New SAT: The Essay Portion is to Become Optional

WASHINGTON (AP) -

Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as “prevaricator” and “sagacious” in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

College Board officials said Wednesday the update — the first since 2005 — is needed to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. The test should offer “worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles,” said College Board President David Coleman at an event in Austin, Texas.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year’s ninth graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale last used in 2004, with a separate score for the optional essay.

For the first time, students will have the option of taking the test on computers.

Once the predominant college admissions exam, the SAT in recent years has been overtaken in popularity by the competing ACT, which has long been considered more curriculum based. The ACT offers an optional essay and announced last year it would begin making computer-based testing available in 2015.

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.