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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS & VIEWS : The Big Study : The SAT college-entrance exam has undergone some major changes. Will cramming help? Instructors of preparation courses say most students can benefit from test-taking and time-management strategies.

March 03, 1994|HALLIE KIM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Hallie Kim is a senior at Brea Olinda High School in Brea.

College entrance exams are enough to make any high school student worry.

And recent changes to the Scholastic Aptitude Test--the first since 1974--have spurred new anxieties, with more students signing up for preparation courses and others trying to absorb new test-taking strategies.

The 2 1/2-hour exam, to be given next on March 19, was renamed last year to Scholastic Assessment Test I (SAT I). Students preregister for the test, which is used along with grades and other information by colleges to determine whether an applicant will be admitted. It is taken by juniors and seniors.

The SAT I still includes two 30-minute verbal sections and two 30-minute math sections. However, the Test of Standard Written English, a section universities had once used to determine placement in English courses, has been eliminated. In its place will be one 15-minute verbal section and one 15-minute math section.

Alterations in the verbal sections include the elimination of antonym questions, the addition of dual-passage exercises and an increased emphasis on critical reading questions. Changes to the math sections allow the use of a calculator and "student-produced response questions," in which answer choices are not provided.

"On the verbal, there's an attempt, a desire to test more directly some of the critical reading skills and some of the reasoning skills that are needed in higher education," said David Hubin, chairman of the SAT Committee.

Hubin, who is executive assistant to the president at the University of Oregon, said changes were made with the intention of bringing the SAT "more in line with the type of reasoning skills that students are going to need in higher education.

"The reading comprehension portion of the exam is expanded. In one part, for example, there are questions that ask you to relate two passages that both deal with a theme and to look for points of comparison, to look for ways in which the authors might agree or disagree. So, in a sense, it tests some higher-level skills of reasoning."

Much of the test-taking advice offered by Hubin and instructors of preparation courses, which vary from one-day workshops to six-day courses and can cost from under $100 to more than $600, concerns familiarity with the test and time management.

Even "The Official Guide to the New SAT I," which is published by the College Board and is distributed free at high schools, states: "Become thoroughly familiar with the test directions."

And, according to Teri Sorey, an instructor at the SAT I verbal skills workshops that are part of the university extension program at UC Irvine, familiarity with the test is reason enough to take an SAT I preparation course.

"It's a smart move, if nothing more than to become familiar with what you'll be expected to do," Sorey said, adding that it is important to "take some practice pretests and determine what are your strengths and weaknesses.

"Taking a preparation class can help confidence levels," Sorey added. "When you walk into the test, you've done it so many times and you're so familiar with the strategy that I think it eases the stress level. And that alone can help students do better."

Becoming familiar with the test will also help students know how to budget time, Sorey said. That way, students will know which tasks are easier or harder and "to do the easier things first, so that you don't run out of time."

One time-management strategy, according to Adam Sand, director of Princeton Review in Orange County, a test-preparation firm, is to approach each verbal section knowing that some questions take less time to complete.

"On the verbal side, one of the things that we're saying is, you should do (each section) not in the order they give it to you, but in the order that makes more sense," he said.

"The analogies are actually some of the easiest questions on the test. You should do the analogies first. Then you do the sentence completion and then do the critical reading last. . . . All the questions are worth the exact same amount of points, so why take your time on critical reading--questions that will take you so long because you have to read the whole passage to do those questions--when you can get the exact amount of points for an analogy that might take you 30 seconds?"

Other techniques for the verbal sections include ways to approach the dual-passage reading comprehension exercise. Students at the UCI Extension workshops are encouraged "to skim the questions first, then read the first passage (and) answer the questions that are about the first passage, (which) will always be the first batch of questions," Sorey said.

"Then skim the next batch of questions, read the second passage, answer the next batch of questions--the last two, or three at most, will be asking them to compare. Don't read both passages and then answer the first questions. Just treat them as two separate things until you can get to the last couple of questions."

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