Notes on SAT Scores

David S. Kahn:

Colleges across the country are reporting a drop in SAT scores this year. I’ve been tutoring students in New York City for the SAT since 1989, and I have watched the numbers rise and fall. This year, though, the scores of my best students dropped about 50 points total in the math and verbal portions of the test (each on a scale of 200 to 800). Colleges and parents are wondering: Is there something wrong with the new test? Or are our children not being taught what they should know?
Before 1994, the verbal section of the SAT was about 65% vocabulary (55 out of 85 questions) and 35% reading comprehension. Then the Educational Testing Service shortened and reworked the test, devoting half of the 78 questions to each area. Last year ETS changed the test again, and now it is heavily skewed toward reading: 49 of the 68 items require students to read, synthesize and answer questions.
In such a way, ETS has increased the penalty for not reading throughout one’s school years. Studying vocabulary lists before the test–a long-favored shortcut to lifting scores–just won’t cut it anymore. Students who read widely and often throughout their elementary and high-school years develop the kinds of reading skills measured by the new SAT. Students who avoid reading don’t–and can’t develop them in a cram course.