SAT essay jettisoned in revamped test debuting in 2016

College Board officials announced Wednesday revisions to the

College Board officials announced Wednesday revisions to the SAT college entrance exam — the first since 2005 — intended to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. (Sept. 25, 2013) (Credit: Newsday)

A revamped SAT test debuting in 2016 will not require students to write an essay as part of the college admissions exam, taken annually by 1.6 million high school students, including the great majority on Long Island, the College Board announced Wednesday.

The essay instead will be optional and scored separately from the rest of a shortened test, officials said.

The SAT's controversial essay portion, introduced in 2005, proved unpopular with many students because it increased the time needed to complete the test and its cost. The exam's current length -- three hours, 45 minutes -- will drop to about three hours with the planned changes.


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College Board president David Coleman, at a news briefing in Austin, Texas, detailed more than a dozen other planned changes for 2016, including a greater emphasis on vocabulary words such as "synthesis" and "empirical" that are commonly used in academic discussions. More obscure vocabulary in the SAT's verbal section will be eliminated, officials said.

The test's Manhattan-based sponsoring organization pledged to expand services to help lower-income students. For example, College Board, with the cooperation of more than 2,000 colleges and universities, will start sending notices to such students that they qualify for four waivers of college application fees.

Currently and in the past, students have had to apply for those waivers through school counselors.

Teenagers also will be able to get help from Khan Academy, a free online tutoring service that will provide practice questions from the revamped SAT, along with instructional videos. Coleman and Sal Khan, the Boston-based academy's founder, announced their collaboration Wednesday, describing it as assistance for those seeking test preparation who cannot afford the hundreds of dollars that such tutoring often costs.

Coleman, in detailing the changes, acknowledged criticism from academic experts that the essay section did not fully measure students' reasoning ability because it did not require them to cite specific evidence in support of written arguments.

"While in 2005 the College Board gave an important signal about the value of excellent writing when it included the essay in the SAT, we must take responsibility for some of the unintended consequences of how we ask students to write on the test," said Coleman, who took over the agency in 2012.

He said revisions in the essay will deal with criticisms by providing students with documents to use as evidence in support of their conclusions. Coleman is best known for his past work as an architect of the Common Core academic standards, adopted by New York and 44 other states and now being phased in amid considerable resistance from educators and parents.

With the change, the test will be scored at a maximum 1,600 points, which was the grading system used before the introduction of the essay.

Critics of the SAT, including students, have contended that the unpopularity of the essay section was a factor in the exam's losing ground to the ACT, another college admissions test now taken by more than 1.7 million students annually.

"It was rejected by the marketplace," said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, an advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass.

He said the free online SAT tutoring planned by Khan Academy, while laudable, is similar to that already provided by another Web-based firm, Number2.com.

The revised SAT will include sections in reading, math and writing, with the latter consisting largely of editing exercises.

Time allowed for the separate, optional essay will increase from 25 minutes to 50 minutes. Students who opt to write the essay will do so after completing other portions of the test.

College Board officials said fees for the revamped SAT and a scoring system for the separate essay will be announced later. The cost of the revamped test will be no higher than the current $51, according to Katherine Levin, an agency spokeswoman.

On the Island, school administrators predicted many students still will take essay sections of both the SAT and ACT, because colleges often require them.

Joan Rosenberg, acting principal at Jericho High School and a former guidance counselor, estimated that 60 percent of students there probably would do so, even if an essay is optional.

"It's still going to cover that ground for the colleges that want it," she said.

 

SAT changes planned for 2016

 

Separate essay will be optional rather than required, as it now is.

No penalty for incorrect answers, a departure from scoring that has deducted 14 point for each wrong answer.

Reading and writing sections will require students to read and analyze science articles, historical and social studies sources not used in previous exams.

Historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" will be included as reading passages in each exam.

Math section will focus on fewer topics, with emphasis on problem-solving and data analysis, linear equations and more complex mathematical functions useful in high-tech careers.

Use of calculators will be restricted to certain parts of the math section, rather than allowed for the entire segment.

Score scale will be 1600, with a separate score for the optional essay, instead of the current 2400.

Exam available in paper and digital forms.

-- John Hildebrand

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