By Kim Lifton
The College Board‘s announcement that it will revamp the SAT by 2016, partner with Khan Academy for free test prep, and make the writing test optional, made instant headlines; the story was trending on Facebook and Twitter within an hour of the announcement.
The biggest news: The company that has said students cannot prepare for the SAT will now partner with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation for the redesigned test. College Board and Khan Academy will build this program together; they expect to launch it during spring 2015.
In announcing the partnership with Khan to offer free test prep, College Board President David Coleman said high-stakes exams highlight educational inequalities. He said the College Board would offer new strategies to help students who need financial assistance, among them free test prep. What’s more, all SAT takers who qualify will directly receive four admission-fee waivers.
New: Writing Test is Optional
Among the changes, the writing test, which is now required and asks students to respond to a statement using their own experiences and values, will be replaced with a more analytical test that will be optional.
What does optional mean in the high-stakes testing game? Not much. The ACT writing test is also optional. But many colleges require students to submit a writing test score, and that is unlikely to change.
According to the College Board, the redesigned exam will:
- Have three sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, and the Essay.
- Return to a 1600-point scale. The essay will provide a separate score.
- Last about three hours, with an additional 50 minutes for the essay (which is now allotted 25 minutes.) The precise timing of the exam will be affirmed through research.
- Be administered both in print and by computer in 2016.
In addition, points will no longer be deducted for wrong answers. The College Board will release the full specifications of the exam along with extensive sample items for each section on April 16.
The new SAT Writing Test will ask students to analyze a source. The essay will measure students’ ability to analyze evidence and explain how an author builds an argument to persuade an audience. Responses will be evaluated based on the strength of the analysis as well as the coherence of the writing.
The College Board will promote analytical writing throughout their assessments and instructional resources. It will also offer an incentive through an awards program modeled after the Pulitzer Prize for the best student analytical writing. The Atlantic magazine has agreed to publish the winners.
Robert A. Schaeffer, public-education director for FairTest, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the partnership with the Khan Academy would not reduce the market for the expensive, personalized SAT tutoring that wealthier families can afford.
“Like most of the other College Board initiatives announced today,” he said, “this move is less significant than its promoters claim.”
Read more about reaction to the test, and get some details about the writing exam in this article by Eric Hoover in the Chronicle of Higher Education. This chart from the Washington Post highlights the changes.
Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, one of the top college application essay experts in the US, offering resources devoted to teaching students how to master high school writing and writing for college admissions. Wow also offers webinars and resources to prepare for the SAT and ACT writing tests.