Changes to the SAT coming for high school students

The College Board has announced some major changes to the SAT, one of two entrance exams – the other is the ACT -- required for admission to many colleges across the country. The College Board says the new test will “focus on the few things that evidence show matter most for college and career readiness.”

Responding to criticism that the SAT is not currently an accurate indicator of future success in college, College Board President David Coleman said, “While we build on the best of the past, we commit today that the redesigned SAT will be more focused and useful, more clear and open than ever before."

Some of the changes will alter the way students prepare for the exam, and will likely require a new generation of prep materials. The exam will have three sections – “evidence-based reading and writing,” math and the essay – and will return to the old 1600 scale.

In 2005, the test added the written essay section, raising the top score to 2400. That essay will now become optional.

Changes include:


  • The redesigned exam will eliminate some fairly arcane SAT vocabulary words -- such as “remuneration” and “labyrinthine” –and focus instead on words that students will use in college.


  • The optional written essay score will be based on a student’s ability to “analyze evidence and explain how an author builds an argument to persuade an audience.”


  • The math section will draw from fewer topics judged as more likely to contribute to student readiness for college. It will focus on three areas: problem solving and data analysis; algebra; and what the College Board is calling “passport to advanced math.”


  • The reading passages will call for a lot more text and data analysis, and exams will include a passage drawn from America’s great documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers or "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


  • In a major tactical change, scoring will not deduct points for incorrect answers.


According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), the ACT overtook the SAT as the nation’s most popular college admissions exam two years ago. In the high school class of 2013, 139,000 more seniors registered for the ACT than the SAT.

Lindsey Berns, the Director of College Counseling at Brooklyn Friends School in Downtown Brooklyn, said that students at Brooklyn Friends were more likely to take the ACT than the SAT. “They take both and compare their scores,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“More of our kids do better in the ACT” for two reasons, she said. First, “Our kids are strong in science.” On the ACT, if a student does well on the science section, it brings up the entire test score.

Second, Brooklyn Friends take the ACT for “strategic reasons,” she said. “Most colleges that normally require subject tests [in addition to the SAT] don’t if you take the ACT.” Only a handful of colleges require subject tests on top of the ACT she said, including Harvard, Princeton, Georgetown and a few others.

Brooklyn Friends prefers the ACT for one more reason, Ms. Berns said. While the College Board is officially a non-profit, "There's a lot of controversy over that status, given its tremendous revenues that come at the expense of students and schools," she said. "Whereas the ACT functions more like a genuine non-profit."

The growing popularity of the ACT is one of the major reasons behind the SAT changes, she said. Many colleges are moving to testing-optional admissions, because they feel the test “is not a good predictor of college readiness. The ACT is more curriculum- and content-based. You either know an area or you don’t.”

Though the College Board has not yet released details, Ms. Berns predicted that the changes would make the SAT more like the ACT. She said the College Board also planned to update the PSAT (Preliminary SAT).

According to FairTest, more than 800 U.S. colleges and universities admit a substantial number of students without regard to test scores. “They recognize that there is ample information in applicants' files to make accurate admissions decisions without distortions caused by SAT scores,” according to FairTest.

Deemphasizing the tests leads to greater diversity “because the focus on test scores deters otherwise qualified minority, low-income, first-generation, female and other students from applying,” says FairTest.

The College Board says it plans to release the complete specifications and samples of the test on April 16, two years before students will take the updated test. The company said they planned to help design course modules for use in grades 6–12.

They also announced they will supply low-income students with four fee waivers to apply to colleges, and will partner with Khan Academy to provide free, online video test prep to help eliminate the gap between students who can afford expensive SAT tutoring and those who can’t.