In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Mark Coffin, the owner and President of Academy Custom Test Prep. In this episode, they talk about the sweeping changes to the SAT. Topics include what big changes are coming to the SAT, how colleges are responding to those changes, and what strategies students should consider when preparing for either the SAT or ACT.
3 Main Points:
- What big changes are coming to the SAT
- How colleges are responding to those changes
- Preparation Strategies to consider when thinking of the SAT versus the ACT
- (01:45) What are the Big Changes to SAT in 2024
- (04:49) How will the SAT be different?
- (06:58) Some Key Differences Between the SAT and ACT
- (07:34) What the new SAT Focuses on with Reading and Grammar
- (09:52) The Mysterious Logic Behind Taking the SAT Online
- (12:08) The Biggest Change to Taking the SAT
- (12:54) Cheating: Varsity Blues Scandal Explained
- (14:10) All Scores are Not Created Equal
- (14:33) Adaptive Tests: Are They Equal?
- (17:08) Will Colleges Know if You Got a Hard or Easy Test?
- (18:15) Will the new SAT be of Any Value?
- (18:39) The Response from ACT
- (19:55) Do Colleges Prefer SAT over the ACT?
- (21:37) Should Students Go with the ACT?
- (22:43) A Simple Strategy Students Can Use to Prepare for the SAT
- (24:40) How Colleges Are Responding to the SAT Changes
- (26:33) Tutoring versus Self-Prep: What works better?
Susan Stone: Kristina, is this the first time we’re recording a podcast and we’re not together?
Kristina Supler: It is and it feels weird. I feel so alone.
Susan Stone: I was gonna say, I feel so disconnected from you. This is so weird everyone. You know that we’re always attached at the hip, but I’m in New York and I.
Kristina Supler: I’m in our studio in Cleveland, Ohio, and, we’re gonna do this with technology today, and I think we’re gonna be talking about technology a lot today.
Susan, what are we talking about today?
Susan Stone: Oh my gosh. We’re gonna talk about the changes to the SAT because there’s a lot happening and I’m gonna also wanna delve into, is the ACT gonna do the same thing, it’s. The time of year where everybody’s trying to get their last scores in before college applications go out.
So good time for this talk. And, with that, why don’t you introduce our guest?
Kristina Supler: Sure. We are joined today by Mark Coffin. Mark’s the proud owner of Academy Custom Test Prep. ACT P helps students with the ACT , SAT, P-SAT and GRE tests, as well as common app essays and other college admissions essays.
So Mark, thanks for joining us today.
Susan Stone: Happy to be here.
So Mark, big changes are coming to the SAT in 2024. Yeah. Complete. Describe the dun da. So can you describe the changes?
Mark Coffin: Sure. It’s a complete revamp. The, college board who, runs both the P-SAT and SAT testing, they make up the tests and score ’em and all that.
They made major changes to the SAT in 2016. So this isn’t a long time for them to have had this new test. They made it then much closer to the ACT. Now effective with the P-SAT. This fall they’re given traditionally in the high schools to juniors, sophomores, and juniors in October of each year.
So this fall, both sophomores and juniors will take the new version of the P-SAT, which will be very much like the new version of the SAT. The first new SAT will be in March of 24. So current juniors who pretty much have already taken some of these tests, have taken the old s a, the current SAT.
The new one will be for current sophomores and younger kids starting next March. Now a current sophomore could in fact take SAT tests this fall. There are, four testing dates. And take the current version on paper. But starting with March, it’s going to be a very different format, for a number of reasons.
Number one, the test is gonna be completely online. So there’ll be no printed tests. Students will take it at testing centers, not at home, designated as they do now, but they can use their own computers or they, a computer will be provided when they go in and get ready for the test and start, their computer will basically be frozen. So they can’t use it for research or texting or anything else they might want. And they download through a link, the new SAT test. And so they will have their own test on their machine or on a provided machine that’s online and everything must be done online.
The test will be shorter. It’s currently a little over three hours. It’s gonna be two hours. They’re shortening it by combining some of the sections and reduce, just simply reducing the number of questions. The current SAT has a reading section. And a writing or grammar section. And those will now be, those are now separate sections.
