Why did the CollegeBoard make their flagship exam, which was already too long to begin with, nearly an hour longer?
- They didn’t think very hard about it.
- They didn’t read any scholarly research on the subject.
- They value marathon runners over sprinters.
- They don’t care a whit about students.
Don’t worry, this is NOT a rant, I just couldn’t resist. Truth be told, there is much about the redesigned SAT rolling out in March that appeals to my inner educator. But three hours and 50 minutes? Seriously? To be fair, it’s a mere three hours without the “optional” essay section, but for many students, i.e., those who are applying to at least one school that requires the Essay, it ain’t optional. That means you’ll be in the exam room well over four hours, concentrating as hard as you possibly can. For a test that frequently—for better or worse, and in my opinion worse—serves as a gatekeeper to the finest universities in the land, I find the length of the exam cruel and unusual. I myself have a B.A., an M.A, and a Ph.D., and I was never asked to take an exam that lasted more than three hours. That the stakes are so high and pressure so great makes it even worse.
Having said that, my main advice in the post may strike you as, well, ironic. Public school students in Connecticut (as well as those in the District of Columbia, Idaho, and Delaware) are now REQUIRED to take the SAT instead of the SBAC exam. The good news is that juniors will go to school on Wednesday, March 2, and take a real SAT that can count toward their college applications—on the state’s nickel. The bad news, however, is that this free test will NOT—I say again, NOT—include the “optional” Essay section. That means, if you’re applying to a single school that requires the Essay section, you’ll have to take the whole three hour and 50 minute ordeal again, just for the Essay (no, you can’t just do the Essay section as a stand-alone, which would be convenient and nice. That’s not part of the College Board’s mission. O right, not a rant.)
So here’s my unpalatable advice: take advantage of the free SAT, even without the Essay, because if you get your best score on any section that day, you can include it in your application. If, on the other hand, you don’t get your best score on any section, you have the “score choice” not to include it. Disclaimer, some old-fashioned admissions committees that shall remain nameless—cough, Yale, snort, Georgetown, chortle, Stanford—will ask you to send ALL your standardized test results, but complying with their request is, in the end, up to each individual applicant. (To be clear, I am not one to play fast and loose with the rules, but when a school flagrantly disregards a policy intended to protect the psychological well being of students by depressurizing a ridiculously pressurized exam, I personally have no problem disregarding their unreasonable requests. But that’s just me.)
Three days later, on March 5, you will have the opportunity to take the SAT again, WITH the Essay, along with the rest of the country, this time on your nickel. I say, do it for the following two reasons. First, you will have already prepared for the test (we hope) on March 2, so you’re already prepared to do it again on March 5, torturous as that is. Would you rather have one dart or two darts to throw at the dartboard, knowing a bull’s-eye is tantamount to a ticket to the college of your choice? Second, as noted above, many students will HAVE to take it again anyway to get an Essay score.
I don’t expect juniors to be happy about having to take two grueling exams in a four-day period, nor am I happy to be the harbinger of such news. But in my opinion that is the best strategy to pursue. So don’t think how much it sucks, just make up your mind to do it. We’re here to help.