT?

MG: Princeton review has a wealth of resources available; we have books, courses, programs for the new SAT. In addition, the College Board also has a lot of material available. They released a practice test for the new SAT and that is a very good place for the students to start. They have provided free SAT test prep for years. Also, the College Board has a partnership with the Khan Academy so students have those free resources at their disposal.

Q: Last question, what is your recommendation for international students – to go for SAT or ACT?

MG: What I recommend is that students should take both practice tests first. Most students don’t know which test is suited for them, so the best thing to do is to take a practice test as that score will not go on your test record. A student doesn’t have to take the real test to see what it is all about, and at the end of it the student will have the information to make an informed decision.

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