Friday, March 7, 2014

Major Changes to SAT by 2016

In the wake of reports of criticism about the SAT exam (which dropped the name "Scholastic Aptitude Test" years ago in the face of claims that it did not actually measure aptitude for college success), the College Board announced on Wednesday that it will be making a number of changes to the exam. The changes include:
  • A return to the 1600-point scale. The overall score will be a composite of 800 possible points for its math and reading sections.
  • The end of the mandatory essay. Students may choose to write an essay after completing the reading and math sections if they choose. However, instead of a personal essay in which they express an opinion or describe an experience, students will be asked to analyze a document. The essay will be given a separate score.
  • A change to vocabulary words tested. Instead of words some deem esoteric, the College Board says the test will probe student’s knowledge of words that are commonly used in college courses. 
  • A shift in math skills tested. The new SAT will focus on three areas: linear equations, complex equations, and ratios/percentages/proportional reasoning. Also, students will be allowed to use calculators for only some portions of the math section.
  • Ending the penalty for wrong answers. The current test deducts a quarter of a point for each wrong answer (though there is no penalty for answers left blank). The “guessing penalty” will be removed from the new test.
  • Analysis of science and social studies texts as part of the reading and writing section. Additionally, in some cases students will be asked to select not only the right answer, but also the textual quote that supports their answer.
One criticism of the SAT, and standardized testing in general, is that affluent students tend to do better, perhaps because they can afford access to test preparation courses. In hopes of leveling the playing field, the College Board has partnered with the Khan Academy to make practice and instructional materials available free of charge. Low-income students will receive another perquisite as well: Those who qualify will get four waivers that will allow them to apply to four colleges for free.

There is not yet any indication of how these changes will affect students with learning differences.

For more information, please visit the College Board’s webpage dedicated to the changes to the exam. 

Photo Credit: Flickr CC - Jeff Pioquinto, SJ

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