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The New SAT Test

The College Board has announced sweeping changes to its SAT college admission test - essays become optional and vocabulary becomes more common. Read on for more!
BY Uttara Choudhury |   06-03-2014
The College Board has announced sweeping changes to its SAT college admission test as of March 2014. Essays will now be optional. Penalties for guessing wrong will be eliminated. And there will be no more rarefied vocabulary words.

These changes are set to go into effect in Spring 2016, but more details about the redesigned exam will be unveiled on 16 April 2014. Here are the changes revealed by New York-based College Board which runs the SAT test.

Top Score of 1600

Students will no longer be given a total possible score of 2400 on the SAT, as College Board will  return to the old 1600-point scale. Currently, students can score 800 on the verbal, 800 on the math and 800 on the writing test — for a perfect total score of 2400 on the entire test. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. However, scoring will be on a 1600-point scale, with a separate score for the optional essay.

Essays are Optional

The essay section, introduced in 2005, will be optional in the redesigned test. It will be up to colleges to decide on whether the essays will be required.

The overhaul will measure students' ability to analyze, giving those who choose to write the essay 50 minutes to explain how an author builds an argument. Current essays come without source material, so there is no way to gauge their accuracy. This will change.

The remainder of the test will be three hours. Currently the SAT takes three hours and 45 minutes.

Free Test Prep from Khan Academy

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The SAT tests have faced criticism as privileged students often achieve higher scores after paying for professional test prep. Some say the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged students  — “a wealth test,” as Harvard Law Professor Lani Guinier calls it.

College Board will now team with non-profit Khan Academy, which delivers free tutorials in math and other subjects via its popular website, to provide free SAT prep for the world.

“The College Board cannot stand by while some test-prep providers intimidate parents at all levels of income into the belief that the only way they can secure their child’s success is to pay for costly test preparation and coaching,” says College Board President David Coleman.

“If we believe that assessment must be a force for equity and excellence, it’s time to shake things up,” says Coleman.

The decision to offer free test prep might be a challenge to major test prep companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review, whose companies target higher-income students. Students will have access to SAT-specific Khan tutorials at no cost, starting from Spring 2015.

No Penalty for Wrong Answers

One of the biggest changes is that the extra penalty for wrong answers, which discouraged students from guessing, will be eliminated. There will no longer be a penalty of ¼ point for an incorrect answer, and students will instead receive a point for each question they answer correctly.

Vocabulary Adjusted  

The vocabulary questions, famous for including words so obscure that they were rarely used outside the SAT, have been tweaked keeping the real world in mind. The College Board said the redesigned vocabulary section will concentrate more on words “that students will use consistently in college and beyond.” There will be more common words included, such as "synthesis" and "empirical" - used widely in classrooms.

“The test should offer worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles," says Coleman.

"Today, many students who are terrified they will be tested on lots of SAT words have one recourse:  flashcards," he says. "Every educator knows flashcards are not the best way to build real word knowledge, but when the SAT rolls around they become the royal road. Students stop reading and start flipping."

The reading and writing section will now require students to provide evidence to support their answers. Multi-disciplinary texts will be incorporated throughout the exam, to test students’ abilities to analyze scientific and historical documents.

While the math section has typically tested students on a range of topics, the new SAT will focus on fewer areas, like Algebra and arithmetic that is used in college and life. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.

The college admissions test will be offered both in print and on computers for all students.

Last year, over 200,000 students took the SAT in over 175 countries outside the U.S.. The SAT test is offered overseas six times a year: October, November, December, January, May, and June.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London. 



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