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December 4, 2014

SAT being revised, again

A new SAT will debut in March 2016, and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA) already is studying how it will affect the University’s admissions, placement and counseling decisions.

“It is going to affect how we do business here,” OAFA director of operations and strategic planning Kellie Kane told members of the University Senate admissions and student aid committee at their Nov. 25 meeting.

“The SAT,” Kane said, “is becoming more like the ACT … [including] the kinds of things the ACT looks for in the tests.” While the Scholastic Aptitude Test has long aimed to test just that — aptitude, the ACT (American College Testing college readiness assessment) has examined knowledge gained in high school. By shifting its questions’ emphases to more closely resemble the ACT, Kane said, the SAT hopes to do a better job of predicting college readiness.

At present, the SAT includes mandatory reading, math and writing sections for a maximum score of 2400. But many schools, including Pitt, had not counted the writing score, which was instituted in 2005. According to the SAT’s College Board website (, the redesigned SAT now will be three hours long, down from the current three hours and 45 minutes, rendering the current essay optional and returning the scoring scale to its pre-2005 range of 400-1600.

Although Pitt admissions officials have never counted the current SAT essay score when vetting students, nor looked at their actual essays, they still may decide to do so in the future. “All that is now out on the table,” Kane said.

The new test version also will have a “stronger focus on the knowledge, skills and understandings most important for college and career readiness and success,” the SAT site says. Those who take the new SAT will face questions emphasizing the analysis of longer writings and texts central to the founding of the United States as well as “great global conversations” and information graphics, the site explains. It will present writing that “mirrors the breadth of K-12 and higher education” and “focus the exam on the math knowledge, skills and understandings that are empirically and most strongly linked to readiness for and success in postsecondary education,” offering “both calculator and no-calculator sections.”

Scoring for the SAT will change as well to match the ACT, giving points only for correct answers while no longer deducting points for incorrect answers.

Along with their scores, students will receive “rich score reports,” Kane said, with “very detailed information on the things they have done well on, the things they need to work on … and I believe they will be offered suggestions” for ways to improve their scores.

A new PSAT will debut in October 2015. It still will serve as the National Merit Scholarship qualifying test, but a new spring PSAT session has been added for those who simply wish to try out the SAT.


“We don’t care which test you take,” said Kane about the SAT and ACT; either or both scores may be submitted with a Pitt application.

However, she noted, “for the first time in history, the ACT has taken over the SAT in market share in this country.”

In 2005-06, only 25 percent of Pitt applicants submitted ACT scores, while 99 percent submitted SAT scores. By 2013-14, 40 percent were submitting ACT scores, while 87 percent submitted SATs. The ACT now predominates in the middle of the U.S., while the SAT still dominates on both coasts.

ACT achieved its greater market share by partnering with almost one-third of the states to make ACT their standardized test for satisfying the educational requirements of the new Common Core, a state-led initiative begun in 2009 to revamp what K-12 students must learn throughout each year. The SAT has partnered with only one state for this service so far.

Before the new SAT is administered to current high-school sophomores in spring 2016, OAFA must determine how to compare applicants with current and new SAT scores — and how the new SAT scores compare to current ACT scores. Pitt is one of about 40 universities that will participate in the College Board’s scoring validity study to create a concordance table for current and new scoring scales.

Kane said the University will be on the lookout for those who take the current test in 2015 and the new test in 2016 to see whether students are trying to submit only their more favorable outcomes. “I don’t think it’s going to be easier,” she said of the new SAT test. “It’s going to be a different concept of test. They want to level the playing field” with the ACT.

The College Board soon will be offering free test preparation for students online through Khan Academy. Complete test specifications for the new SAT version already are available on its website.

One Senate committee member suggested that redesign of the SAT was an admission of earlier failure, saying: “I’m surprised a company can stay in business after saying every product they’ve made until now has been useless.”

But Kane assured that there was validity to the current SAT’s correlations with students’ ability to do well in college and graduate. She also emphasized that Pitt uses personal interviews and looks more closely at each high school’s curriculum and a student’s class choices. “Are you challenging yourself?” she said. “We still believe that is one of the most important (aspects) of the admissions decision.

“The SAT and ACT scores help us as a starting point. They never make or break a decision.”

The Senate committee’s next meeting is Jan. 20.

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 8