The SAT assesses student reasoning based on knowledge and skills developed by the student in school course work, according to information on the College Board Web site at www.collegeboard.com. SAT scores often weigh heavily in admission to four-year colleges and universities. High school sophomores and juniors also have the one-time opportunity to take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT, high scores from which can earn students invaluable scholarship opportunities, Springfield Middle School Principal David Reeder said.
The SAT is offered nationwide more than five times each school year, and students can take the test as many times as they like. The questions are different on each test, but the format basically is the same. The College Board, the national nonprofit organization that administers the SAT and other programs, records the highest combined score from the test's two sections - math and verbal.
"It isn't an unfair advantage. It's an advantage, though, to take the test over and over because you get experience," Reeder said.
In the past, a select group of middle school students identified through standardized test scores as academically gifted have been invited to take the SAT as early as fourth grade. The test now will be offered to all interested seventh- and eighth-grade students in Washington County, said Van Metre, a counselor at Springfield Middle School.
Middle school scores won't officially count, but the experience will be invaluable, Van Metre and Reeder said. Taking the test early and often will help ease test-taking anxiety by familiarizing students with the long test's format, the atmosphere in which it's taken and the general academic skills needed to cover the test's content, they said.
Taking a practice SAT already has shown Springfield eighth-graders Michael Blake and Patrick Hammond the importance of getting a jump-start on the big test, they said.
"They make it really hard," said Michael, 13, of Fairplay. "They have big words I'd never seen before."
"I haven't taken either of the math classes (algebra or geometry) yet, so I'm kind of worried about the math part, but I think I'll do fine on the language part," said Shannon Draper, an avid reader.
Much of the material covered on the SAT hasn't been taught in middle school, including geometry, Reeder said. For that reason, most of the Springfield students signed up for the test said they were nervous about the test - and that their parents encouraged them to do it - but that they thought it was a smart idea.
"My parents just wanted me to get the practice for high school," said eighth-grader Heather Leigh, 13, of Hagers-town.
"It's important to take it so you know how to do it better in high school," added her classmate, Brett Rowland, 13, of Hagerstown.
Eighth-grader Julie Cook, 13, of Boonsboro, said her older sister urged her to start taking the SAT to get a handle on its format. Julie has been studying with a thesaurus in hopes of scoring well on the analogy part of the test's verbal section, she said.
Zachary Keys, 13, of Williamsport, plans to pick up an SAT prep book.
Students graduating in 2006 and beyond actually will take a different kind of SAT - one that emphasizes writing skills - starting in the spring of 2005. In addition to the math and critical reading section of the test, the new SAT will include a writing section with multiple choice questions and an essay, the College Board Web site states. The analogies now included in the verbal portion of the SAT will be eliminated on the new test, and shorter reading passages will be added to the longer reading passages now on the test. The math section also will change, with content expanded to include topics from third-year college preparatory math courses and quantitative comparisons eliminated.
Students will have an extra half-hour to take the new SAT. Students can score a possible 1,600 points on the current SAT - from 200 to 800 each in the verbal and math sections. The new SAT writing section will add 800 possible points for a total of 2,400.