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UPDATE | New SAT: The essay portion will become optional



Published: Wed, March 5, 2014 @ 2:35 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious" in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

College Board officials said today the update — the first since 2005 — is needed to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. The test should offer "worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles," said College Board President David Coleman in remarks prepared for delivery at an event in Austin, Texas.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year's ninth-graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will be on a 1,600-point scale, with a separate score for the optional essay.

Students will have the option of taking the test on a computer.

One of the biggest changes is that the extra penalty for wrong answers, which discouraged guessing, will be eliminated. And some vocabulary words will be replaced with words such as "synthesis" and "empirical" that are used more widely in classrooms and in work settings.

"By changing the exam's focus, we change the learning and work the SAT invites. Today, many students who are terrified they will be tested on lots of SAT words have one recourse: flashcards," Coleman said. "Every educator knows flashcards are not the best way to build real word knowledge, but when the SAT rolls around they become the royal road. Students stop reading and start flipping."


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