Video: Revamped SAT

By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/11/2005 9:54:23 PM ET 2005-03-12T02:54:23

For 333,000 high school students across the country, Friday night is filled with tremendous anxiety. The all-important SAT college aptitude exam will be given Saturday. And it will contain the biggest change in nearly 75 years.

"If you take the SATs the way you're used to taking your school tests, you're in big trouble. Big trouble," says Adam Robinson, a test preparation expert with RocketReview.

"[I'm] really nervous. Like really, really nervous!" says Eddie Cook, a junior at North Bergen High in New Jersey, after hearing Robinson's seminar.

Now, Eddie and his classmates have more reasons to be nervous. For the class of 2006, theSAT is going to look a lot different. Along with the usual sections testing math and reading skills for 800 points each, a new equally important section tests writing skills with a handwritten essay.

For a generation used to keyboards, not penmanship, it could be a tough morning.

"Pressure?  I'm scared!" says Taz Momotaz, another junior at North Bergen High. "It's a big thing, and you know it counts for a lot of things."

The new essay was added after the California university system threatened to dump the test and other universities complained about the quality of students' writing.

"Students entering college were not showing mastery of that skill," says Brian O'Reilly of the College Board, which administers the SAT. "Adding it to the SAT will send the message about the importance of writing."

The SAT has been giving college-bound students nightmaressince 1926. An entire industry now offers coaching with books, DVDs, and $900 prep courses for students — and parents — looking for that last-minute edge.

"I want to do whatever I can do for my son," says Harry Hart, who paid for his son Louis to take the Kaplan preparation course.

"I don't look forward to it," says Louis. "But I know it's something that has to be done. And hopefully I can do well on it."

The newest preparation technique, geared for the iPod generation, is subliminal vocabulary. Put on some headphones and listen to a lyric filled with words likely to appear on the SAT.

"Flagrantly elated / can't dissuade me / erroneously," sings artist Nina Zeiten.

Zeiten is one of six artists on a new CD singing words that could even be wrapped into that new essay.

The advice from test coaches:

"Make sure you write a lot, and make sure you use academic examples to bolster your point of view," says coach Adam Robinson. "Don't just ramble on from personal experience."

And if you get stuck, hum a few bars.

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