Test anxiety

The switch from ACT to SAT has some students concerned, but how worried should we be?

Test anxiety

In the summer of 2015, the state of Illinois changed their college entrance exams from the ACT to the SAT, when a new contract with College Board was drawn. As of spring 2017, Cary-Grove will begin to administer the SAT instead of the ACT.

From the beginning, C-G students have been brought up to take the ACT. From the EXPLORE exam to countless practice ACTs, preparation was always for the ACT.

This abrupt switch hit the junior class particularly hard. As of right now, they only have one PSAT under their belts.

“I think it was unnecessary, and a bit annoying, but I understand why it happened,” said junior Erin Williams of the switch to the SAT. “I just wish that money wasn’t the incentive for changing it, because it makes everyone’s life harder.”

Williams isn’t the only student who feels cynical about the change.

“I think it’s not fair, because we’ve been training for the ACT for our entire school careers, and it kind of stinks that we are the grade that has to experiment with the SAT all of a sudden, even though we’ve been planning on the ACT,” junior Jamie Walker said.

The switch to the SAT has also affected teachers.

“The SAT has a calculator part and a non-calculator part, and the ACT never had that, so now we have to spend more time, and come up with more problems in class for kids to work on,” STEM division leader Mr. Bruley said. “We’ve always done that, but now it really has to be a focus, so that kids can prepare for that.”

He also said that the SAT requires much more reading comprehension than the ACT ever did, even on the math portion.

“The ACT was basically maybe one line, one sentence, that’s basically “solve for ‘x’,” and then you had to work it out,” Mr. Bruley said. “The SAT is that you really have to read the problem to get through it, to figure out what they want before you can do the math. If people aren’t good at reading, they struggle with math, whether they know math or not.”

The inability to use a calculator on a section of the math test represents a significant change that could be challenging for students. Some of the other changes will be more subtle, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be significant for students.

“A lot of the basic skills, they might be called something different from the ACT, but the basic skills are the same,” Humanities division leader Mrs. Montgomery said. “The thing that will change would be that we want, when you see the SAT for the first time, we don’t want it to be the very first time that you see the way a question is constructed, so we’ll have to do a little bit of changing with maybe the way we write some of our tests, maybe some of the ways that we write the answers for tests, just to get you guys familiar with what it will literally look like on a page, because we don’t want that to be something that holds somebody back.”

Although basic reading and grammar skills are transferrable from the ACT to the SAT, it is the essay portion that is going to require an adjustment of teaching because it is largely rhetorical analysis.

“The essay part is different,”Mrs. Montgomery said. “That will require some shift in the curriculum, because it’s asking students to do a type of writing that we haven’t really focused on up until this point.”

She created an analogy in which she described teaching the type of writing on the ACT as going out on a sports field and playing a sport.

“The difference is now we need to teach students how to stand on the sidelines, watch someone else play, and then describe what they’ve done, and whether or not it was effective. So we’re not teaching you how to play, we’re teaching you how to analyze how someone else plays.”

Despite all the sudden changes being made, the SAT is not without its benefits.

“I’ve looked through the test pretty thoroughly, and so has [English teacher] Mr. Anderson to do some preparation for interventions to get kids ready for it, and we both feel like, so far from what we’ve seen, it’s a better test than ACT,” Mrs. Montgomery said. “It’s a little different, there will actually be some parts that are a little bit harder, but there are also some parts that are better, like they’ll give us a better idea of some of the skills that our students are or are not going to need.”

Even some students who are most affected by the change are seeing the bright side of it.

“I like the SAT better than the ACT,” junior Maddy Ludko said. “I find that the science section on the ACT is, first of all, not actually science, but just kind of pointless graph reading. I think that the SAT is a better test of what we’ve learned in the school, and I feel like it’s formatted better.”

She also touched on the scoring of the exams, explaining that there is a broader span of “good scores,” whereas the ACT is scored 1-36, making even one point more or less a huge difference. Ludko also mentioned that she felt the optional writing section on the SAT to be important.

Yet even the Vermont native, familiar with the SAT, can understand the grievance over the sudden change.

“I just don’t like when they did the switch,” she said. “We had done like five practice ACTs, and so it feels like we could’ve been spending that time taking practice tests for the SAT.”

All in all, the switch to the SAT is just something to become adjusted to. And in the meantime, students can still take the ACT on their own.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve always been working on the ACT, and now we’ve gone to the SAT, and we’re starting to figure things out, and what to do, and how to cover some of this stuff,” Mr. Bruley said. “I’ve got a feeling that kids will still take the SAT at school because it’s free, but then some students will also go and take the ACT because that’s what they’re comfortable with. As humans, we don’t always like change.”