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SAT Essay Becoming Optional, Among Other Changes

The changes will take effect in 2016 – a year that many students will undoubtedly consider their lucky break.

Elizabeth Hoyt

March 06, 2014

SAT Essay Becoming Optional, Among Other Changes
The College Board will overhaul the SAT, making drastic changes. These changes will likely be embraced by high school students everywhere as they include making the essay portion optional, the elimination of ambiguous wording throughout the exam and the termination of point deductions for incorrect answers. The changes will take effect in 2016 – a year that many students will undoubtedly consider their lucky break. According to David Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the College Board, the changes to the SAT address concerns of educators, parents and students regarding costly standardized test preparation and the fact that the exams have become increasingly disengaged from the high school students’ actual curriculum.

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“It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools,” Coleman is reported as saying in a speech in early March regarding the changes. “Too many feel that the prevalence of test prep and expensive coaching reinforces privilege rather than merit. “We’ve also been listening to students and their families for whom these tests are often mysterious and filled with unproductive anxiety,” said Coleman. “They are skeptical that either the SAT or the ACT allows them to show their best work.” Coleman urges that the overhaul’s goal is to create “an exam that is clearer and more open than any in our history.”

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He wants students and families to feel more comfortable in their perceptions of the SAT and, almost as a measure of trust and good faith, he’s already publicly shared the essay question that will be on the new optional portion of the exam: “As you read the passage in front of you, consider how the author uses evidence such as facts or examples, reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence, and stylistic or persuasive elements to add power to the ideas expressed. Write an essay in which you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience.” The source in which the passage is taken from, of course, will vary.

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What’s Going to Change

• Essay portion will be optional & scored separately
• Right answers-only scoring; points no longer deducted for incorrect answers
• Obscure* wording will be eliminated – no more studying intense “SAT-vocabulary”
• Scoring will return to a total score of 1600 points
• Expansion of free SAT study & test prep materials
• Application fee waivers for all income-eligible students to four colleges
• Exam available in print & computer format
• Addition of “Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation” reading passage
(a document** which students have likely seen within school, rather than an arbitrary filler essay)
• Math section will focus on 3 Key Areas:
1. Problem Solving & Data Analysis
2. Heart of Algebra
3. Passport of Advanced Math
*By obscure, we’re referencing words you’re likely to never hear in college (think: crepuscular, antediluvian). However, words that some might still view as tricky will still appear on the exam, so expanding your vocabulary is still a good idea, just maybe not to the same extremes as was once necessary. Any words you will be seeing in college (think: paradigm, ubiquitous, constituent) will still be fair game! **This will likely be a passage from a historical document, like The Declaration of Independence, an excerpt of a famous historical speech, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech or other passages with historical relevance. The College Board added the SAT’s mandatory essay in 2005. Many test takers often have the option, depending on the school they’re applying to, of taking the SAT or ACT. The ACT has an optional essay, which may have played a role in the fact that last year, for the first time, the ACT beat out the SAT in the number of test takers. In 2013, a record 1.8 million high school students took the ACT, which was an 8 percent increased from 2012. Comparatively, a total of 1.66 million high school students took the SAT. Initially, the SAT was mainly taken by students within the East and West coast while the ACT was taken by students within the Midwest and Mountain regions – a divide that’s neither relevant nor observed by most colleges.

Expansion of Free Test Prep Resources

In addition to the upcoming of the actual exam changes, the College Board has also taken into account the test-prep industry’s costly courses alienate lower income students who are not able to afford such resources. “It is time for the College Board to say in a clear voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation…drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” said Coleman. “It may not be our fault but it is our problem.” As a result, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy, a nonprofit, to help expand their free SAT test preparation study materials for students to eliminate the necessity of the costly route all together. The materials are said to include free interactive software and YouTube study guide videos with exclusive access to practice questions from actual SAT exams. According to the College Board, the new materials will be available to students in the spring of 2015.
Remember, for students now and in the future, Fastweb also has test prep resources and they're alwaysfree of charge!
Additionally, lower-income students meeting necessary qualifications will be able to take the exam free of charge and will be able to apply to up to four colleges for free (without even having to ask for any fee waivers from the schools, streamlining the process). “What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities. It is time for the College Board to move from measuring to acting,” Coleman stated. Full exam specifics and samples of the changes will become available on April 16. To learn more about the upcoming SAT changes, visit the College Board’s Delivering Opportunities page which explains what all of the changes mean for you, allows users to sign up for email updates, answers relevant questions and even offers a detailed SAT Blueprint outlining all of the upcoming changes.

What do you think about the SAT overhaul? Does it impact whether you'll be taking the SAT or the ACT?

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