For many current Georgetown students, the SAT will be remembered as 2,400 points of anxiety, pressure and competition. After this month’s changes to the structure of the SAT, these feelings will be at least slightly alleviated, with the College Board taking steps to solve some of the longstanding academic and socioeconomic frustrations with the test.
The new format, which goes into effect in 2016 — making current ninth graders the first to take the new test — will make the essay section optional, remove the quarter-point penalty for wrong answers and scale back on testing obscure vocabulary in an effort to realign the test with the subject matter and critical thinking skills that are taught in high school. Without the essay section, the College Board will report SAT scores out of a maximum of 1,600 points instead of 2,400 points, as it was scored before 2005.
These revisions bring commendable changes to the SAT. The new design moves the focus of the test away from SAT-specific questions and idiosyncrasies, allowing students to spend their junior year of high school focusing on learning math, science and English, rather than SAT strategies, and allowing college admissions officers to gain a better sense of high school students’ preparation for college.
The changes will also increase free online instruction and provide vouchers for underprivileged students to apply to up to four colleges free of cost, reducing barriers low-income students face in applying to college. SAT preparation courses have become absurdly expensive, giving those who can afford them a clear advantage, and these changes will hopefully deter that trend.
It is clear that the SAT was due for a revamp. The College Board has taken appropriate steps to reform a testing process whose value in determining a student’s success in college has become limited and overweighted in college admissions. Hopefully, the overhaul of the SAT will make the three-hour and 45-minute, $51 test relevant again.