You finish one and then go on when the time’s up to the next one. And then it current one has two math sections. One without a calculator. You can’t use a calculator. And then one with a calculator. And again, you do the non calculator. You finish when the time’s up. You go on to the next one.
Susan Stone: Mark. I just wanna interrupt, how did they know whether you have a calculator or a non calculator?
Do the proctors manage that? Yeah, the proctors.
Mark Coffin: The proctors are walking around and they see you with a calculator. you’re kicked out. so
Kristina Supler: it sounds like it’s almost, it’s a really different test.
Mark Coffin: It’s different in a lot of other ways too. One hugely important way, which I’ll get to after I’ve covered the more, the simpler questions. So the current two sections that are reading and grammar, they call it writing and language, are gonna be combined into one section so you don’t finish big. That’s a big, that’s a big change. That’s a big change. In the, reading part, in the current test, you generally have around 11 paragraphs to read, eight to 11, and then you answer 10 or 11 questions about each paragraph.
So you have to be not only a perceptive reader, but a pretty quick reader because I’ll give you a lot of time. The current, the new test will reduce this, I think, to four passages for the reading with one question and just be a paragraph with only one question per paragraph. The, reasoning is that students will have more time to absorb the material and answer one sort of more broader question about the point of the paragraph so they have more time to ponder it in effect.
Susan Stone: Mark,
Kristina Supler: is that easier?
Yeah, it sounds like they’re in some ways watering the test down. Am I wrong?
Mark Coffin: The questions are not easy. I don’t think it’s easier. It’s easier in the time sense. You’re not hurried to read a paragraph and answer 10 or 11 questions. Because you have to have pretty good recall to read a paragraph and then immediately go to the questions and remember 11 different answers.
Now it’ll be one answer. And I’ve taken a practice test. Khan Academy, which many people are familiar with, is Sure. An online practicing entity for basically the SAT. They now have a couple of these, new format practice tests. And I’ve taken one, the question’s not, I’m not a junior in high school, so I may be somewhat better at taking these tests than some kids, but,it’s a fairly difficult question, I thought for a junior.
Susan Stone: Okay. So sorry to, they’re taking
Kristina Supler: the time management pressure out of it, but the substance of the questions is still weighty.
Mark Coffin: Yes, I think so. The. Yeah, they’re trying to give kids more time. The SAT compared to the ACT has never been a time crunch. The way the ACT is. The ACT is much more direct, and so there are many more questions in the same three hour period.
For example, the math section in the ACT is 60 questions in 60 minutes. you gotta move. SAT was never that time crunch. But they’re dropping it from three hours to two dramatically reducing the number of questions. The whole idea is to make it, an easier test, frankly.
Susan Stone: So let’s go back.
What are the other changes, cuz I wanna make sure we cover ’em all.
Mark Coffin: I told you they combined the two reading and grammar. Grammar will have much more emphasis on vocabulary. The SAT before they changed it in 2016, was much more of a vocabulary test than the then new SAT. They reduced the, you really had to study vocabulary if you took an SAT in 2005.
Kristina Supler: so are we back to that? Are we back to studying vocabulary?
Mark Coffin: I think so, somewhat. The but they’ll, there’ll be more emphasis on vocabulary, not so much, you don’t have to define words, but they will have a blank in a sentence and ask you which word best fills in that blank. So you don’t have to know the definition, but you have to know pretty much the context of words, how they’re used.
And in some words will be absurd. You just wouldn’t use ’em. It might be farmer, where the right word is horse. I’m using simplistic examples, but you would never put farmer in the, in that blank. So some of them will be obvious, but some won’t be. It’ll be difficult. So anyway, those are two of the changes.
The, making the math all, maybe I didn’t get to that. The math is now gonna be all with a calculator, fewer questions than the two previous sections. But you can use a calculator anywhere. And you don’t bring a calculator. The calculator is on the screen. One of the big changes with this test going online is that you have to be adept at taking the test online. With a paper test going forwards and back, skipping a problem, but coming back to it later because you circled it on your paper.
