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THE USA: Latest News

New SAT for prospective US college students

US college hopefuls will need to sit revised admissions tests from 2016

Empty lecture theatre

America’s cornerstone college admissions test the SAT will undergo a series of changes to better measure students’ ‘real-world’ college and career capabilities.

The changes seek to better measure how students are likely to perform in realistic college and employment situations, with a vocabulary shift towards words more commonly used in real-world contexts. Students will be required to more heavily draw on evidence to support their answers in the new test’s reading and writing sections, and in some sections will need to cite specific textual passages.

‘This test will be more open and clear than any in our history,’ US College Board Chief of Assessment Cynthia Schmeiser said in a media briefing. ‘It is more of an achievement test, anchored in what is important and needed for kids to be ready and succeeded in college.’

Set to change from compulsory to optional, the new essay section will ask students to explain how a presented argument was constructed rather than venture their own opinion. Some colleges however will still require that students complete the essay.

Previously scored out of 2400, overall grades will now be out of 1600, with reading/writing and mathematics sections each scored from 200-800 points each. Where it is completed, the essay section will be scored separately to a student’s score from 1600.

As well as an altered structure and grading scale, the test will be available both in print and computer forms from spring 2016.

Whilst the changes were conceived to make the test more useful in gauging student’s abilities, it has been met with mixed reactions from students and academics alike.

Carol Jago, associate director at the UCLA California Reading and Literature Project has welcomed the changes, naming the new focus on rhetorical analysis a ‘really important’ skill for a student in an interview with the LA Times. However, Dean of Extension at UC Santa Barbara has questioned the relevance of the changes.

‘I’m not exactly sure what they intend to accomplish from any redesign. What does the nation need these tests to show? What are the needs for education reform and democratizing education, for reducing the test score gaps and promoting achievement more broadly? That’s what needs to be looked at,’ he also told the Times.

Sample questions for the new test were released earlier in April, indicating topics and question types students can expect to encounter.  In one, students were asked to estimate the number of 18-34 year olds who voted for a given political candidate based on a set of data, and in another, read a text excerpt from a 1974 speech given during the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon and answer comprehension questions based on its content.

The changes are also part of an initiative to encourage low-income students to enrol in university programmes.


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