SAT reworks 2016 test to include ‘relevant’ vocabulary, math that matters, no penalty for wrong answers

Aleah Jennings-Newhouse, Staff Writer

For years, the SAT has been demanding students to write a grueling 25-minute essay, study vocabulary words that they have never seen before, and answer math questions that are difficult only because of the obscure way in which they are phrased. Now, the SAT is about to change.

On March 5, The College Board announced upcoming changes to the one of the two most widely used standardized college admissions test in the United States (the other is the ACT). The updated test will premiere in the spring of 2016.

The Board, a non-profit organization founded in 1900 to “expand access to higher education,” highlighted eight main goals for changing the test.

To improve the current Critical Reading and Writing sections, the new SAT will focus on relevant words in context, test for a command of evidence in writing, and the ability to analyze an essay.

For the math section, there will be a focus on math that matters most, and problems grounded in real-world contexts. It will also test for the ability to analyze in science and in history/social studies, and include questions about founding documents and the “Great Global Conversation.” The test will also stop penalizing wrong answers.

Unfortunately for sophomores and juniors who are currently frustrated with the test, the new version will not come out in time to make a difference.

In an email response to questions posed by the Legend, Brendan Dunlap (’15) wrote that he wishes there was “less emphasis on memorizing words that could be on the test.”

“Even after having studied 500-plus words,” he wrote, “there were some on my SAT that I had never seen in my life.”

“Another would be to de-complicate the math section,” Dunlap added. “What are they even testing for?” he asked. “It’s hardly math — it’s more like strange riddle-solving.”

Kim Davidson (’14) wrote, “I would have had fewer sections. I think it’s a bit cruel to include an extra section just as a ‘test.’”

Other important changes coming from the Board include a shorter test, as the essay portion will be optional. If a student chooses to write the essay, he or she will have twice as much time as before, and write with the purpose of analysis, as opposed to taking a position on a presented topic. This is closer to the essay section on the ACT, the other widely used standardized college admissions test. Writing the essay is also optional, but only lasts for 30 minutes, and takes place at the end of the test.

Ted Olney-Bell (‘14) wrote that he “hated the essay part” in response to the questions. He wrote that he had taken the test twice, and received the same score on the essay both times, although he considered the second essay he wrote to be considerably worse.

“I naturally thought (the scoring) was wrong,” he wrote. “I’m not sure what it was that caused this to happen … but I feel that it had something to do with the format or grading of the essay.”

“I’m just glad that they understood the fact that the original essay section was flawed,” he wrote.

Joe Weinberg (’14) agreed: “I’m just glad they are changing (the SAT) at all. I appreciate the fact that they are taking steps to improve it, even if it doesn’t directly affect me,” he wrote to the Legend.

On April 16, David Coleman, president and CEO of The College Board, and Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment for the Board, explained their reasoning in a letter following the announcement of the changes: “Our members, including admission officers, school counselors, teachers, and students, have called on us to change the SAT and go beyond assessment to deliver opportunity.”

“Our goal is to support college readiness and success for more students and to make sure that those who are prepared take full advantage of the opportunities they’ve earned through their hard work,” they continued.

Coleman’s work instituting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aligns with the new SAT’s practical application to college admissions. The CCSS is a set of standards for what students should know by the end of each grade in public schools, although private schools have the option to follow it.

Changes to the test also mean changes to the test prep. The Board’s website suggests that “(r)igorous course work will be, more than ever, the best preparation for the SAT.”

Thomas Su (’17) commented on being in the first class that will take the new SAT. “I think that it will be difficult for us as the first class because we don’t exactly know what to expect,” he wrote to the Legend.

“I can’t say I’m excited to try out the new version of the SAT when my future is so dependent on it,” wrote Charlotte Pohl (’17).