SAT will change to look more like the ACT

by Grace

SAT changes that will take effect in 2016 were announced yesterday by College Board president David Coleman.  Changes include an optional essay and a return to the 1600-point scale.

The non-essay part of the new exam will be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”

A summary of changes is provided by the New York Times:

• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

• The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze how its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

• The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

• The overall scoring will return to the old 1600 scales, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

• Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Khan Academy will offer free test preparation materials online.

During the transition more students will take the ACT.
As the parent of a teenager, I foresee more students shifting their focus to the ACT until after the new SAT has been in use for a couple of years.  That trend is already in place, and few students will want to rely on the new SAT as the sole test to use in the college application process.

Related:  SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’ (Cost of College)


4 Responses to “SAT will change to look more like the ACT”

  1. It is incorrect to call the current guessing correction a “guessing penalty”, since there is no penalty for guessing—the expected value of guessing is 0, the same as leaving the question blank. It might be better to call the new system an “incompleteness penalty”, since under the new system you have to guess rather than leave things blank, or forfeit the 1/5th point expected value of guessing blindly. Thus the new system is designed to reward gamblers rather than cautious people, while the old system was neutral on this character trait.

    I’ve posted my opinions of the little that has been released about the new SAT design at


  2. I agree that there is currently no guessing penalty; the current scoring system neither rewards nor penalizes guessing.
    Eliminating the negative score for an incorrect answer, with the expected value of zero for a random guess, now will penalize those who do not guess. This puts more of a premium of understanding the scoring system that the current system does, and thus will tend to reward those who take a test prep course.


  3. Coincidentally we were discussing numeracy skills among journalists in the other post. I confess I never thought about what “everyone” calls the “guessing penalty” in actual mathematical terms …



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