US SAT college entrance exam to make writing essay optional

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 9:17pm


In a major overhaul of the US Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) college entrance exam, students starting in 2016 will no longer be required to write an essay, will not be penalised for wrong answers and will not be able to freely use calculators.

The College Board announcement on Wednesday shook up a test that is taken by about 1.7 million high school students annually and, though its influence has been waning, remains a major factor in college admission decisions.

The shifts, officials said, are part of an effort to better align the 88-year-old exam with what students learn in high school and to get away from any advantages they may gain from expensive private tutoring.

The main SAT will be condensed to two sections from the current three, and the top score possible will be 1,600 - as it had been for many decades. The present 2,400 point maximum began with the introduction of the essay seven years ago. The writing portion will be optional - though many colleges still may demand applicants take it - and will be graded separately.

College Board president David Coleman said the revised reading exam will drop the most obscure vocabulary words and instead "focus on words students will use over and over again". The maths problems will be less theoretical and more linked to real-life questions.

"While we build on the best of the past, we commit today that the redesigned SAT will be more focused and useful, more clear and open, than ever before," Coleman said in a speech that was streamed on the internet.

Reaction to Wednesday's announcement included complaints that the SAT was being dumbed down as well as statements of strong support.