• October 20, 2014

College Board Unveils Plans for New SAT

The redesigned SAT will contain "relevant" vocabulary words, focus on fewer math topics, and ask students to cite specific passages that support their answers.

Those are among the changes the College Board announced on Wednesday afternoon. The redesigned examination, which the nonprofit organization plans to administer starting in the spring of 2016, will have three sections: "evidence-based" reading and writing, mathematics, and an essay. The latter section will be optional and will be scored separately; once again the SAT will have a 1600-point scale.

Also on Wednesday, the College Board announced two new strategies for helping low- and middle-income students. The first: All SAT takers who are financially eligible will directly receive four admission-fee waivers. That means students will no longer have to request the waivers through high-school counselors. "We’ll be putting it directly in their hands," a College Board spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

And the College Board will team up with the Khan Academy to provide free online test preparation, including access to previously unreleased practice problems and instructional videos about the exam.

Unlike the current SAT essay, the new version will measure students’ ability to analyze source material. How, the prompt might ask, has the author built a persuasive argument? Responses will be scored on the strength of the analysis as well as the coherence of the writing. In short, students will no longer be able to get by writing about their personal experiences.

The College Board says it will not require the essay because of its mixed appeal among colleges: Some admissions offices find the current writing sample useful, but others do not. Moreover, the essay does not contribute significantly to the predictive validity of the SAT, according to press materials describing the new test.

In the reading and writing section, students will be asked to support answers with evidence: Some questions will require them to cite a specific part of a passage to back up the answer they choose. They will also encounter documents in an array of disciplines, including history, social studies, and science. And students will be asked to analyze both text and data, such as by identifying inconsistencies between them.

As for vocabulary, the College Board says it will omit words that are "obscure and not widely used," replacing them with words, such as "empirical" and "synthesis," that students will encounter in college.

The new SAT will also include passages from historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." (The current exam draws from texts that are more obscure.)

The math section, which now includes a range of topics covered in high school, will emphasize problem solving and data analysis, algebra, and the "passport to advanced math," the College Board says. Calculators will be allowed on only some portions of the math section.

Another change: Students will no longer have points deducted for incorrect answers. Currently, each wrong answer result in a quarter-point deduction.

The Chronicle will have further coverage of the new SAT on Thursday.

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