Major Changes for the SAT

A number of news outlets yesterday reported the changes coming to the SAT. As explained by Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed:

The College Board today announced major changes to the SAT, including a substantial revision to the writing test that was added in 2005 in the last major overhaul of the admissions test.

A number of the changes appear designed to respond to the growing chorus of criticism of the SAT. And the announcement is in some ways surprising for the extent to which it admits that some past changes didn't work. For example, the College Board news release on the changes notes that the writing test added in 2005 "has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam."

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Given that the SAT is designed to predict college success, and that the writing test was the most prominent change of the 2005 revisions, that's a fairly dramatic statement.

Among the changes announced today (and scheduled to take place in 2016):

  • The current writing test, in which students cite their own experiences or values to respond to a statement, will be replaced with one in which students respond to a passage of writing, and must analyze evidence. The students will be evaluated on both their analysis and their writing
  • The writing test will be optional. Currently, even though many colleges ignore writing test scores, all students must take the writing portion of the test.
  • Reading sections, like the writing section, will see a shift in focus so that students must cite evidence from passages to support their answers.
  • The point scale will return to 1600, as it was before the writing test was added in 2005, when the scale changed to 2400. Those who take the writing test will receive a separate score for that.
  • Points will no longer be deducted for incorrect answers on the multiple choice part of the test. Currently, one-quarter of a point is deducted for each incorrect answer, so students engage in strategy games about when they have eliminated enough incorrect answers to make it worthwhile to guess.
  • Vocabulary words will eliminate "sometimes obscure" language that has been dominant and will be replaced by words "that are widely used" in college and the work place. In testing of words, the College Board will stress those for which meaning depends on context. The College Board gave as examples of such words as "synthesis" and "empirical."
  • Passages of writing used for various parts of the exam will be texts from significant moments in American history or science, not the somewhat random selections that now appear. Each exam will feature works such as the Declaration of Independence or a selection from the Federalist Papers, or Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
  • Mathematics questions will be narrowed to focus on three areas: "problem solving and data analysis," algebra and "passport to advanced math." The College Board says that the much wider range of topics now featured will be eliminated so that students can study specific areas and feel confident they will be tested.
  • Print and digital versions of the SAT will be offered, whereas currently the test is paper only.

See the rest of Jaschik's article here.

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