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Commentary: The SAT adapts to modern times

April 26, 2014|By Brian Crosby | By Brian Crosby

The high school experience includes several rites of passage for students: getting a driver's license, going out on a first date and taking the SAT. Now the SAT journey has just gotten a little smoother.

The College Board, the organization behind the SAT as well as the Advanced Placement exams, recently announced major changes to the most feared test a teenager has to take: no more mandatory essay, no more penalties for wrong answers, no more difficult vocabulary. In other words, the kinder, gentler SAT coming in 2016 resembles more the ACT, the SAT's closest testing competitor.

The last major change to the high-stakes SAT exam came in 2005 when an essay component was added to the math and verbal sections, each component worth a possible 800 points for a grand total of 2,400. Now, a perfect score reverts back to the Holy Grail number of 1,600.

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Mention the acronym SAT to any grown-up and see it send shivers down the spine. After all, an SAT score is a major part of one's college application.

I had to go to a local community college to take the three-hour SAT, so if I wasn't nervous enough about a test I had only heard about and never seen, I had additional anxiety about navigating my way to the library on a campus I had never visited. Since I was the first in my family going to college, I had no older sibling or parent lessening my fears of what to expect.

Back then, few kids took SAT prep classes, and fewer took the SAT multiple times. It was a one-shot deal. You scored high, and your future was set. You scored low, and you might as well apply to the community college before exiting the campus. And the wait for the scores to arrive in the mail was interminable.

In my case, the less-than-stellar results did not negatively affect me, since I was accepted into UCLA. However, that was a time when a 3.6 grade point average was also decent enough to get into a good college. Today, with weighted grades, a student would need a 4.6 GPA.

In addition to competing against the ACT, the College Board is combating the private companies that charge hundreds of dollars for SAT test-preparation courses. Trying to minimize their affect, the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, a free video-tutoring website, to provide test preparation materials.

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