Changes to the SAT in 2016
A new version of the SAT is in place as of March 2016 that includes dramatic revisions to the test's scoring and content. The old 2400-point scale has been replaced by the 1600-point system that was in use prior to the last major round of revisions in 2005. The essay, which is now optional, is scored separately. The penalty for guessing has been eliminated, with points no longer deducted for incorrect answers. There has also been a reduction in the number of obscure vocabulary words included on the test, and the reading passages now draw on a wider range of disciplines. The new SAT emphasizes words in larger context rather than the isolated sentence completion exercises of old. Math sections attempt to relate concepts to actual rather than theoretical problem-solving in addition to the analysis of data, emphasizing practical applications of mathematics that are likely to be encountered by students.
The College Board points to increased opportunity, greater usefulness for college admissions officers, and a higher degree of relevance to high school curricula as the major reasons for the changes to the SAT. Older versions of the test, as exemplified by the frequent appearance of little-used vocabulary words and sentence completion exercises devoid of larger context, were seen by many as disconnected from real-world experience, both in academia and in professional life. Some college admissions officers expressed concern that the old SAT was more pedantic mental exercise than substantive assessment of college readiness. A 2013 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling showed a lower admissions emphasis on standardized test scores in comparison with high school curriculum and grade point average than was previously the case. The rising popularity of the ACT is also a factor in these revisions. The 2016 changes to the SAT aim to address criticisms of the SAT's content, assessment, and credibility.
The College Board's recent efforts have resulted in an SAT that is a much better assessment than before. Contextual evaluation of skills is one of the most significant of these improvements. Past test-takers were expected to reproduce "dictionary" definitions of words that did not account for contextual variations in word usage, and math skills were assessed in isolation. Vocabulary questions on the 2016 SAT are drawn entirely from reading passages, and students are asked specifically about the meaning of words as they are used in these passages, which tests reasoning and inference rather than memorization. 2016 SAT math questions are based on realistic scenarios that emphasize the use of logic more than abstract mathematical ability, and multi-step problems have also been introduced. In general, the focus on higher-order thinking eliminates the necessity of learning "tricks" when preparing for the SAT.
The new SAT also features greater transparency and predictability. Older versions of the test often included deceptive questions and unnecessary complications that confounded otherwise high-performing students, who were unfamiliar with the presentation of these questions. The new SAT addresses these problems with accessible and consistent assessment types. The content and scoring of the 2016 SAT is disclosed to a much greater degree of specificity than before. It is now a relatively simple matter for students to learn which skills are tested in each section, the percentages of each question category, and the types of assessments they can expect. Test-takers will know in advance, for example, that reading passages are taken from literature, history, social studies, and science. These revisions help students prepare for the SAT, and they also greatly decrease the variation in content and difficulty level from test to test.
Despite the changes to the SAT, adequate preparation is still essential to success. While it is true that the new SAT attempts to align itself more closely with the actual material taught in high school courses, it is important that students understand the way in which this material is evaluated on the test. There are many different methods of testing students' knowledge, but high test scores are dependent on the ability to demonstrate this knowledge in the exercises that are specific to the SAT. Furthermore, time management skills, or lack thereof, can still have a significant impact on the overall score, and many of the successful test-taking strategies associated with older versions of the SAT remain relevant. The 2016 SAT is a revision, not a complete rewriting of the test. Any given student is competing against millions of other test-takers, with those who meticulously prepare having a substantial advantage.