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New SAT: The essay portion is to become optional

By academic testing

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious" in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

College Board officials said Wednesday the update - the first since 2005 - is needed to make the exam better 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 in remarks prepared for delivery 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. Scoring will be on a 1,600-point scale, with a separate score for the optional essay.

Students will have the option of taking the test on a computer.

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

"By changing the exam's focus, we change the learning and work the SAT invites. Today, many students who are terrified they will be tested on lots of SAT words have one recourse: flashcards," Coleman said. "Every educator knows flashcards are not the best way to build real word knowledge, but when the SAT rolls around they become the royal road. Students stop reading and start flipping."

The essay will be changed in other ways, too. It will measure students' ability to analyze and explain how an author builds an argument, instead of measuring the coherence of the writing but not the quality or accuracy of the reasoning. It will be up to school districts and colleges the students apply to as to whether the essay will be required.

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.

A longstanding criticism of the SAT is that students from wealthier households do better on the exam because they can afford expensive test preparation classes.

The College Board seeks to defuse that by saying it will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. It also says every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply for college, which continues an effort the College Board has had to assist low-income students.

These are the first SAT upgrades since 2005 when the essay portion was added and analogy questions were removed. There have been other notable changes to the test, such as in 1994 when antonym questions were removed and calculators were allowed for the first time. The test was first used in 1926.

The SAT was taken last year by 1.6 million students. It has historically been more popular on the coasts, while the other popular standardized college entrance exam, the ACT, dominated the central U.S. But the ACT overtook the SAT in overall use in 2012, in part because it is taken by almost every junior in 13 states as part of the states' testing regimen. Last year, the ACT said it would begin offering computer-based testing in 2015.

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Joanne March 05 2014 at 4:37 PM

This is quaint. You measure for writing ability without a writing sample. Why didn't I think of that when I was an English teacher? Imagine the hundreds of essays I would not have had to review! The heart of a culture is its language - the Native Hawaiians learned this, almost too late, and the revival of their language has been amazing to watch. They get it. We don't. I, for one, am already mourning the loss of our language. Since when is "you are" the same as "ur"? I also find it completely ironic that one of the words done away with is "sagacious". I guess that's understandable when there isn't a sagacious one in the lot of College Board officials. This is more than a "dumbing down"; this is robbery of our children. Face it. Teachers won't worry about writing ability if the College Board doesn't.

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2 replies
B N Joanne March 05 2014 at 4:47 PM

Indeed. Why, if I didn't know the precise meaning of sagacious, I would probably... still think it's a downright pretentious word! Words die, new words are born. Such is life.

Besides, making the writing sample optional will not change much. Any marginally-competitive school will penalize the student for not taking the essay section.

Finally, "you are" "ur" when you are head of the house in an ancient Sumerian Ziggurat.

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1 reply
philips0811 B N March 05 2014 at 4:57 PM

Talk about pretentious. And pompous, arrogant etc. That would be you I am talking about.

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Ramon1222 Joanne March 05 2014 at 4:50 PM

Amen. I remember teachers ardently preparing every single student as best they could for our 'Florida Writes' which later became known as the "FCAT Writes" and they were tough with us; very critical and over-analytical in some instances, BUT that made each of us try harder, learn better usage of words, and achieve what none of us (minorities) thought we could. We learned how to master a second language and use it to empower us for the future, that although somewhat bleak is much brighter than that of generations to come. It's sad to know that such a disservice is being handed down to our younger brothers and sisters all with the facade of 'helping them out'.

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joegausch March 05 2014 at 5:30 PM

"this is stupid and boring-why do i need to take this stupid SAT" said the "child"

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rollopaloozo March 05 2014 at 5:24 PM

Dumbing down began after the 1950's.That was when multiple choice tests proliferated in the early 60's and less essays were required. Calculators were allowed in math tests and TV watching boomed reducing many students time for attention to studies.

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3 replies
itzfatcat March 05 2014 at 5:22 PM

I know dumb it down to fit education and parent failures.

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Bernie March 05 2014 at 5:21 PM

"will also do away with some vocabulary words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious" in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.”

I assume they’re talking about words like ‘lol’ & ‘lmao’….. they do think they are words….. they don’t know what phrases are……..

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joegausch March 05 2014 at 5:20 PM

please don't call the kids"dumb"-they will have their "feelings" hurt.

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t.aines14 March 05 2014 at 5:19 PM

@nightmagic23103, I could not agree more. As a current high school senior who is enrolled in advanced courses along with college-level courses, just in the past year at my school have I seen a decline in the knowledge that children have. Trust me, it is not the teachers. The teachers are very knowledgeable about the material they teach and really take pride in their work. Children don't have to pay for consequences anymore. If a child is reprimanded for poor grades or poor behavior, it is considered "emotionally damaging", oh, and don't even think about holding the child back a grade if they haven't reached the minimum requirements to move onto the next grade- WHAT WILL THEIR FRIENDS THINK?! Enough of dropping the standards to accommodate the laziness in this country. People have no pride anymore, absolutely NONE. And the biggest problem with this is, standards gets lowered so the children can pass, they still don't amount to anything, and the hardworking middle class people get stuck with the burden of 24 year old parents with 3 children, pregnant for their 4th, just waiting for their check in the mail. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, UNITED STATES. Wake up! You blame the up-and-coming generation for all of the countries problems, but who is really at fault here? Stop lowering the standards and start making people accountable for their actions. I bet you'd be amazed at the results.

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2 replies
mom t.aines14 March 05 2014 at 5:24 PM

Very well said. I is great for a high school senior to speak out. What does it say if students can see what the problem is and adults can't!!! Stop lowering the standards, make everyone accountable.

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Bernie t.aines14 March 05 2014 at 5:24 PM

Wow… kudos, T. I’m thinking the ’T’ is for tiger….. Go get em, Tiger, and the very best to you in all that lies ahead…. You certainly have your head on straight and I wish you the best always…….

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rollopaloozo March 05 2014 at 5:16 PM

Dumbing down began after the1950's

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Lori March 05 2014 at 5:16 PM

The College Board is in business to make money, not to reliably and accurately hold students to a higher standard. We keep diluting the standards and raising the scores to make our children feel better. Feeling better isn't the same as doing better, it's not real achievement. Say what they like about "aligning to the real world" and "making it more relevant" to what's being taught, but that's just more dumbing down of the tests. Instead of holding students to a high standard, and admitting that everyone doesn't reach the top, that some can and some can't, some will and some won't, let's just change the test.

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MaryLou March 05 2014 at 5:33 PM

Many kids don't know how to write any more---not an essay - book report - poem- zip----no wonder so many Countries are so far passed up in Education---in NC they are considering wheher to teach "cursive" ------stupid

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