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SAT Math Test inside scoop: Meet the Maker

Learn how the SAT Math Test is created and gain valuable insight into how the College Board writes questions! Sal interviews SAT test writer Arunan Rajasingham.

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Video transcript

- This is Sal Khan of the Khan Academy and I'm here with Arunan Roger Singham. What do you do at the College Board? I work on the assessment design and development team. I help with developing the Math Test, so specifically the SAT Test. - And when you say you help develop it, you actually write and review the questions. - That's right, I write a lot of the questions and review the ones that I don't write. - And when you are writing it and you are with this team of other folks who are writing it, what is the actual test in your mind trying to assess? What are y'all writing for? - The SAT Math Test is really aiming to collect evidence about a student's math performance, as you probably figure. So students are really expected to be fluent with, have a strong understanding of, and be able to apply, mathematical concepts and skills that are central to their ability to progress through a range of college courses and careers. - So it's really assessing a college readiness I guess, on top of-- - Exactly, exactly. - How do you guys collect or benchmark the evidence that you get on the test, on how people respond to the different items y'all construct? - We go through a long process. We work with a lot of middle and high school teachers, we work with college professors, instructional and assessment experts and researchers, basically to ensure that every question that is seen on the SAT reflects a skill or some knowledge that's important for college readiness. So basically every question that you see on the SAT is specifically designed so that a student correctly answering that question shows that they have some specific understanding, so some specific content knowledge or some kinda skill. - This is interesting, cause I think sometimes the perception is that, A, you guys just come up with maths problems to spread people out, see who can answer this, but it's not. It's really much more about, you guys literally go to people who have views on what does it mean to be college ready, what type of skills you need to be there, and those are the skills that you're trying to measure. - Absolutely, absolutely. So it's not just about finding out, writing a really tough question that no student's able to answer. We actually want to measure something tangible by a student answering a question correctly. - Yeah yeah yeah, and what type of math questions would a student expect to see? How far in terms of advanced math would they need to know, and other dimensions that y'all think about? - So most of the content on the SAT doesn't go beyond Algebra 2. We have several different, so the content is divided into four different domains on the SAT. We have what we call the Heart of Algebra, which is basically algebra. We have Problem Solving Data Analysis, which is primarily proportions, ratios, it has some probability and statistics as well as one of the other domains is Passport to Advanced Mathematics which is more non-linear equations, being able to play around with and manipulate expressions and then we have Additional Topics in Math which are basically a lot of geometry, so trigonometry, basic trigonometry, volume, surface area and things like that. - And how is the, especially with the SAT for the 2016 that y'all are working on probably as we talk, how is this test going to be laid out? What's in it, the test, the format? - So there are gonna be two sections. There's one where a calculator is not allowed, and the reason for that is that is that a lot of the content that we wanna assess is content that is based on procedural fluency and number sense and having a calculator available for that makes it difficult for us to actually assess that a student's able to do it. - Number sense is literally just being able to manipulate and conceptualize numbers well. - Absolutely. - And a calculator can-- - And a calculator does that very nicely, but we also wanna make sure the students can do that. So there's that section and there's also a calculator allowed section, which is where we're gonna have a little more of the calculation intensive items. So as we all know math problems don't always work out as easily as we'd like them to. You don't always have a whole number answer and sometimes you wanna put a 1.03 to the power of 30. That's not something you wanna manually do, so calculator comes in handy and we have a lot of questions like that on the calculator portion of the test. - And how is the test itself actually scored? - So there's a raw score. Basically as many questions as a student gets right is their raw score. You don't get dinged for any questions that you get wrong. And your raw score is put on a scale of 200 to 800 and that's the score that's reported out. - And that point about, you don't get anything wrong, you don't get dinged for getting a wrong question, you just don't get the points for that. That is a departure from where at least the SAT has historically been. - That's correct, yes. So what used to be referred to as the guessing penalty is now gone. - Right and that makes a lot of sense because if someone can do a little bit of deductive reasoning to rule out a couple of choices that actually is a skill, even in and of itself. So as someone who, I feel like I'm talking to the Wizard of Oz here, as someone who's actually writing items, who's at The College Board, who's thinking about what it means to be college ready, especially from a math point of view, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking about, or who is taking the SAT, especially on the math side of things, or broadly. - I would say preparation is everything, practice makes perfect as they say. So I would definitely start practicing early. Now we have this great partnership with Khan Academy so you guys are producing tons of content that students can practice for free, and it's great content. And I would say just get after it and start practicing. - Yeah and I'll just doubly underline that as someone, I've been making videos for a lot of the practice items that y'all are creating, that we're creating together. And when I've been doing it, the big thing that I'm discovering is these are the same things that are covered in high school and middle school courses but there is just a value to doing a lot of practice, just to learn math better. As you said, it's really just about measuring college readiness, and the more practice you're just gonna get more college ready. - Absolutely. - And quite frankly just doing the videos I feel more college ready already. - No one's ever complained about being over-prepared. - That's right. Well thanks so much for taking the time, this was really thorough, useful. - Thank you.