Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Essays to be optional on new SATs

College-entrance exam’s makers also overhaul questions, scoring


College Board President David Coleman attends an announcement event, Wednesday in Austin, Texas where College Board officials announced updates for the SAT college entrance exam, the first since 2005.


PITTSBURGH — For students taking the SAT college entrance exam in spring 2016 and later, it won’t be like their older siblings’ exam.

The College Board on Wednesday announced the redesigned test, including switching from 2,400 points back to 1,600 points.

In addition:

● Calculator use will be limited to certain portions, not all of the math section. Math questions will focus on key topics, called problem solving and data analysis; heart of algebra, and passport to advanced math.

● Reading answers will require evidence to support them. Sentence completions are gone. Vocabulary words will be chosen for their power, not their obscurity.

● Source documents will come from a wider range of academic disciplines, and every test will include text from one of America’s founding documents or the global conversations they have inspired.

● An essay won’t be required, but instead will be optional, yielding a separate score.

● And there’s no penalty for wrong answers, each of which now costs a quarter-point.

“We hope you breathe a sigh of relief that this exam will be focused, useful, open, clear and aligned with the work you do throughout high school,” College Board President David Coleman said in making the announcement.

Mr. Coleman believes changing the focus of the exam also will change instruction, from rote learning of SAT vocabulary from flashcards to deeper learning. He said the new SAT “will measure the best of what students are working on in class — the work that most prepares them for college and career success.”

The new SAT will have two required portions — math as well as evidence-based reading and writing — that each will count for 800 points, for a total of 1,600 points.

In addition, the new test will have an optional essay that will have a separate score, the size of which hasn’t been announced. The new essay will require students to analyze evidence, not just use personal background and experiences as they do now.

The two required sections will take about three hours and the essay 50 minutes.

Currently, the SAT has three required sections — critical reading, math, and writing, which includes a 25-minute essay. Each section is worth up to 800 points for a total of 2,400 points. The three combined take three hours and 45 minutes.

The 2,400-point scale took effect in 2005 when the writing portion was added, making a three-section test and replacing the previous SAT that had two sections, verbal and math, worth a total of 1600 points.

Al Newell, vice president of enrollment at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, said: “At face value, I like where things are heading. I don’t know if many people ever adjusted to the 2,400-point scale.”

He said parents want to talk about a score of 1,600, and colleges varied as to whether they considered the writing portion or not.

Washington and Jefferson does not use the writing score, but does require a personal statement on the application. While most of its applicants submit SAT scores along with other information, SATs are optional there.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (known as FairTest) and a longtime SAT opponent, said he thinks the changes “fail to address many major concerns of independent researchers, standardized exam critics, and equity advocates.”

He noted that since the SAT was revised in 2005, nearly 100 colleges and universities stopped requiring college entrance exams scores, bringing the total to more than 800.

The test costs $51, but the new fee has not been set.

More details of the new exam, including sample items for each section, are to be made available on April 16. Details now available are on the Web at​delivering-opportunity/​sat.

The College Board also announced fee waivers for college applications for income-eligible students who take the SAT. Each such student will be able to get four application fee waivers.

Mr. Coleman said many teachers see the ACT and SAT college entrance exams as unfairly measuring their students’ work.

“It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become far too disconnected from the work of our high schools,” Mr. Coleman said.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Eleanor Chute is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Eleanor Chute at: or 412-263-1955.

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