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SAT to introduce new sections, remove penalties

College Board reevaluates classic test to counteract increasing popularity of ACT rival

The College Board announced major changes to the SAT that will take effect in the spring of 2016, with the hopes of appealing to a broader base of students amid increased competition from the ACT for standardized test-takers.

The changes, which follow the College Board’s announcement last month that the test would undergo a revamp, are intended to make the test a better gauge of what high school students learn in the classroom. College Board officials announced the SAT will revert back to two sections by combining the reading and writing sections into one “evidence-based reading and writing” section that will be accompanied by a revised math section. While each part will continue to be graded out of 800 points, the maximum score will fall from 2400 to 1600.

“The changes to the SAT will distinguish it from any current admission exam,” wrote David Coleman, president and CEO of the College Board, and Cynthia Schmeiser, the organization’s chief of assessment, in a letter outlining the test’s restructuring.

The SAT will no longer have a penalty for guessing, and the new test will feature an optional essay that will be based on a reading passage rather than the generic prompt format, according to the College Board’s announcement.

The change stems from concerns that the former grading rubric for the essay allowed students to ground their points on fictional premises, said John Oh, co-founder and senior tutor at A-List Tutoring, a standardized testing preparatory company based in New York City. Vocabulary and math questions on the test should better reflect a high school curriculum by removing arcane words and adding more function-based mathematical questions, the College Board announced.

“Some of the words you see on the SAT are just plain silly,” Oh said. “It now seems to be coalescing with the ACT, which has never had a penalty for guessing, nor a mandatory essay.”

Revisions to the SAT were partly driven by heightened competition from the ACT, which has seen a surge in the number of high school test-takers in recent years.

About 1.8 million students took the ACT last year, the New York Times reported March 5. Only 1.7 million took the SAT last year, making 2013 the first year the ACT has overtaken the SAT, said Maritza Rodriguez, director of professional development, materials and support at A-List Tutoring.

“Since the changes were announced, we’ve had a lot more client inquiry about the ACT,” she said.

“In its broadest form, the SAT was designed as an aptitude test,” said Steven Goodman, an educational consultant and admission strategist. “The ACT is better at mirroring the courses students are taking in high school.”

As a result, a greater number of students on the East and West Coasts are better prepared for the ACT and are more likely to take it, Goodman said. The ACT is already a more popular exam for high school students in some Southern states and much of the Midwest and Mountain West, the New York Times reported last year.

The SAT’s main weakness comes from its inability to connect with students’ classroom experiences, Goodman said.

Changes to the exam will allow “students to concentrate on fewer topics that are most essential for college and career success,” Coleman and Schmeiser wrote.

Parts of the new SAT will include documents from fields such as the life, physical and social sciences, an attempt to reflect science section on the ACT, according to the College Board’s announcement.

While College Board officials aim to increase the SAT’s ability to indicate academic achievement, some students and admission experts continue to question its legitimacy and the value of standardized testing in the admission process.

“I’m not a fan of the changes because it seems like they will make the test easier,” said high school sophomore Luciano Marchio from New York City. “I’m more interested in the ACT because it’s more competitive and it will be more competitive in the future.”

International students have also started to gravitate more toward the ACT, Rodriguez said.

In another effort to make the SAT more accessible, College Board officials announced that the testing organization will allow low-income students to submit SAT scores for free to a maximum of four universities, multiple news outlets reported. The College Board and the nonprofit educational service Khan Academy plan to collaborate to offer free online tutoring for the exam, the New York Times reported.

Some students were divided on the announced changes to the exam.

“The whole SAT expects you to have preparation that not everyone has for educational and monetary reasons,” said Julianna Bradley ’17. “I think the new SAT gives everyone who approaches it a better chance to prove their readiness for college.”

“I think it’s a lot of changes to make all at one time and that they should’ve targeted specific areas for improvement,” said Isabel Diawara ’17.

College Board officials wrote that these changes are still in draft form and will “systematically evolve over time.”


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