Jim Rawlins, the director of admissions at the University of Oregon, said the changes appear “potentially helpful and useful” but it will take a few years to know the impact, after the students who take the revised test go on to college.
“It’s all in the details of how it all plays out,” said Rawlins, a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
Some high school and college admissions counselors said eliminating the penalty for wrong answers and making the essay optional could make the test less stressful for some students.
“It will encourage students to consider the questions more carefully and to attempt them, where before if a cursory glance at a question made it seem too complex to them, they may go ahead and skip that question,” said Jeff Rickey, dean of admissions at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.
A longstanding criticism of the SAT is that students from wealthier households do better because they can afford expensive test preparation classes.
The College Board said it will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. It also said every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply for college, which continues an effort the College Board has had to assist low-income students.
These are the first SAT upgrades since 2005 when the essay portion was added and analogy questions were removed. There have been other notable changes to the test, such as in 1994 when antonym questions were removed and calculators were allowed for the first time. The test was first used in 1926.
The SAT was taken last year by 1.7 million students. It has historically been more popular on the coasts, while the other main standardized college entrance exam, the ACT, dominated the central U.S. The ACT overtook the SAT in overall use in 2012, in part because it is taken by almost every junior in 13 states as part of those states’ testing regimen.
ACT president Jon Erickson said when hearing of the SAT changes, his take-away was that “they could’ve been talking about the ACT now.”
“I didn’t hear anything new and radical and different and groundbreaking, so I was a little left wanting, at least at the end of this first announcement,” Erickson said in a phone interview.
Bob Schaeffer, education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, said it is laudable that the SAT partnership with Kahn Academy will provide free test preparation but it is unlikely to make a dent in the market for such preparation. He also said the new test is unlikely to be better than the current one. His organization has a database with institutions that don’t require ACT or SAT scores to make admissions decisions.