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Essay Optional, Other Changes Coming to the SAT

Friday, March 7th, 2014

The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing a series of changes, one of which is that the essay portion, which was added in 2005, will become optional, with a separate score from the rest of the test.  The Associated Press reports on these and other changes, which will take effect in the 2016 test:

The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will be on a 1,600-point scale, with a separate score for the optional essay.

Students will have the option of taking the test on a computer.

One of the biggest changes is that the extra penalty for wrong answers, which discouraged guessing, will be eliminated. And some vocabulary words will be replaced with words such as ‘‘synthesis’’ and ‘‘empirical’’ that are used more widely in classrooms and in work settings.

‘‘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. ‘‘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.’’

The essay will be changed in other ways, too. It will measure students’ ability to analyze and explain how an author builds an argument, instead of measuring the coherence of the writing but not the quality or accuracy of the reasoning. It will be up to school districts and colleges the students apply to as to whether the essay will be required.

Instead of testing a wide range of math concepts, the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.

Image: Test answer sheet, via Shutterstock

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