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Overhauled SAT exam may pose hurdles for Chinese

By AMY HE in New York (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-23 03:58

Overhauled SAT exam may pose hurdles for Chinese

An SAT promotional poster is seen at the Beijing Education Expo on Nov 2, 2013. PROVIDED FOR CHINA DAILY

The newly overhauled SAT exam, which puts a heavier emphasis on reading comprehension, may affect the performance of Chinese students, who have traditionally excelled in the math part of the test and relied heavily on rote memorization and cramming.

The new test will feature longer and more difficult reading passages, as well as wordier math problems that the College Board, which administers the test, said will test students on their real-world applications. Short sentence-completion questions will be eliminated, and students will have to figure out the meaning of vocabulary in reading passages.

The writing section will be optional for students applying to schools that require it, and maximum scores are going back to 1600 — down from the 2400 points for the tests administered between 2005 and this year.

The overhaul of the SAT exam is the most substantial redesign in a decade.

Some college admissions officers and education experts believe that students from immigrant families and countries where English is not the native language will be at a disadvantage when being tested with longer reading passages.

"The heavier weighting on extended reading passages could well put kids whose home language is not English at a disadvantage, because the test remains timed — speed is a key issue," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which promotes equal opportunity in education.

"They may feel pressed to complete many of the longer passages in the available time, and quite often, kids from other nations are translating in their head from the English text to their home language and then back to English to get the right answer," he said.

The College Board said in a statement provided to China Daily that the new SAT measures skills essential for college and career readiness for all students, "regardless of geography".

"The College Board has redesigned the SAT to make it more focused, useful and clear for all students than ever before, in part by eliminating the tricks and mysteries that previously left some students at a disadvantage," the board statement said. "Among the biggest changes to the test is the removal of obscure vocabulary words that were an unnecessary barrier for some students, including those whose first language is not English."

The College Board also said that the new test will feature passages from founding documents of the United States, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, which may include antiquated language that students who didn't grow up studying in the US might not understand.

"Other than waving a patriotic flag, there is no measurement reason why reading passages should be about US founding documents rather than Darwin or the UN founding documents," Schaeffer said.

Dennis Yim, an SAT programs manager for Kaplan Test Prep, said the changes will alter who does well on the test, making it harder for slower readers and those who struggle with English as a second language. It may even affect students who usually perform well in the math section.

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