The College Board announced major changes to the design of the SAT on Wednesday afternoon, including letting students opt-out of the essay, combining the critical reading and writing sections, and offering a computer-based version of the test for the first time. The changes were seen by many educators as a response to the growing popularity of the ACT, the rival standardized college admissions test.
High school students, however, will have to wait until 2016 to take the new exam, which features a number of other changes meant to refocus the test on what students are actually learning in high school — and what they are actually expected to know in college.
“I find the changes to the essay section to be excellent because they place an emphasis on analytical thinking, a skill that is crucial to academic success in college,” sophomore Julia Rafael wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The new standardized test will cut back on the obscure “SAT words” that have long been pilloried by students and teachers alike. In their place will be words like “empirical” that college students use on a regular basis.
The essay portion will be optional and will be scored separately, instead of being factored into the overall score. Students will also no longer be penalized for guessing wrong on a question, in order to take some of the strategizing out the exam.
Perhaps just as important as the redesign of the SAT itself was the announcement of a significant new initiative to help low-income students apply to college.
The program will provide low- to middle-income students with four free college application fee waivers, which the College Board hopes will lower barriers for poorer students.
“What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities,” College Board President David Coleman said in a statement. “The real news today is not just the redesigned SAT, but the College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.”
Educators and college admissions offices have focused much of their attention recently on low-income students.
A study published last year by researchers Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford University professor, and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia, revealed that the majority of high-achieving, low-income students do not apply to selective colleges and universities.
“We can cut through so much red tape and hesitation by giving students the admission fee waivers they need, information they understand and the encouragement they need to apply more broadly,” Coleman said. “This is only possible through the support and generosity of our member colleges.”
In addition, the College Board is working with Khan Academy to allow high school students to access free test prep on the highly praised website beginning in the spring of 2015. The organization believes providing free SAT prep to all students will level the playing field and further help fight inequality in college admissions.
“For too long, there’s been a well-known imbalance between students who could afford test-prep courses and those who couldn’t,” Sal Khan, founder and executive director of Khan Academy, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to collaborate closely with the College Board to level the playing field by making truly world-class test-prep materials freely available to all students.”
In a bid to better compete with the ACT, the new SAT will also focus more on the natural and social sciences. The new Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, which will replace the Critical Reading and Writing sections, will include passages from important historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence or Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter for Birmingham Jail,” and at least one science-based excerpt.