The big news today is that the College Board has announced a major overhaul of the SAT, to be effective in 2016:
- SAT to drop essay requirement and return to top score of 1600 in redesign of admission test.
- SAT dropping essay portion, returning to 1,600 maximum score
- College Board Redesigns SAT Exam Making Essay Portion Optional
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.