College Board revisions level the SAT playing field

High school students can finally rejoice — the days of mandatory essays, obscure vocabulary and quarter-point guessing penalties are long gone. On Wednesday, College Board President David Coleman announced a series of changes to the SAT set to take effect in 2016, according to The New York Times. Though the long-criticized college entrance exam will certainly have a lot to improve as these changes take effect, such reforms promise to make a meaningful impact to students — particularly for those to whom costly test preparation isn’t an available luxury.

Design by Julien Nicolai

Design by Julien Nicolai

Marking the first update to the SAT since 2005, the College Board outlined a series of revisions to the popular college entrance examination. Going forward, the SAT will no longer require a mandatory essay section, thus reverting the test back to its original 1600 overall score — 800 for math and 800 for “evidence-based reading and writing.” Furthermore, the College Board pledged to reform its vocabulary expectations, ridding the test of obscure words such as “phlegmatic” and “crepuscular” in favor of more commonly used words students would expect to know in a university setting.

One of the most longstanding and valid criticisms of the SAT has been its failure to test students’ true academic ability, incentivizing test-takers to focus less on actually learning the material and more on learning how to “beat the test.” By attempting to reform the exam in a way that tests students on material that reflects their academic curriculum, the College Board is making vital revisions that have been long overdue.

The essay section of the SAT certainly won’t be missed. Almost all colleges require some sort of essay prompt in their applications, leaving little for college admissions counselors to learn from reading a student’s generic essay about Martin Luther King Jr. written within a 25-minute block of time. Furthermore, nothing is  gained from making students memorize superfluous vocabulary such as lachrymose or blunderbuss — words students would be hard-pressed to find in a college classroom, let alone in everyday language.

Perhaps one of the most impactful effects these revisions will have on students will be not only their test-taking abilities, but on the fairness of the examination as a whole — particularly for students who cannot afford expensive SAT preparation classes. SAT and ACT test prep classes can cost upwards of $2,000, according to U.S. News & World Report. If that weren’t enough, the average application fee can cost anywhere from $38 to $75 per school. USC’s application fee is a whopping $80.

As part of the College Board’s attempts to bridge the wealth divide and address the prevailing concern that students from wealthier households are given an unfair advantage with their access to pricey test prep courses, Coleman also announced the College Board’s new partnership with nonprofit educational website Khan Academy to provide free test prep materials for the newly redesigned SAT. Additionally, every income-eligible student will be provided with four fee waivers, allowing them to apply to colleges for free.

College application season is one fraught with stress and anxiety, and the SAT has long been part of that. Though the SAT is by no means perfect, these revisions go to show that the College Board is willing to address the SAT’s critics and rework the exam in a way that achieves its ultimate goal — to test students’ academic abilities in a way that is fair to all.

Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.