SAT to undergo revisions in 2016
The essay test will be optional
Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 4:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 4:32 p.m.
Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.
* No more extra penalties for wrong answers
Essay portion will be optional
Score scale will be 1,600 with a separate score for the essay compared to today’s possible total of 2,400
* Can be taken in either paper or digital form, not just by using a pencil
* Will include a passage drawn from “founding documents” such as the Declaration of Independence or from discussions they inspire
* Calculators will be permitted only on certain portions of the math section, not on the entire section.
* Students will be asked to analyze both text and data in real-world contexts instead of answering questions that don’t require that.
* Vocabulary words more widely used in classroom and work settings will replace more obscure vocabulary words.
* Essays will measure students’ ability to analyze evidence and explain how an author builds an argument, not just students’ ability to construct an argument.
* The math section will draw from fewer topics instead of a wide range.
Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious" in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.
College Board officials said last Wednesday the update — the first since 2005 — is needed to make the exam more representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. The test should offer "worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles," said College Board President David Coleman at an event in Austin, Texas.
The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year's ninth graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale last used in 2004, with a separate score for the optional essay.
For the first time, students will have the option of taking the test on computers.
Once the predominant college admissions exam, the SAT in recent years has been overtaken in popularity by the competing ACT, which has long been considered more curriculum based. The ACT offers an optional essay and announced last year it would begin making computer-based testing available in 2015.
One of the biggest changes in the SAT is that the extra penalty for wrong answers, which discouraged guessing, will be eliminated. And some vocabulary words will be replaced with words such as "synthesis" and "empirical" that are used more widely in classrooms and in work settings.
Each exam will include a passage drawn from "founding documents" such as the Declaration of Independence or from discussions they've inspired.
Instead of testing a wide range of math concepts, the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.
Tania Perez, 17, a senior at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., said she would like to have taken the test on a computer — and with the vocabulary changes.
"Some of the SAT words that we've seen, well personally, I've seen, taking the SAT ... I've never heard of them and stuff," Perez said. "That would have been better for me. I think my score would have been a lot higher."
Aja McCrae, 14, a freshman at Bell Multicultural High School, also in Washington, D.C., will be in the first class to take the new SAT. In an interview outside her high school, McCrae said taking the test on a computer could help but she wonders if there will be technical problems.
"The math portion, with a calculator, I think it should be used on the entire test. I don't like that change," McCrae said.
Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon, said the changes appear "potentially helpful and useful" but it will take a few years to know the impact, after the students who take the revised test go on to college.
"It's all in the details of how it all plays out," said Rawlins, a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
Some high school and college admissions counselors said eliminating the penalty for wrong answers and making the essay optional could make the test less stressful for some students.
"It will encourage students to consider the questions more carefully and to attempt them, where before if a cursory glance at a question made it seem too complex to them, they may go ahead and skip that question," said Jeff Rickey, dean of admissions at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.
A longstanding criticism of the SAT is that students from wealthier households do better because they can afford expensive test preparation classes.
The College Board said it will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. It also said every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply for college, which continues an effort the College Board has had to assist low-income students.
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