New SAT Has Some Students Scrambling

March 12, 2005 — -- The Scholastic Aptitude Test is the most widely taken college entrance exam in America, and today, 300,000 high school students sat down to take a new version of the test with an essay-writing requirement that had some -- including the "GMA" Weekend anchors -- sweating.

The new SAT has three parts instead of two, with each section worth 800 points. That means a perfect score is now 2400, instead of 1600. The new test takes three hours and 20 minutes, 50 minutes longer than the old one.

The new test also has added more advanced math and has dropped verbal analogies. But the biggest change is an additional writing section -- a 25-minute essay asking a "philosophical" question to gauge how well students communicate and support their views.

Preparing Better Writers

The College Board, which administers the SAT, has said it changed the test to better reflect what's taught in high school and to gauge students' writing skills more effectively. The College Board says it's not looking for perfect writing, just "first draft" writing that takes a position and supports it.

"We were hearing from schools across the country, from employers all across the country: Young people are getting out of college not able to write, entering college where writing is much more in demand," said Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board.

High school student Cory Gordon is great at math, but he and his parents were so nervous about today's writing portion of the test that they spent $3,600 on a tutor.

"I'm a horrible essay writer. I always have been, I always will be," said Cory.

Cory's mother, Susan, said of the test, "Just when you think you have things figured out, they go and change it on you, so it's difficult."

But Does the Test Discriminate?

Caperton said that the hope is in an effort to "teach to the test," high schools will start placing more emphasis on writing skills.

But some educators fear the changes place an even bigger burden on kids from poorer school districts who can't afford expensive test preparation classes.

Hoop Dreams is a non-profit group in Washington, D.C., that helps inner-city kids get into college. Educators there say that oftentimes, the questions asked by the SAT don't reflect the experiences of many lower income and minority students.

"If the topics of the questions are about things that our kids haven't been exposed to, they're just not going to be as comfortable writing about them and really elaborating on them in the way that the test scorers might want to see," said Susie Kay, an educator at Hoop Dreams.

Hoop Dreams has partnered with The Princeton Review, a test preparation organization, to coach the kids at Hoop Dreams on their writing, and that's made a difference to students like Sckethia Smith, who will be the first in her family to attend college.

"I have confidence in myself and my writing, so I feel like I can do it," said Smith.

How Did 'GMA' Anchors Score?

The "Good Morning America" weekend anchors -- Kate Snow, Bill Weir, Marysol Castro and Ron Claiborne -- rolled up their sleeves and sat down to take a sample SAT essay, administered and scored by experts from The Princeton Review.

The anchors had to take a position and support it, based on the following statement: "The greatest grief we have is grief we cause ourselves."

The essay, which counts for 30 percent of the new writing section, is scored on a scale of two to 12 points. Drew Deutsh, vice president of The Princeton Review, scored the anchors' essays.

And the verdict? Bill Weir scored eight out of 12 points; Kate Snow and Ron Claiborne tied for second with 10 points; and Marysol Castro, a former high school teacher, received the high score of 11, with an essay that compared Martha Stewart to Homer's Odysseus.

For more information on the new SAT and study techniques, you can visit the College Board Web site,