College Board Announces Big Changes for Students Taking the SAT

Students will be tested on founding documents like the Gettysburg Address.

March 5, 2014, 1:33 PM

March 5, 2014 — -- The College Board announced today the biggest changes to the SAT college admissions test since 2005.

Along with the updates to the test, the nonprofit organization, which also organizes the Advanced Placement Program in schools, said it is offering free SAT prep through the online educational program Khan Academy.

Read More: Sal Khan Learns From Bill Gates

The College Board also announced that low-income students will receive four waivers to apply to college for free, with the "generosity" of its more than 6,000 member educational institutions, College Board president David Coleman said.

The College Board already sponsors free waivers to low-income students to take the SAT.

The changes announced today will be implemented for the spring 2016 exam, giving time to high school students who wish to prepare for the admissions test. A full test document example, which will include sample items, will be available April 16.

Here are eight surprising changes to the SAT that students will face in 2016:

1. Returning to 1600 scale from 2400

For about a half a century, the SAT had a math and reading section, each scored from 200 to 800. Then in 2005, the College Board implemented a new writing section, introducing a perfect score of 2400.

Now the test will go back to a 1600 scale.

2. Essay is optional instead of mandatory

The essay will now be optional on the SAT, with a separate score. It will be scored by human raters who will be trained to score the essays using a scoring rubric that will be released at a later date, the College Board says.

Member school districts and colleges will be able to decide whether they will require an essay.

The exam will have a new evidence-based reading and writing section.

"Students will be asked to support answers with evidence, including questions that require them to cite a specific part of a passage to support their answer choice," the College Board announced in a statement.

3. Includes passage from a founding document

Each SAT exam will include a passage from "founding documents of America," such as the Federalist Papers, Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address and the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Read More: Shmoop Uses Humor to Make Learning, Test-Prep Fun

4. No penalty for wrong answers

While the previous exam penalized students' scores for wrong answers, the College Board will no longer deduct points for incorrect answers in the new exam.

5. No more "obscure" vocabulary words

The College Board says it will test vocabulary focused on words that are "widely used in college and career" instead of "words that are sometimes obscure."

6. SAT will be available in paper and digital forms

Previously, the SAT was available on paper only.

Read More: Hemingway App Punches Up Your Writing

7. Limits on calculator use

A calculator will be permitted only in certain parts of the math section, as opposed to all of the math section in the current exam. The "no-calculator" section, the College Board says, "allows greater assessment of students' understanding, fluency, and technique."

8. Shorter exam

The new exam will be three hours, with an optional essay of 50 minutes. The old exam was three hours and 45 minutes.

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