Those things are second nature to kids now. I’m much older than a junior in high school. I think many of these kids are much more adept at online testing than I am.
Kristina Supler: There’s all sorts of online testing now, for sure. Yeah, I
Susan Stone: know, but I would struggle because I remember that taking the SAT and seeing something that was challenging, saying, okay, I’m gonna come back, and I would just jot where to go back.
But now you’ve got a manage and negotiate everything on the screen.
Mark Coffin: Well, you can have to help with that. You can have scratch paper, obviously you can’t bring anything other than blank paper. They’ll provide scratch paper. So you can write down section one. I wanna come back to number 11 or something. But you still gotta be able to do it on the screen.
Now there are arrows. Kids know how to do that. But it’s another step I think thatIt just makes it, for me, it makes it much more challenging to take this test online. So essentially those are the format is largely the same. The material tested largely the same. Just many fewer questions.
Their thinking is that by making it shorter and online, I don’t know how they come up with this logic, but that it will appeal to many more kids. That it’ll be fairer. I don’t know what makes this fairer. That’s what they put in their press releases, that they think more kids will take it. I think that may be true, but not because they’ve improved the test.
I think kids will be, a p will be attracted by the two hours instead of three. These tests are no fault.
Susan Stone: for sure.
Kristina Supler: So were these, what motivated, or caused SAT to make these sweeping changes?
Mark Coffin: There’s no question that these tests, ACT or SAT are culturally biased. If you come from a good school system, a nuclear family, maybe get prep work, tutoring, you have a huge advantage over a student that doesn’t have those things.
So that makes the score. The score is it’s almost a. It’s hard for an inner city kid, for example, to score, and many do nonetheless, but they have a bigger hurdle to get the kind of scores that a kid’s kid from a top flight, public or private school can get.
Kristina Supler: So in other words, if you have resources, you can game the test.
Mark Coffin: I tell people only partly inject ingest that academy’s job is to be a legal cheater. Our job is to train these kids interesting, to improve the on the test. And think of this as a move on an athletic field. Think of prepping as a move on an athletic field or learning in an instrument or lines in a play.
If you do the test over and over in practice, you’re just simply gonna get better.
Susan Stone: Yeah, but Mark, my understanding of the TE biggest test change is that students will get different tests cuz the computer will spit out different questions based on how you do.
Kristina Supler: Is that true? I’m gonna track you, Susan?
Is that what you’re getting at?
Mark Coffin: There’s two parts to that answer, and it’s the biggest change. The first part is everyone in the room will have a different test. Forget the adaptive nature I’ll get to next. Every, the person sitting next to you will have a different test than yours. I believe.
That’s simply a plain attempt to stop cheating. You can’t look at the person next to you and see what they’re answering. Not only is it online, but they have a different test. They’re gonna have, 17 is gonna be a different question for John than Mary.
Susan Stone: so you can’t use AI to help you with the test.
Kristina Supler: No. This was one thing I was wondering as well, aside from ai, is this some sort of response to the varsity blues, matter and all the cheating that happened just a couple years ago?
Mark Coffin: That was pretty genius, frankly, what that guy did it, it hinged on you moving your test center to one of his.
And to do that was very simple. He said, I’ve got a wedding that day in Texas and can I take the test there? Yeah, sure. And you take the test to his test center and he either, gave you the answers or he had someone else take the test.
Susan Stone: Just sit there. Yeah. That wouldn’t have prevented varsity blue because he actually I agree had someone take the test for you. But you won’t be able to really move test centers, correct?
Mark Coffin: No. I don’t know that. You go, you still go to a test center, so I guess that same argument still applies. But obviously they’re paying much more attention. That was a, he called it a side door. And of course the bad part of that was that he had athletic coaches, letting a guy who lives in a desert get in on the crew team kind of thing.
Susan Stone: But the question is, now that everybody has a different test, how do you compare? How can a school say, look at Johnny Smith versus Johnny Jones. And if they both have a 1300, how do you compare? Cuz they’re two different tests,
Kristina Supler: right? Not all 13 hundreds are created equal with an adaptive test, right?
