The College Board plans to overhaul the SAT test in a move to better align the college entrance exam with what students should learn in the classroom.
The changes are the first since the College Board in 2005 introduced the essay portion of the test, which also includes sections focusing on math and critical reading.
"In a way I see this as a breath of relief," College Board president David Coleman said in a news conference on Wednesday to unveil the shift. Students will no longer be expected to learn "fancy new skills," he added, while the revamped test will assess the kind of high school work they have been doing.
In acknowledging that the revised test is likely to cause anxiety for families, the College Board will give students and test-prep providers a full two years to prepare for the changes. Students will begin taking the new test in the spring of 2016.
Coleman also revealed a partnership with the test-prep service Kahn Academy, saying that the goal is to create "the best SAT-test preparation in the world." The new service will be free for anyone who plans to take the exam.
Following are some of the key ways in which the SAT will change:
- Questions on the test will be more grounded in the real world and relate directly to the kind of students will do in college and in their careers.
- The SAT will narrow its focus to key concepts that are deemed critical for college success.
- The exam will return to being scored on a 1,600-point scale, rather than 2,400 points.
- Students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers.
- The essay portion of the test will be optional and scored separately.
- The exam will last three hours, with an additional 50 minutes for the optional essay.
In every test, students also will encounter an excerpt from one of America's founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or texts that these documents have spurred about freedom, justice and human dignity.
The obscure vocabulary words that have long featured in the SAT will be replaced with more relevant words. Coleman noted that vocabulary flashcards will no longer be necessary in studying for the exam.
The College Board will release the complete specifications of the overhauled exam on April 16. Anyone interested in learning more about the changes can visit a new College Board website at DeliveringOpportunity.org.
Despite the shift, Bob Schaeffer of FairTest.org, who has been a vocal critic of the SAT, was not impressed with the SAT's new direction. He also remains skeptical that the free test-prep service will level the playing field for students of different financial means.
"The partnership with the Khan Academy is unlikely to make a dent in the huge market for high-priced, personalized SAT workshops and tutoring that only well-to-do families can afford," he said. "Like most of the other College Board initiatives announced today, this move is less significant than its promoters claim."