Gas station without pumps

2014 March 5

SAT is changing in 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:41
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The big news today is that the College Board has announced a major overhaul of the SAT, to be effective in 2016:

The major changes seem to be these:

  • Eliminating difficult vocabulary in favor of common words like “synthesis”. This is intended to reduce the benefit of vocabulary study, but is likely to reduce the benefit of having read extensively (which is the main source for a large vocabulary).
  • Adding a penalty for leaving any questions unanswered.  They phrase this as “eliminating the guessing penalty”, but there was no penalty for guessing—the expected value of a guess was 0, the same as leaving a question unanswered. Now guessing will have a positive expected value, so leaving a question unanswered is effectively penalized.
  • Merging the critical reading and writing multiple-guess questions, so that there is one score for both reading and writing. This makes some sense, as the current split between the two seems completely arbitrary.
  • Making the essay optional, so that there will be a return to a 1600-point scale with a separate score for those who choose to do the essay.  Since the essay bore little resemblance to writing in college, was graded randomly (or worse), and encouraged teaching the awful 5-paragraph essay, eliminating the essay is probably a very good move. The new optional essay will be twice as long, which may make it have some minor predictive value, unlike the current essay. I suspect that 90% of colleges will not request the essay, as it has had essentially no predictive value.
  • Alignment to the Common Core, which is of dubious utility for predicting college success, given that the Common Core is primarily designed for non-college-bound students.
  • Allowing the SAT to be taken on computers. I wonder how they are going to arrange the proctoring to make sure that no computer-based cheating occurs.

Although the College Board says that this overhaul is not prompted by their shrinking market share (ACT now sells more tests than SAT), I’m sure that is the primary driving factor.  If the College Board behaved more like a non-profit than like a corporate monopoly (smaller executive salaries, pricing for distributing scores to college that was close to actual costs rather than the price gouging that they currently engage it), I’d be more inclined to believe that this was not just a “market share” phenomenon.  Since all the changes make them look more like the ACT, it seems to be entirely profit-driven, not based on a desire to more accurately predict the success of college applicants.

Eliminating the essay should make the SAT much cheaper to grade, but I’ve not heard any announcements about them reducing the price of the exams.




  1. > I wonder how they are going to arrange the proctoring to make sure that no computer-based cheating occurs.
    That part is easy – K12 uses a program called “Exam Guard” that basically will not let you switch to another application while you are still in the test mode.
    Here is the official description:
    K12’s high school tests will not start if this Exam Guard is not installed and the only way you can exit the test is to turn it in.
    If SAT is taken at test centers, all they need to do is to install this or similar program on each computer there.
    If it is taken at schools, they still can require Exam Guards on each computer used for testing.

    Comment by Sandra — 2014 March 5 @ 22:09 | Reply

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