A rite of passage for many teenagers as they prepare for the college application process is undergoing some changes.
College Board President David Coleman announced earlier this month the SAT will undergo some fundamental shifts, both in the structure of the exam itself and in how it’s administered, particularly to low-income students.
“There’s definitely a majority of our seniors who have either taken it or are taking it,” Gainesville High guidance counselor J.D. Mutchler said. “The SAT seems to be a little more popular than the ACT.”
Since 2005, the SAT has been scored on a scale of 2,400, with three sections — math, vocabulary and the written essay. Now, it will be on a scale of 1,600 with the essay portion being an optional, separately scored component.
Also, penalties used to be given for incorrect answers, but that’s no longer the case.
In the vocabulary section, words such as “synthesis” and “empirical” will be used to better reflect what’s being taught in both high school and college classrooms. And a calculator, now allowed for the entire math portion, will be usable for only a part of it.
“It sounds as if the proposed changes are good ones, especially for many of our students,” said Gainesville’s Director of Standards and Assessment Sarah Bell.
“Better alignment with skills taught in schools and used in the workplace will undoubtedly make the test more relevant for our students.”
It will be some time before students notice anything different, as the changes are set to go into effect in 2016.
This year’s freshman class will be juniors, preparing to take the SAT for college admissions.
Beyond the changes to the test itself, attempts are being made to make it more accessible.
To encourage more college participation and readiness in all students, Coleman also announced that every income-eligible student taking the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply to college, removing a cost barrier.
Additionally, the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials, and students will have the choice to either take it by hand or via computer.
“The partnership will allow access to preparation that will benefit all,” Bell said.
The changes may not only be the natural evolution of the test itself, but an attempt by the College Board to attract more test takers.
The SAT was taken last year by 1.7 million students.
It has historically been more popular on the coasts, while the other main standardized college entrance exam, the ACT, dominated the central U.S.
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 those states’ testing regimens.
“The tests are different,” Mutchler said. “The SAT is critical reasoning, and then there’s math plus the writing. ACT is English, math, science, social studies and they have a composite score, plus they have writing separately.
“The SAT is a little bit more abilities-oriented while the ACT is a little bit more achievement-oriented,” he added. “My understanding ... is the SAT is going more in the direction of becoming more achievement-oriented like the ACT.”
There’s also the growing idea in high schools and colleges that the SAT isn’t the best indicator of college success.
“I have been interested in the information coming out of colleges and universities that have instituted a ‘test optional’ admissions process,” Bell said.
“Several have claimed that the average GPA of students has risen since instituting this policy.
“I think that the College Board recognizes that in order to stay relevant to today’s college admissions, the SAT must reflect a better picture of what students are able to do.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.