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College Board Announces Major SAT Changes

The College Board president David Coleman recently announced that he was intensely dissatisfied with the present state of the SAT or the Scholastic Aptitude Test—a test that was formulated by a team he himself lead a few years ago. He says that presently, the SAT requires a lot of tedious work that doesn’t have a lot to do with academic skills, thus failing its purpose as a predictor of college-level aptitude. Last Wednesday, the board announced that they would be doing an overhaul of the test, rethinking its fundamental curriculum and purpose.

This week, they made the announcement that they would be doing away with the obligatory essay, removing the penalty for guessing wrong and eliminating obscure vocabulary words. Mr. Coleman also announced that the College Board will be making an effort to reach out to students from lower-income brackets, encouraging them to apply to universities by giving them four free applications to four colleges of their choice. Furthermore, the College Board will be running free tutorials and practice exercises online, in partnership with the Khan Academy, a free online tutoring service lead by Salaman Khan, an M.I.T. graduate. The questions and problems given in these tutorials will be taken from old SAT tests.

Other changes to the exam include the complete re-programming of the math unit: instead of trying to include a wide variety of questions from different mathematical fields that the students may not have encountered before, they decided to focus on the most practical of the math categories, all of which are taken up in high school—the new questions will focus on functions, linear equations and proportions. Because of this new development, however, calculators will no longer be allowed during the math portion of the test.

In place of the mandatory essay, the new SAT will instead have a portion called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, which will focus on the formulation of cohesive papers, focusing on words often used in the academe such as conclusive, synthesis and extrapolation. There will be an optional essay which will be scored separately than the rest of the SAT.

The scoring of the SATs will also be reverting back to the old 1600 system, which was changed to the 2400 score in 2005.

The recalibration of the SATs are a result of the rising popularity of the ACT or American College Testing, an alternative test which bases its questions directly on the present curriculum which high schools implement. As of 2013, more students have taken the ACT because of its more relevant coverage.

Furthermore, a significant number of colleges have found that evaluating a student’s over-all performance throughout high school is a better indicator than a score on a standardized test. Reviewing students’ academic history allows colleges into a better look at how the student performs and whether or not they improved throughout their four years in secondary education. Because of this, a lot of colleges have listed their applications as test-optional, foregoing the need to take the standard tests altogether and evaluating applicants solely on their admissions essays, high school transcript of records and the admissions interview.

Mr. Coleman, who has been with the College Board since 2012 has been talking about making changes to the SAT since 2005. He admits that they made a lot of mistakes in the earlier formulation of the questions, losing their better judgment to circumstances of convenience and politics. While a lot of the things wrong with the SATs according to Mr. Coleman were there even before he had been anywhere near the test, he still claims responsibility for it. He goes onto say that the present test breeds injustice and inaccuracy within the academic system—even if it isn’t his fault, he insists that it is definitely his problem.

In an effort to encourage critical thinking among students, one of the major changes which will be implemented in the SATs is the need to justify answers to certain questions. The justifications will be taken into consideration when grading the test. In particular, the former-Essay portion will shift in this direction—students will be made to talk about real-life experiences and made to argue points for which they will be graded based on the critical value of their arguments and not based on a certain moral or social standpoint. Source documents will also be included for certain questions, testing the students’ ability to cite references and use them as a jumping-off point for their arguments. Questions on science will also be added in this portion, making up for the SAT’s lack of a science portion (which is present in the ACT).

All of these changes will be launched in 2016.

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