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They Just Announced Major Changes to the SAT…and There's a Tie to Common Core


"By changing the exam's focus, we change the learning and work the SAT invites."

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The SAT college entrance exam will no longer require a written essay or penalize students for wrong answers, part of a major overhaul announced Wednesday.

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The sweeping revisions were unveiled by David Coleman, president of the College Board, who also is the architect of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Coleman said the SAT should offer "worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles." The new version will be rolled out in 2016.

The New York Times highlighted a sample of the changes coming:

The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary words will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, such as “empirical” and “synthesis.” The math questions, now scattered widely across many topics, will focus more narrowly on linear equations, functions and proportional thinking. The use of a calculator will no longer be allowed on some of the math sections. The new exam will be available on paper and computer, and the scoring will revert to the old 1600 scale, with a top score of 800 on math and what will now be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.” The optional essay will have a separate score.

"By changing the exam's focus, we change the learning and work the SAT invites. Today, many students who are terrified they will be tested on lots of SAT words have one recourse: flashcards," Coleman said in a statement. "Every educator knows flashcards are not the best way to build real word knowledge, but when the SAT rolls around they become the royal road. Students stop reading and start flipping."

Coleman added to the Times that the exam will be emphasizing skills and evidence-based thinking students should be learning in high school, therefore lessening the need for test-taking tricks and strategies.

The required essay never gained popularity with most college admissions officers, the Times noted, as few figure the score into admission decisions. And many used essays only occasionally as raw writing samples to help determine the degree to which parents, consultants and counselors had edited and polished essays submitted with applications.

Some of the other changes the Times noted:

  • The reading and writing section will include source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they've chosen.
  • Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
  • One longstanding critique of the SAT has been that students from wealthier households do better because they can afford expensive test preparation classes; therefore low-income students will now be given fee waivers allowing them to apply to four colleges at no charge, adding that before the new exam kicks in, the College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer free online practice problems from old tests and instructional videos showing how to solve them.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.

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