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LI students have mixed reviews for new SAT exam

Justus Hemingway, 18, a senior at Malverne High

Justus Hemingway, 18, a senior at Malverne High School, after completing the new SAT at Malverne High School on Saturday, March 5, 2016. Credit: Barry Sloan

Justus Hemingway came out of his SAT exam feeling lighter.

The Malverne Senior High School senior, part of the first wave of college hopefuls to take a significantly revamped SAT on Saturday, said it felt less frantic than the version he took in November.

There were fewer sections, so there were fewer clocks counting down. The essay question was optional, and he opted to skip it.

“The reading was better, but the math was challenging,” said Hemingway, 18, of Lynbrook. “I feel like it was better to take this one than the last one.”

At more than 30 sites across Long Island on Saturday, high school juniors and seniors sat for a test redesigned for the first time in a decade to better reflect what they learn in class.

College Board, the nonprofit that sponsors the SAT, removed elements such as obscure vocabulary words and a penalty for guessing wrong that have tripped up test takers for years.

Malverne Senior High School assistant principal Kesha Bascombe said the new SAT tracks more closely to the Common Core academic standards that now guide education in New York and more than 40 other states.

Test takers, once asked to define unfamiliar words in isolation, may now use clues that give context to understand what they’re reading, she said.

“They feel like they have some control,” Bascombe said. “I think the past was a little more ambiguous and tricky.”

Some of the 200 weary students filing out of Malverne Senior High School after the test Saturday afternoon said the exam had a more plodding rhythm than previous versions.

Ten timed segments, each 10 to 25 minutes, have been replaced by four longer ones, each 25 to 65 minutes. Multiple-choice questions now have four possible answers instead of five.

One 16-year-old junior at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale said he preferred the brisk pace of the old test to what he saw as longer, more involved questions Saturday.

“The old one was much better. It was more fast-paced. The questions go quick,” said the student, who said he studied both versions of the test in a 13-week prep course. “I’m a good math student, but math on this test was extremely hard.”

Students, for the first time, faced a choice: to end their test after three hours or progress to a 50-minute essay segment, which replaces the 25-minute essay requirement added to the SAT in 2005.

Several students said they skipped the essay because they were treating their first test as a sort of warm-up, and planned to take it again in May or June.

Amira Graham, 17, said she already had a scholarship to study dance in college and simply didn’t want to gamble with her score.

“I’m not really good in essays, so I didn’t want to jeopardize my grade,” said the junior at Malverne Senior High School.

Nate Vaduthala, 16, an aspiring engineer, said he hoped his decision to take the essay would impress colleges.

“I wanted to try for more selective colleges, and I think the essay kind of shows I have the initiative,” said Vaduthala, a junior at West Hempstead High School. “Also, I like writing.”

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