Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New SAT: The essay portion is to become optional (w/video)

WASHINGTON — Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

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 Wednesday the update – the first since 2005 – is needed to make the exam better 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.

Coleman said many students who are terrified they will be tested on lots of SAT words currently have one recourse: drilling with flashcards. He said educators know that flashcards are not the best way to build real word knowledge that lasts, but "when the SAT rolls around they become the royal road. Students stop reading and start flipping."

The essay will be changed in other ways, too. It will measure students' ability to analyze and explain how an author builds an argument, instead of measuring the coherence of the writing but not the quality or accuracy of the reasoning. It will be up to school districts and colleges the students apply to as to whether the essay will be required.

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.

Jim Rawlins, the 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. He said some colleges are still grappling with questions about the changes made in 2005, such as how to consider the essay portion.

"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 on the exam because they can afford expensive test preparation classes.

The College Board seeks to defuse that by saying it will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. It also says 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.

These are the first SAT upgrades since 2005 when the essay portion was added and analogy questions were removed. There have been other notable changes to the test, such as in 1994 when antonym questions were removed and calculators were allowed for the first time. The test was first used in 1926.

The SAT was taken last year by 1.7 million students. It has historically been more popular on the coasts, while the other main standardized college entrance exam, the ACT, dominated the central U.S. The ACT overtook the SAT in overall use in 2012, in part because it is taken by almost every junior in 13 states as part of those states' testing regimen.

New SAT: The essay portion is to become optional (w/video) 03/05/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 5:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Marriott opening new hotel on Clearwater Beach

    Tourism

    CLEARWATER BEACH — A dual-branded Marriott hotel with a tongue-twister name is opening on Clearwater Beach in August. The Residence Inn Tampa Clearwater Beach and SpringHill Suites Tampa Clearwater Beach will have 255 suites total, connected by a lobby.

    A dual-branded Marriott hotel called the Residence Inn Tampa Clearwater Beach and SpringHill Suites Tampa Clearwater Beach will open in August in Clearwater Beach. Pictured is a rendering.
[Courtesy of Hayworth PR]
  2. AARP study explores the role 50-plus moviegoers play at the box office

    Life Times

    A new study shows that seniors have a much larger impact on the success — or failure — of a film than previously realized, even films that might seem aimed at a much younger audience.

    According to the study, more than 30 percent of all cinema visits were made by 50-plus adults.
  3. Want elite college football athletes? Recruit Tampa Bay

    Blogs

    Now that college football watch list season is over (I think), here's one takeaway you probably already knew: Tampa Bay produces a lot of great athletes.

    Robinson High produuct Byron Pringle has gone from this performance in a high school all-star game to all-Big 12 at Kansas State.
  4. A heart-shaped box containing Katie Golden's ashes sits next to her picture at her family's South Tampa home. Katie died from a drug overdose in April 2017. She was only 17-years-old. Read about her parents' journey at tampabay.com. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]
  5. Hillsong Young and Free's worship music is a lot like pop. That's no accident.

    Music & Concerts

    Press play on Hillsong Young and Free's Youth Revival, and everything you hear might sound familiar.

    Hillsong Young and Free are performing at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Credit: Rogers and Cowan