A test-preparation expert who operates centers in Salt Lake City and Provo has applauded the changes made in the Scholastic Aptitude Test, a major college entrance test administered in the United States.

Stanley Kaplan, who directs a large group of educational centers from headquarters in New York City, said the changes "reflect the importance of focusing on the basics of education in our schools - reading, writing and arithmetic." Further changes are still needed, he said.The SAT test has been altered to incorporate more essay-type questions along with the standard multiple-choice questions. The changes have met with mixed reactions from educational testing experts.

The College Board, which oversees test preparation and administration policies, said the changes were designed to make the tests less subject to "coaching" by teachers.

"For us, there is no such thing as an uncoachable test," Kaplan responded. "Students can be coached to learn the content and particular strategies for any standardized test."

Even so, he said, the alterations in the SAT are a step in the right direction. He suggested additional changes, including requiring an essay as part of the test. An essay would demonstrate writing skills and the ability to express thoughts, he said. These skills are critical to success in post-school activities.

The "guessing penalty" puts students in the position of having to decide not only how to answer a question, but whether they should risk answering if they are not certain and being penalized for an incorrect answer. The provision makes students more anxious about taking the examination, Kaplan said.

Scoring on admission tests for law school have been changed to eliminate the guessing penalty, he said.

"It is high time high school students have the same test-taking advantage."

Among the announced changes in the SAT, to become effective in 1994, are elimination of the antonym section (identifying words with opposite meanings); approval for use of calculators in the math section; and use of fill-in answers instead of multiple-choice on 20 percent of the questions.

Kaplan's company, founded in 1938, is the largest test preparation center in the world. Each year, more than 140,000 students enroll in one of 140 permanent centers or 600 satellite locations to prepare for any one of 30 standardized admissions and licensure exams. The main center is located in New York City.