Major changes come to the SAT

The test will revert to a 1600-point scale

  1. Essay Section Optional
  2. Restricted Calculator Use
  3. Free Prep Through Khan Academy
  4. More Relevant Vocabulary Words
  5. “Founding Document” On Every Test

A major overhaul of the SAT will drastically change the testing experience of future Penn applicants.

On Wednesday the College Board announced several major changes to the standardized test, which aims to make the SAT “more focused and useful than ever before,” according to the College Board website.

The essay portion of the exam is now optional, once again making the SAT graded on a 1600-point scale. Students will no longer be penalized a quarter of a point for getting the wrong answer and obscure vocabulary words will be replaced in favor of words relevant to college courses, according to The New York Times. Calculators will no longer be allowed on some parts of the math section.

The changes will go into place in the spring of 2016.

Professor of Higher Education in the Graduate School of Education Marybeth Gasman supports the changes. “I … applaud the College Board for dropping the guessing penalty as this penalty worked against students who took educated guesses,” she said in an email. She also lauded use of less “arcane” words, which are sometimes absent from the daily life of test takers across races and socioeconomic classes.

The new SAT is also more socially minded. The College Board will partner with Khan Academy, a non-profit educational website, to offer free test prep, which will “make SAT prep a little more accessible to all students that are taking the test,” Michael Goran, founder of IvySelect and 1976 College graduate, said. The SAT has faced criticism for favoring wealthier students in the past.

Every test will also require students to engage with a “founding document” crucial to United States history, like the Bill of Rights. This change does not bother international student Oranda Hou, a College and Wharton sophomore. “If you want to go to college in the States, it’s a good thing to know the basic knowledge of the society to live there and make friends there,” she said. Hou sees the changes as testing students’ “ability to make a logical argument,” not necessarily their depth of knowledge.

Bev Taylor, the founder of Manhattan-based consulting firm Ivy Coach, sees the changes as mainly a business decision because “the College Board felt like they lost bragging rights in 2013 when over 2,000 more students took the ACT,” she said. “That’s enough to do something drastic.”

Taylor believes the changes will not affect the decision process for college admissions. She pointed out that most top colleges have been considering the essay portion of the exam as an SAT Subject Test, not as a part of the real SAT.

“Ever since College Board changed it to 2400, nobody in admissions really understood that score,” she said. However, Taylor finds it likely that top colleges will make the optional essay section required, just as they do for the essay part of the ACT.

While Goran agrees that the changes will not significantly impact the admissions process, he believes they will “make the SAT more student friendly.”

“The point of the exercise is really about college readiness [and] being able to analyze material … in a way that will work to your benefit when you get to college,” Goran said.

“Anytime changes in the test can result in more inclusive practices, that’s a definite good,” Gasman added.


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