The SAT Is About to Go Through Some Pretty Dramatic Changes

The College Board announced on Wednesday that it will majorly change the format and focus of its SAT, including a return to the old 1600-point scoring system. 

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The College Board announced on Wednesday that it will majorly change the format and focus of its SAT college exam. The changes include a reversion to the old 1600-point scoring system and the elimination of an essay requirement, both of which were introduced in the previous SAT overhaul in 2005. College Board president David Coleman announced that he would change the SAT a year ago, just after he joined the organization as its head. The College Board will introduce the new test in 2016, according to The New York Times's report on the changes. That means students currently in ninth grade will end up taking the revamped test as 11th graders.

Coleman is probably best known as one of the people who created the Common Core standards for K-12 students currently being implemented in 46 states. The reforms, according to The Washington Post, will bring the test more in line with Common Core. But there's another big reason that The College Board might be trying something new: Its biggest competitor in the college aptitude test market, the ACT, is gaining more and more of a foothold for high school students across the nation. In 2012, the ACT overtook the SAT's 1.6 million annual test-takers as the more popular of the two. And, it's going to start allowing students to take the test on a computer starting next year.

Here are some of the changes announced on Wednesday:

  • The SAT's signature penalty for guessing incorrectly on a question will be eliminated. That change will have a huge impact on how students are trained to take the exam. 
  • Some more "obscure" vocabulary words will be cut, and replaced with words that The College Board believes are used more commonly in college classrooms. For instance, as the AP volunteers, students probably won't have to memorize the definitions for "prevaricator" and "sagacious." But they will have to know, say, "empirical." 
  • Students won't be able to use a calculator anymore for some of the math sections. And overall, the math part of the exam will focus on "linear equations, functions and proportional thinking," according to The New York Times.
  • The exam will revert to its old scoring system, with a total top possible score of 1600. That's 800 possible for math, and 800 possible for verbal, which will now be called "Evidence-Based Reading and Writing."  Students opting to submit an essay, now optional, will get a separate score for that part of the test. 
  • Test takers can use either pencil and paper or a computer to take the exam. 

The College Board is also attempting to address another huge criticism of the SAT: that wealthier students have an advantage over students from lower income households (test scores and family income do have a correlation). The organization simultaneously announced a partnership with the Khan Academy to provide free test prep materials for students. And low-income students taking the test will receive four fee waivers for college applications.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.