New SAT exam could help underprivileged students get to college - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

New SAT exam could help underprivileged students get to college

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MIDDLETON (WKOW) -- In just two years, high school students taking college entry exams will see some changes and school counselors in our area say that may help improve access for underrepresented populations.

Last week, the College Board released sample questions on the changes coming in 2016 to the 88-year-old SAT exam. College Board leaders say they're adapting the test to better assess students' analytical skills and show whether students are ready for college.

The new test will have fewer questions overall that will be scored differently; the written essay will be optional and scored separately from reading, writing and math; and outdated vocabulary will be eliminated, replaced with more relevant words.

UW-Madison's Testing and Evaluation Services director Jim Wollack tells 27 News the College Board has been criticized over the years for its exam not being as easy to access, penalizing for guessing and its psychological components.

Wollack says the new test will better illustrate what students are actually capable of and whether they're prepared for college.

"They hadn't really updated a lot of the content to make it more of what we would expect of an achievement test and so now it's doing that and it's following closely what's going on with common core and assessing some of the things we expect students coming out of this new system with those types of college ready skills," says Wollack.

Wollack got a look at the sample questions and he says they're much more challenging and use students' reasoning skills.

Middleton High School counselor Gust Athanas tells 27 News only about 25 percent of students at the school take the SAT exam, whereas 80 percent take the college entry exam alternative, the ACT test. ACT scores are accepted at most midwestern colleges and the SAT is required at many schools along both coasts.

Now, Athanas expects he'll recommend the SAT to more students, particularly those who are underrepresented on college campuses, to help them gain more access.

"If [a question] is in a subject area that [students] are really excited about or interested in, that's going to hopefully show that the student will do a little bit better," Athanas tells 27 News. "They're going to take a lot of that information and apply it to real world contexts and I think that's going to really speak to students. It'll be interesting to see if those real world experiences will speak to our students from diverse backgrounds."

Athanas says ACT preparation materials are more easily accessible for students in our area. SAT prep courses can be very expensive, making it harder for low income students to take the exams.

Experts tell 27 News the new exam will be more transparent, so students won't need to pay to take preparation courses to memorize tricks to master the exam.

The College Board says it's partnering with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials, starting in spring 2015.

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