The College Board announced extensive changes to the SAT on Wednesday that will eschew the mandatory timed essay and esoteric vocabulary to return to a two-section format with a maximum score of 1,600 points — rather than 2,400 — and an optional essay.

The changes, which will take effect in 2016, are designed to enable accessibility for students of all backgrounds and provide results more indicative of academic knowledge and capability, as well as to reduce the role of test preparation courses in determining a student’s score.

The writing and critical reading sections will be condensed into a singular category, with vocabulary questions testing words more commonly used in university settings. The math section will also be altered to better reflect math skills students will need after high school, like percentages and ratios, as well as some algebra, equations and their applications. The one-fourth point penalty for incorrect answers will be eliminated. An elucidation of the full scope of the changes will be revealed April 16.

“We will honor the qualities which have made the SAT excellent. We will build on the remarkable care and expertise which statisticians have used to make the exam valid and predictive,” College Board President David Coleman said at the announcement event in Austin, Texas. “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.”

Georgetown Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon (CAS ’64, GRD ’69) praised the College Board’s decision.

“We’re very happy they’ve done what they’ve done. In my perfect world, I would say keep it stupid, keep it simple, go back and call it ‘verbal,’” Deacon said.

Deacon was apprised of potential changes at a meeting in the fall between the College Board and the deans of admissions of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education schools, a group of 31 private institutions that collaborate on financial issues. The deans were not informed as to the specificities at the time.

“This group objected a little bit to some of the terminology they were talking about. They were saying we need to have this ‘college- and career-ready,’ and people were saying, ‘Well what does that mean?’” Deacon said. “I think the College Board was trying to position themselves out there publicly in a way that made them seem more relevant. I know they wanted to respond to the fact that the test wasn’t really testing what students learned.”

The College Board will also offer fee waivers for the examination and four college applications to those eligible by family income, in a bid to provide more equitable opportunities to low-income students. To this end, the organization has partnered with the nonprofit online education website Khan Academy for provision of free test preparation, to counter the expense and culture of the test prep industry.

The current standard SAT registration fee is $51, which includes four score reports at no additional cost. Additional reports cost $11.25 each. The most popular Kaplan Test Prep course option, the SAT Classroom, is $699, while some private tutors charge upward of $100 per session.

“I agree with their goal, it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they say it, people will think it,” Deacon said, also noting that a shortened test would ideally be cheaper. “We want more low-income students to go through the system.”

Members of Strive for College, a group that assists low-income D.C. high school students with the college application process, spoke highly of these steps.

“The larger issues is that the SAT is no longer a great measure of aptitude, just how well a student can take a test,” Eric Vorchheimer (MSB ’14), a former president of Strive for College, said. “Adapting the material to what is actually being taught in high school helps take down some of the barrier that are raised by the preparation process.”

Georgetown has never considered the writing section, which first appeared in 2005, in the admissions process, instead requiring applicants to submit critical reading and mathematics scores from all sittings of the assessment.

“We felt it was an unnecessary addition of time, and cost to students, which is significant. And then, thirdly, we thought it was a less accurate indicator because a piece of this test was this writing sample that was graded by 10,000 readers. It wasn’t done statistically correctly,” Deacon said. He also alluded to studies that identified a correlation between score and essay length.

Deacon said that the SAT Subject Tests — known as SAT IIs — that test specific academic subjects, of which Georgetown “strongly recommends” three, provide valuable insight into a student’s performance that supplants and exceeds the capability of the current writing section.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions does not anticipate modifying the lens with which it examines scores. Paramount priority rests with those scoring at the top of the range, as, according to Deacon, 11 percent of the total test-taking population scoring over 700 in a section apply to Georgetown.

“We’ll probably get virtually the same score we would get before. … They’re going to norm it anyway so it comes our pretty much the same,” Deacon said.

The Georgetown admissions decision process does not assign a quantitative value to testing, but considers scores in conjunction with academic achievement, which is more heavily weighted, to predict freshman year performance.

The College Board’s changes also come on the heels of it ceding primacy in total student customers to the shorter ACT, whose writing portion is optional. According to Deacon, 25 percent of Georgetown applicants submit ACT scores, while 90 percent submit SAT scores, resulting in a 15 percent overlap.

“There’s no doubt that there’s been market pressure. The SAT, as we’ve known it for the past 10 years, was like it was because of market pressure,” Deacon said. “And the ACT has been gaining ground.”

Current Strive for College Co-President Megan McGlinchey (COL ’16) said that the changes had the potential to alter the advice the group offers to high school students.

“We definitely encourage kids to take both the SAT and ACT, but recently there’s been a greater push for the ACT because of the essay. Now, we might be encouraging the SAT,” she said.

Most changes have found popularity among high school students — despite the fact that current ninth graders will be the first to take the new test.

“I think a lot about the new format is it’s more related to what we’re actually studying in high school. I feel like I wouldn’t have had to spend as much on prep courses to learn little tricks and ways to solve problems,” said Tyler Winther, a senior at Glen Ridge High School in Glen Ridge, N.J. “It makes the SAT more of an achievement-based test than an aptitude test, which is what I think it should be. Unfortunately, they decided to do it after I’ve already taken the SAT three times.”

Danny Licht, a senior at Beverly Hills High School in Beverly Hills, Calif., echoed Winther’s sentiments.

“I think it’s great what they’re doing in terms of democratizing the process, in doing Khan Academy, by making the content more accessible to people and making the test prep centers less relevant,” he said.

Licht, however, expressed dissatisfaction at the modifications to vocabulary, while Winther disapproved of the elimination of the compulsory essay.

“I think it makes it more boring, dumbing down the vocabulary,” Licht said. “I think just by virtue of them having arcane words, people improved their vocabulary while studying. We probably wouldn’t have had all those vocabulary tests without the SAT.”

“I don’t like that they’re making the essay optional. I think it’s one of the only real indicators of validity of the test,” Winther said.

Deacon, who says the College Board has reached out to Georgetown to ensure understanding and support, is a strong proponent of a future computer-based test. For now, he anticipates a streamlined and more accessible examination.

“In today’s world, the SAT should be computer-based. It’s much more efficient,” he said. “The test should be shorter, should be less expensive, should be amenable to be taken on a computer.”

Hoya Staff Writers Sam Abrams and Emma Hinchliffe contributed reporting.

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