The College Board announced significant changes Wednesday to the SAT test, which is commonly used in college admissions. The news prompted a flurry of discussion across the country as students and educators alike debated the merits of the major redesign.
In an email to The Tech, Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill ’86 called the changes an improvement, although he also said that MIT was not planning to give the test more weight in its admissions decisions.
The new SAT will first be administered in the spring of 2016.
The exam will return to a 1,600-point format, having used the 2,400-point format since 2005. Incorrect answers will no longer be penalized.
The overhaul of the test places a new emphasis on using evidence from texts in literature, science, history, and social studies, as well as from informational graphics.
The new “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” section, which replaces the current Writing and Critical Reading sections, will also shift its focus from “obscure” vocabulary to “words that are widely used in college and career,” like “synthesis” and “empirical,” according to the College Board. The essay will be scored as an independent component that colleges may choose to consider.
The College Board says that the new math section will draw from fewer topics grouped around three focuses: proportional reasoning, linear equations, and “more complex equations.” According to the College Board, research shows that these areas “most contribute to readiness for college and career training.”
“I do think the SAT will be a better test — better for the students who take it,” Schmill wrote. “The new SAT will be more aligned with what students should be learning in school, and so doing good work in school will be the best preparation for the test.”
Schmill said that the admissions office had not yet decided whether it will require applicants to submit essay scores.
“I do not anticipate that the redesign of the SAT will change how we admit students or that we will use the SAT differently in our process,” Schmill wrote. “We plan to use the SAT in the same way as we do currently.”
Performance on standardized tests is one of many factors considered in undergraduate admissions. “We have done studies that look at the correlation between SAT scores and student performance, and have found that the SAT in combination with grades and other factors is a better predictor than any individual component alone,” Schmill said.
Les Perelman, the former director of Writing Across the Curriculum at MIT and a longtime vocal critic of the SAT’s 25-minute essay, was surprised by the extent of the changes, according to an article in Inside Higher Ed.
“Getting rid of what was a horrible writing test is in itself good,” Perelman said in the article, calling the change “real progress.” Perelman had spoken to College Board president David Coleman about his suggestions for the SAT back in 2012.
Schmill mentioned that he had also been able to “offer [his] input to the College Board as they have gone through their redesign process.”
Some contend that the SAT is being revamped to look more like the ACT, another college admission assessment often seen as the SAT’s main rival.
“It seems like they’re mostly following what we’ve always done,” Jon Erickson, president of ACT’s education division, told The New York Times on Wednesday.
MIT accepts both the SAT and the ACT in its admissions process. Currently, more people take the ACT than the SAT each year. While 1.7 million students sat for the SAT in 2013, 1.8 million took the ACT last year. The ACT first surpassed the SAT in number of students in 2011, according to the Associated Press.
The College Board on Wednesday also announced a collaboration with Khan Academy, which provides free educational videos online and was founded by MIT alumnus Salman A. Khan ’98. Khan Academy plans to produce 200 videos on topics covered on the revamped SAT. The partnership is part of the College Board’s efforts to reach out to students from low-income households, whose SAT scores have lagged behind those of their wealthier counterparts for decades.