washingtonpost.com  > Education > Special Reports > Learning Special Reports > Testing

On Eve of Revised SAT, Uneasy Impatience

By Ylan Q. Mui and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 12, 2005; Page B03

Aaron Maybin has learned how to compute absolute values, functional notations and negative and fractional exponents. But the only figure he's still unsure of is what constitutes a good score on the newly revised SAT.

Today, Maybin will take the latest version of the signature college admissions test, which features a critical reading section with short and long passages, more advanced math, a written essay and a new scoring scale.

And Maybin, along with hundreds of thousands of students across the Washington area and the country, are the guinea pigs for the nearly four-hour test.

"They don't really know what's coming at 'em," said Maybin, a junior at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City. "I think everybody's just really eager to see what the new SAT . . . is going to throw at you."

The 67-year-old exam was developed by the College Board, a nonprofit membership of schools, universities and educational associations.

Recently, key colleges, including the University of California system, had been considering dropping the old version of the test as an admissions tool because they felt it was not rigorous enough and a poor indicator of student achievement.

The revised exam will better reflect what students are learning in high school, according to the College Board's Web site.

But for Maybin and many others, the SAT is about more than proving they can compute exponential growth and complete sentences.

Maybin, a star football player, said that he is being recruited by about 45 colleges and that his scholarships are on the line. He didn't even bother to take the old test because he knew colleges would dismiss those results.

"My scholarships would depend on the new SAT, not the old SAT," he said.

A perfect score on the old exam was 1600. The new test goes up to 2400 -- and what will be considered a strong score is still anyone's guess.

The new SAT will also include a writing section with 35 minutes allotted for multiple-choice questions and 25 minutes for the essay.

Troy Sanders, a junior at the private St. John's College High School in the District, said he has gotten pointers on crafting the perfect essay from his Kaplan test preparation course. (Kaplan is owned by The Washington Post Co.)

"They told us to avoid wordiness, avoid being verbose," Sanders said, busting out his SAT-ready vocabulary.

Students also fretted over practical matters, such as sitting still for the marathon test -- which lasts 3 hours 45 minutes -- or writing neatly on the essay while still making deadline. (What? No spell-checker?)

Math could be the killer for Timothy Poulin, a junior at Rockville High School. The revised exam has third-year college-preparatory math.

"I'm afraid I'll make stupid errors, which could really pull down my score," Poulin said.

He has attended classes every week for nearly two months at Princeton Review, a private test prep service.

After four practice tests, his scores have gone up -- 100 points in math, 50 points in verbal and 50 in grammar.

The score on his essay has jumped from a 6 out of 12 possible points to a 10.

"Now I know all the ins and outs of it. I know everything about it," said Poulin, who has toured Duke University, the University of Virginia and Harvard University.

Still, he admitted, "I'm not worried -- just nervous. That's something that can't be helped."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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