Mark Coffin: Yeah, that’s correct. And of course some kids are better at certain phraseology, better re even though you end up with the same score, you might do well on certain questions that the other guy didn’t do well on. But it comes out to the same score because vice versa. And other questions. The yeah, there is no comparative value that I can see. and I haven’t even gotten to the big change.
Susan Stone: Okay. give us the big change. Yeah. wait,
Mark Coffin: take us there. I’ll one more comment though, on the sitting next to people with different tests. The college board maintains that the test, no matter being different, they’re equivalent. Well, that’s a value judgment. And I don’t know how you That’s a great comment.
How you can really ascertain that or say it with a straight face. If it’s a different test, by definition, it’s not compar comparable. So you’re right. So that’s a fairly big change right there. But here’s the killer. The tests are now gonna be adaptive, meaning I, I mentioned, I think I mentioned before, that when you do the verbal part, the reading and the grammar. They’re gonna be two modules.
And the same thing with math. Two modules. So when you finish the first one, say the, reading in, in grammar, the program is gonna analyze how you did and either give you harder questions for the second module or easier ones. So if you screw up early on, even if you’re brilliant, and then just half asleep and start off slowly, you’re gonna get easier questions.
Same thing in the math. After the first module, they’re gonna adjust the following questions. That also will adjust the score you can get the maximum score is gonna stay still. 1600, 800, 800 on the two sections. Which is pretty hard to get by the way. But the maximum score now will be essentially 1200.
So if you get in both sections, the easier Second module, your score will be capped in each section at 600, so two would be 1200. Even if you answer the second module, both the verbal and the math perfectly, your score can’t go over 1200, or maybe it’s 1225. It’s not specific, but it’s low 12 hundreds. And it’s nowhere near 1600.
Now if you, obviously, if you do well in the sections, you get the harder questions and your maximum score could be the 1600. But this means, again, Everyone is taking a different test that when you start changing the second module from the first module. And by the way, the first module is already different, and now you’re gonna change the second one.
What possible value do two scores have when be like a batter’s batting average when they’re in a different ballpark against a different pitch. It’s not the same ballgame.
Susan Stone: Mark, will colleges have any way of knowing that? Let’s say Kristina and I both took it. I got an easy version. She got a hard,
Mark Coffin: I.
Not in anything I’ve read. I don’t believe so. It’s a very good question. But I don’t think colleges will know. college board has been quiet on that and colleges have been crickets on this. They haven’t said anything basically about this new test. Part of that is because it’s not in their ball ballpark yet.
The kids that are gonna be taking this test, are gonna be next year’s juniors. They don’t apply until the fall of senior year. So we’re two years away from colleges even having to think about these scores. D do they matter or not?
Kristina Supler: Well, it’s interesting to think about the change, really significant changes in the SAT coupled with the affirmative action ruling from the Supreme Court.
You know how that the trickle down effect of both those changes on the college admissions landscape. It’s it’s gonna be really significant.
Mark Coffin: Well, certainly certain minorities are gonna have a harder time. They’re not getting favoritism theoretically on paper. And is that good or bad? We could argue the point. But, and they’re, both sides have plenty of value in the argument.
But yeah, it. In my mind, this new SAT will be of no value whatsoever to colleges. Because its only value is comparative. And that’s a limited value. But if you take the comparison value away, what, what’s left? They took, they got a score.
Susan Stone: So what is ACT gonna do? Are they gonna sit back and hold the course?
And what that test is?
Mark Coffin: So far, the ACT has said they are not doing anything except they’re investigating, going online with their test. And they, the SAT is has already been online abroad. If you took it, if you’re a student taking it abroad and want to apply to a US college, which many do, that is currently the new version of the SAT and it’s online. The ACT, all they’ve said is they’re looking into going online, away from paper tests.
Now, here’s problem for a company like mine. There are no paper tests anymore. The college board currently puts out a big blue book, has eight practice tests. And kids that’s how we give kids homework and that’s how they improve.
They do the tests,
Kristina Supler: ah, materials for practicing, and yeah, so on and so forth.
Mark Coffin: There are no materials now. I don’t have any way of having a tutor sit with a student and go over the questions and answers. It’s just, it’s not on paper. It’s not there. You can’t do women computers.
