What Changes to the SAT Mean for Your Students

The College Board recently announced that sweeping changes are coming to the SAT in 2016. What will the new test look like, and what do these changes mean for your students?

The Internet is abuzz this week with talk of the College Board’s announcement that big changes are coming to the SAT in 2016. David Coleman, president of the College Board, presented an overview of the new test at SXSWedu in Austin this week, and more details will be revealed in mid-April.

Key changes to the SAT

According to the College Board, “The redesigned SAT will focus on the knowledge and skills that current research shows are most essential for college and career readiness and success.”

One of the most significant changes to the test is the return to a 400- to 1600-point scale. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections will each be scored on a 200- to 800-point scale, and the essay, which was added in 2005, will be optional and scored separately.

There are an additional eight key changes that students can expect on the revamped SAT:

  • Relevant words in context. The new SAT will focus on what the College Board refers to as “relevant words, the meanings of which depend on how they’re used.” Students will be tested on words that they will use in college and in their future careers—not just on the SAT.
  • Command of evidence. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section will ask students to “demonstrate their ability to interpret, synthesize, and use evidence found in a wide range of sources.” This change is aimed at reflecting the type of work required in college and the workplace.
  • Essay analyzing a source. The Essay section will undergo a significant overhaul, with students now being asked to read a passage, explain how the author builds his or her argument, and back up their assertions with evidence from the passage. The prompt will be shared ahead of time and will be optional, though the College Board notes that some school districts and colleges will require it.
  • Math focused on three key areas. The Math section will focus on Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math. According to the College Board, “Current research shows that these areas most contribute to readiness for college and career training.”
  • Problems grounded in real-world contexts. The new SAT will be aimed at engaging students with questions grounded in the real world and related to college course work and career demands. This means questions throughout the test will include references to things like the humanities, history, social science, and career scenarios.
  • Analysis in science and social studies. Test takers will be asked to apply their skills to answer questions relating to history, science, and social studies. “Questions will require them to read and comprehend texts, revise texts to be consistent with data presented in graphs, synthesize information presented through texts and graphics, and solve problems based in science and social science.”
  • Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation. All students taking the SAT will encounter an excerpt from one of America’s founding documents (such as the Declaration of Independence) or a text from the ongoing Great Global Conversation about freedom, justice, and human dignity.
  • No penalty for wrong answers. The new SAT will feature “rights-only scoring,” meaning students will not be penalized for incorrect answers.

Why these changes are being made

In his SXSWedu speech, David Coleman explained the reasoning behind these sweeping changes. In addition to helping students prepare for the real world, the new test will also attempt to level the playing field for all test takers. Here are a few highlights from his speech:

  • “We need to get rid of the sense of mystery and dismantle the advantages that people perceive in using costly test preparation.”
  • “It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools.”
  • “What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities. It is time for the College Board to move from measuring to acting.”

Toward that end, the College Board will also be enacting a few changes that may help underprivileged test takers. Students who take the SAT and are below a certain income threshold will get four waivers for their college application fees, and the College Board is also working with Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational website, to create free test prep videos for students.

What these changes mean for your students

The new test won’t be rolled out until the spring of 2016, and until then, it’s difficult to predict exactly how these changes will affect test takers. But, as Coleman stated, one of the main goals of the new test is to help students who don’t have access to test prep resources beyond what is available to them in school. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the test has been “dumbed down” or that it will be easier, per se, but Coleman did suggest that things like flash cards will become irrelevant as the focus of the test becomes more practical and real-world-focused.

How colleges and universities will react to the new test also remains to be seen. The weight placed on the SAT and ACT in the college admission process has always varied from school to school. But, as a recent NPR story reported, at schools where standardized tests are optional, studies have found that there is “virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test ‘submitters’ and ‘nonsubmitters’” and  that “college graduation rates for ‘nonsubmitters’ were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.” Standardized tests are optional at around 800 colleges and universities (about a quarter of the schools in the country). If more begin to follow suit, then who knows? SAT stress may become a thing of the past altogether.

Full details on the new SAT will be released on April 16, 2014.

What do you think of the College Board’s changes to the SAT? What are the pros and cons, and how do you think they will affect your students?

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie Darlet and CollegeXpress. Stephanie holds a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. 


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