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College Board announces no more penalties for wrong answers

The new SAT will offer an electronic version at select locations.
The new SAT will offer an electronic version at select locations.
Nancy Griesemer

College Board president David Coleman announced today sweeping changes to the SAT, due to be launched in spring 2016.

Acknowledging that standardized tests have “become disconnected from the work of our high school students,” Coleman described a redesign test that will make the new SAT more like the ACT, which for the past two years has outscored the SAT in total number of test takers.

“In recent years we've watched the ACT eclipse the SAT as the nation's college admissions test of choice, and today the College Board responded by essentially turning the SAT into the ACT,” said Jed Applerouth, founder and CEO of Applerouth Tutoring Services. “The SAT's primary differences—lack of science, mandatory essay, guessing penalty, and advanced vocabulary—will all disappear in 2016.”

Supporting changes that reinforce Coleman’s concept of doing “a few things very well” while rewarding the best high school work, the new SAT will:

  • Remove penalties for wrong answers.
  • Break down in three sections: evidence-based reading and writing, math and the essay.
  • Last about three hours with an added 50 minutes for the essay.
  • Return to a 1600-point scale.
  • Make the essay optional, although some school districts and colleges will require it.
  • Offer an electronic version at select test sites.
  • Test more “relevant” vocabulary words commonly used in college courses instead of the more “arcane” words traditionally associated with the SAT.
  • Share the essay prompt in advance—only the source material (passage) will change.
  • Include math questions focusing on linear equations; complex questions or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning.
  • Allow calculators only on one part of the math section.
  • Require a reading passage from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” or from a classic text such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

But according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, the revised test is unlikely to be better than the current one: "It will not predict college success more accurately, assess low-income students more fairly, or be less susceptible to coaching."

The College Board has two years to test questions and analyze results before presenting the new test and format to students who are currently freshmen in high school. In the meantime, the plan is to provide a full “blueprint” of the new exam, which will be released on April 16, 2014—two full years before the first student takes the test.

And for David Coleman, the message is clear.

“The road to college success has always been the practice of excellent work in our classrooms,” Coleman explained. “It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming, but the challenging learning students do each day.”