Can you answer this math question from a practice test for the SAT?
SAT study blogs recommend spending only about 75 seconds on each math problem, so you should set a timer.
Here it is:
A typical image taken of the surface of Mars by a camera is 11.2 gigabits in size. A tracking station on Earth can receive data from the spacecraft at a data rate of 3 megabits per second for a maximum of 11 hours each day. If 1 gigabit equals 1,024 megabits, what is the maximum number of typical images that the tracking station could receive from the camera each day?
Keep in mind that the numeric details here are presented in an intentionally confusing order, from which multiple equations must be extrapolated before any math can actually be done.
Give up? Timer run out? Or hey, maybe you answered it without even blinking (no judgements here … nerd).
That question comes from the newly redesigned SAT, which will roll out in March 2016.
Millions of juniors and seniors in high school take the SAT every year with the palm-sweating hope they’ll do well enough on it to at least get into their safety school. The test is, traditionally, the final word on your intelligence and scholastic acumen before you go off to college.
Of course, there’s no shortage of strongly worded arguments to the contrary, and the SAT, which was designed in the 1920s, has long been criticized for being outdated and unfair to groups such as minorities and lower-income students.
“The only persistent statistical result from the SAT is the correlation between high income and high test scores,” Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, told Time magazine in 2014.
The College Board, which makes the SAT, has updated the test to be “more focused on the skills and knowledge at the heart of education” and to more accurately reflect what students are actually learning in high school as well as what they need to succeed in college.
The SAT was also redesigned to more effectively compete with its competitor, the ACT, which has been gaining more market share since at least 2008.
With the SAT redesign comes a new set of problems.
And I’m not just talking about math problems.
Simply put, the new SAT test is wordier. There are longer and harder reading passages as well as more words in the math problems.
Experts are saying that those changes put immigrants and lower-income students at an even greater disadvantage since they might not have as much access to English-language reading as other students.
The College Board is countering those criticisms, of course, saying that the new SAT test contains the same amount of words in its reading sections and that the math sections contain the same percentage of word problems as before (about 30%).
Outside analysts are alleging that the way words are used on the updated SAT is what makes all the difference.
Short sentence-completion questions, for example, have been swapped out for long reading passages from prose-heavy texts like “Ethan Frome” and “Moby-Dick” or political thought pieces like John Locke’s “Consent of the Governed.”
Math problems have also been wrapped in more narrative, forcing students to do a higher level of reading comprehension just to figure what equation the question is really asking about.
And just to be clear, the SAT is supposed to be challenging. On top of that, math word problems are meant to teach extrapolation and reading comprehension as much as algebra.
However, if we want a test that’s even a little bit “standard,” it’s going to have to take into account that some students are at a disadvantage when it comes to skills like reading comprehension.
“It’s going to change who does well,” said Lee Weiss, vice president of precollege programs at Kaplan Test Prep, to The New York Times. “Before, if you were a student from a family where English was not the first language, you could really excel on the math side. It may be harder in the administration of this new test to decipher that, because there is so much text on both sides of the exam.”
Whether the new SAT addresses systemic disadvantages or makes them worse remains to be seen.
“We’re going to need to see how they did, which test is going to be better, how can we weigh it,” Eric J. Furda, the dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Times.
But it’s hard not to feel for the kids who are currently studying and signing up to take the SAT. For the last several years, many of them have been told that it’s one of the most important ingredients in their recipe for success, but in fact, the SAT is likely on its way out.
Hundreds of colleges are now going “test optional” because the SAT is so outdated.
Advocates all the way up to the president have called on schools to reduce the time spent on standardized testing, saying that it puts students under a tremendous amount of stress while failing to make them smarter.
In fact, studies have shown that SAT and ACT are not a good measure of a student’s intelligence or academic potential at all. It’s pretty easy to see why a test designed shortly after World War I is at best outdated and at worst dramatically unfair.
Oh, and by the way: The answer to the Mars question from the top is B) 10.