In his announcement about the overhaul of the SAT this week, David Coleman announced that the reading and writing sections would be revamped to focus on evidence-based reading and writing. But what is evidence-based reading and writing, and how do they differ from traditional reading and opinion-based writing? And what can students do to master these critical skills to take the new SAT?
Evidence-based reading on the new SAT moves students away from memorization and facts, towards thinking that is focused on argumentation and the data that supports it. The exam will not ask students factual questions, such as where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Instead, students will be asked to engage with arguments in a piece of text, and use the data in those texts to support their conclusions. In other words, the key questions that students will need to answer are shifting from “what” to “why” and “how do you know?”
Similarly, the writing section on the new SAT will require students to produce essays with arguments that they are able to support with facts. This type of writing is not new to high school students, as it is very similar to the DBQ, or Document-Based Questions, that are asked on the AP US History Examination. But David Coleman’s intention in highlighting it in the new SAT writing section is to underscore the importance of analytical writing for college success. If you have to take a standardized exam for college admission, the skills you learn on the exam should serve you in your college courses.
So what is the best thing that high school students can do to strengthen their evidence-based reading and writing skills?
Read, read, and read some more, with attention toward argumentation and the ways that authors support their claims.
While fully recognizing that today’s high school students are stretched quite thin, the more that students read and become comfortable with argumentation in all its forms, the better. On Rotten Tomatoes, film critics make compelling cases for the best films of the year; thegamespot.com blog analyzes the latest video games and their value. Encourage students to read blogs and newspapers that interest them and engage with the author’s arguments. Unlike earlier versions of the SAT which were initially designed to measure innate intelligence, evidence-based writing is a very achievable skill with lots of practice.
By Alyssa Frank, Writing Coach