Kristina Supler: Mark, I’m wondering, irrespective of the changes to SAT, let’s set that aside for a moment.
As things currently stand, in your opinion, do colleges and universities prefer the SAT over the ACT or vice versa?
Mark Coffin: No, they did 20 years ago, 15 years ago. They clearly did. The East Coast was an SAT area. Largely they preferred the SAT. So if you were uva, Harvard, any, any East Coast team you wanted an SAT.
Same thing with the West Coast. They wanted SAT. Basically the Midwest has always been the ACT home. But that all changed, I don’t know, 2 20 12 kind of thing. All colleges then and now say that they don’t have a preference. And of course, as many colleges have gone test, some are test blind.
If you turn in a test, they won’t even consider it. But many are test optional. So many kids have opted out, would’ve opted out of even taken the test. Cuz it’s no fun. If you really want to do well, you pretty much have to prep. And that’s expensive and time consuming. And these kids are busy. Junior year is a really busy year for a high school kid.
So many of them have opted to go test fun. And of course any student who forget, just not wanting to bother. any student who knows they’re a weak test taker or maybe takes the test one time and is very disappointed, of course they’re not turning that score in and they’re not gonna take it again.
So test optional is still, it helps if a school’s test optional, you can turn in a good score. It helps in two ways. It’s a tie breaker for a student that looks like you on paper without a score. And it’s also a help for marade. Almost all colleges consider if they get a score, it’s a factor in.
And colleges, as are really expensive. So getting merit aid is a big plus. But, you’re only turning in a good score. So you can see what that does to the average scores that colleges now.
Susan Stone: The average score is now higher. I’m gonna have two follow up questions based on what Kristina said.
One is, now with the change of the SAT, would you recommend students just stick with the ACT? Because it’ll give Yeah. Pardon?
Mark Coffin: Completely. Partly because I can’t, and I’m on it. I’ve already started talking to parents whose kids are, rising juniors. We’re not tutoring the SAT I can’t do it.
And I also don’t think you should take it. If you’re going to take the test, a test, take one that matters. Why take a test that’s meaningless?
Susan Stone: And then my follow up is something that you said if it’s gonna be online and it’s difficult for you to get practice materials, are you just gonna tutor with like, general testing strategy.
Mark Coffin: Well, we’re doing that with some kids. We have our, or we’re set up to do that with some rising juniors who know they are not taking a paper test in the fall. They’re taking the first in March, the first,new format. And the mom said to me, since the material’s largely the same, I understand the timing and all those things are different.
But can you just tutor her for the current SAT using paper tests? She’ll be better, won’t she? At the real, the new SAT the answer. That’s a great question. Of course she will be. And we are doing that with some kids. And I’ve suggested that to some moms. But,But it’s not, it’s still not prepping him for the exact same test.
So that as a businessman, that makes me a little uncomfortable taking your money, but I’m preparing you for something you’re not gonna do.
Susan Stone: So what are you going do? How are you going?
Mark Coffin: Just ACT. And so unless something changes now, we’re still a ways away from next March. If there are sufficient numbers of online practice tests and they become accessible somehow. I’m not a computer geek, so I don’t know what that means, but if there’s some way we can use them sitting down one-on-one with a kid, yeah, of course we’ll do that. Except again, I think it’s hard for me to justify to a mother. Why do, why are you gonna take the SAT?
Why’s your student taking the SAT? It’s a pointless test now. And I think colleges will come to that conclusion. Now, if you get a 1500. Whether it’s a different test or not, of course that’s an indicator. You’re a pretty, pretty good student, at least at this type of work. Does it compare to another 1500 or, I don’t think so. But a but a strong score is a strong score.
I think they’re dumbing down the test, and I think it’ll be easier to get a pretty good score if you take it. but
Kristina Supler: Mark, how would you respond to someone who, a listener out there who might just say,geez, this guy’s in the test prep business. And, it’s sour grapes for the SAT because now you’ve in, you’ve said you can’t tutor on the SAT.
it’s just your business interests are driving your opinion of the test changes. How would you respond to that?
