Under new SAT, 1,600 is perfect again

By Kimberly Hefling

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 6 2014 7:55 a.m. MST

College Board President David Coleman attends an announcement event, Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Austin, Texas where College Board officials announced updates for the SAT college entrance exam, the first since 2005, needed to make the exam a College Board a better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The perfect score will again be 1,600. What's more, the essay will be optional, students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers and the vocabulary is shifting to do away with some high-sounding words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious."

The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing a sweeping revision.

College Board officials said Wednesday the update — the first since 2005 — is needed to make the exam more representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. The test should offer "worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles," said College Board President David Coleman at an event in Austin, Texas.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year's ninth-graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. With the 1,600-point scale, which had been used until 2004, there will be a separate score for the optional essay. Some complicated vocabulary words will be replaced by words more widely used in classroom and work settings.

For the first time, students will have the option of taking the test on computers.

Once the predominant college admissions exam, the SAT in recent years has been overtaken in popularity by the competing ACT, which has long been considered more curriculum-based. The ACT offers an optional essay and announced last year it would begin making computer-based testing available in 2015.

One of the biggest changes in the SAT 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" — words that are used more widely in classrooms and in work settings.

Each exam will include a passage drawn from "founding documents" such as the Declaration of Independence or from discussions they've inspired.

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.

Tania Perez, 17, a senior at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, said she would like to have taken the test on a computer — and with the vocabulary changes.

"Some of the SAT words that we've seen, well personally, I've seen, taking the SAT ... I've never heard of them and stuff," Perez said. "That would have been better for me. I think my score would have been a lot higher."

Aja McCrae, 14, a freshman at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, will be in the first class to take the new SAT. In an interview outside her high school, McCrae said taking the test on a computer could help but she wonders if there will be technical problems.

"The math portion, with a calculator, I think it should be used on the entire test. I don't like that change," McCrae said.

Jim Rawlins, the director of admissions at the University of Oregon, said the changes appear "potentially helpful and useful" but it will take a few years to know the impact, after the students who take the revised test go on to college.

"It's all in the details of how it all plays out," said Rawlins, a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Some high school and college admissions counselors said eliminating the penalty for wrong answers and making the essay optional could make the test less stressful for some students.

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