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 last week 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.
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.
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.
"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 long-standing 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.
that's what we said
Here's what some King High students had to say about the recently announced changes to the SAT.
Janki Shingala Senior
"Changing the SAT doesn't matter, it just makes it easier for the graders."
David Hoffman Senior
"The old SAT was more focused on the strategies as opposed to your own knowledge."
Heta Patel Freshman
"It's better for (freshman), there is an option to take the writing section. (The SAT) is something everyone does, so the changes affect everybody."
Mirae Kim Freshman
"I'm sure (the SAT) will be the same to an extent. But this cleans the slate for everybody, we're all starting on new ground."
SAT vs. ACT
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 United States. 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.
Compiled by Ianne Itchon, King High