Mark Coffin: I think the colleges are gonna have the same business interest. And they’re gonna be making the same evaluation I am. How valuable is this number now? As I said before, they haven’t gotten there yet.
They don’t have to. It’s not even on their radar. Another interesting wrinkle in this is, the state of Ohio currently requires as a diploma requirement, graduation requirement that all public and parochial, not private schools, but public and parochial, give their junior class either an SAT or an ACT For free.
For free. For free. Yes. Yes. And the school picks the date. And they pick which test. And some schools pick ACT, like Solen, west Joa, but many schools pick SAT like Orange and Kenston and Chagrin Falls. The SAT, they’re gonna be able to give, and they typically do this in the spring. So the SAT they’re gonna have available to them is gonna be the new format.
Are they gonna give that SAT as a graduation requirement or are they gonna go to ACT? I would think they’d go ACT. But I don’t know. I’ve asked a couple of college guidance people and they say it’s not on our radar yet. That’s so far ahead. So yeah.
Susan Stone: That’s really interesting. I would say that, Look, you can’t deny, especially with the test, optional, that there’s a positive inference by submitting a score.
Correct. And I don’t know that’s gonna change. So it is still important and studying practice makes perfect with this test. And there are some good free resources available. We can’t deny that. But it Mark, after having three kids go through it, No matter what the free resource is, it helps to have a human being sit with you and explain things, doesn’t it?
Kristina Supler: Not quite the same as working with the tutor.
Mark Coffin: Yeah, the one-on-one is very different than doing it yourself. Partly cuz when you miss a question, it might be cuz you don’t understand how to do it. Not just a casual error. Like I forgot to bring a minus sign down. The other thing is motivation. None of humans are very good at doing things we don’t particularly enjoy and prepping on your own. Very true is difficult, to sit there. And plus, when you prep, you’re not taking a three hour test, eight o’clock on a Saturday morning. You take a, you do a math test for practice and you get up in the middle of it and go get a soda or something.
And it’s just very different on your own even if you do it. And one of the reasons that my business is attractive to parents is it’s a way of, in effect, forcing their kids to do it. It’s like a doctor’s appointment. You gotta get, go meet with this person, do the homework, and just take this seriously.
It’s costing me a lot of money. Yep. And doing it on your own just isn’t the same motivation. Very few kids are successful at doing it on their own. Some are, they’re some kids that are driven for this kind of thing. But I think the answer to your earlier question is this self-serving course.
It is. it’s my business, and I want it to work as well as possible. The good news is tutoring works. And it’s very rewarding, especially for my tutors. When you raise a kid’s score, 250 points on the SAT. You take ’em from 1150 to a 1500 or something. it’s, it, that’s very big job. Big job.
Yeah. and it happens. it sounds incredible. But it’s a function of the kids putting in the effort. And again, they’re the same tests every time, different material, but they get used to the material. It brings back stuff like the math they may have had two years earlier and have basically largely forgotten since ninth grade.
Kristina Supler: There’s so much to consider now for families, planning for the future with the college process. But this has really been a wonderful discussion that’s full of chock full of good information for parents to be aware of as they, plan for the future and the college process with their children.
Susan Stone: And again, another difficult decision, SAT V versus ACT or whether you should take it at all. Lots to think about. You gotta know your kid. Absolutely.
Mark Coffin: Another point, the test may become more available to companies like mine because there are huge national tutoring companies like Princeton Review, Kaplan.
They don’t wanna stop tutoring the the SAT. Some of them are making their own tests trying to divine how are we, how’s this test gonna look? That’s, that doesn’t work very well. but they, they’ve got a lot of incentive to get something out there that little companies like me can use and students can use.
Kristina Supler: What’s the saying? Necessity is the mother of invention. So there you go.
Susan Stone: That’s a good one. Supler. That’s a good one. Mark, it’s been such a pleasure.
Kristina Supler: Feel free to reach out to Mark Coffin at Academy Custom Test Prep.
Thanks for joining us, Mark. Thanks.
Mark Coffin: My pleasure. Thanks. Have a good day. Bye-Bye.