Update on the New SAT: Evidence-based Writing

Update on the New SAT: Evidence-based Writing

As I described in Part 1 of this post, the Evidence-based Reading and Writing (EbRW) section of the redesigned SAT, to be released in 2016, has two parts: the Reading test (65 minutes for 52 questions) and the Writing and Language test (35 minutes for 44 questions).

I’ll cover the Writing and Language test here, in Part 2. (See here for information on the Reading test and here for information on the Math test.) I’ll also discuss the optional essay at the end of this prompt.

In the Writing and Language test, students will work through four passages, each with 11 questions on topics ranging from grammar and mechanics to argumentation and organization. The current SAT tests many of these topics in stand-alone sentences; the new SAT, however, will ask students to revise sentences or parts of sentences in the context of a larger passage. This will allow the new SAT to incorporate questions about structure and coherence without introducing a separate passage, which is what the SAT currently does with its “Improving Paragraphs” section. Of note is the redesign’s elimination of the dreaded “Identifying Sentence Errors” question type, with which many students struggle because the task—pointing out a grammatical error in a sentence without fixing it—is so foreign to students.

Similar to the passages in the Reading test, the passages in the Writing and Language test will range in subject from social sciences to the core sciences to literature.

Students will also have to evaluate evidence presented in graphical form in order to revise sentences or parts of the passage. The College Board presents this example as an illustration of this question type:

The Writing and Language test will also test diction (word choice), so knowledge of vocabulary will be tested indirectly. For example:

The redesigned SAT will also expand the array of grammatical topics to be tested and will include punctuation questions. You can see the full list of topics on pages 65–66 of the College Board’s redesigned SAT publication.

These changes make the redesigned SAT’s Writing and Language test almost identical to the ACT’s English section.

The Essay

For the optional essay, students will have 50 minutes to read a passage and analyze its argument through an essay of their own. Though the writing prompt itself will change little, the passage to be analyzed will change from test to test. The essays that students write need to demonstrate understanding of the original passage, analyze the structure of the author’s argument, evaluate the reasoning behind the author’s argument, and display a strong command of English grammar, mechanics, and style. The essay is basically a close-reading of the passage, focusing on the argumentative technique and the evidence used by the author. This will theoretically bring SAT essay writing closer in line with the writing students do in their literature and English classes. The open-endedness of the topic, which allows students to write about any features of the passage, may frustrate some students who are used to more limited assignments. At the same time, however, this kind of freedom is common in college writing assignments, so the optional essay may be a better indicator of a student’s readiness for college.

As the new SAT will be similar to the current ACT, my guess is that colleges will waive certain application requirements for students who opt to write the essay, or that colleges will begin using the new SAT essay score for determining class placement levels.

Students who take the ACT plus its optional writing section often do not have to take any SAT Subject Tests.

Note: Given that the College Board writes (and profits from) students taking its subject tests, I suspect that the redesign of the SAT includes skill-measuring subscores, instead of a discrete “science” section like the ACT, so that students and colleges will still find value in taking the SAT Subject Tests.

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Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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