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Pencils Down: College Board Reveals Big Changes to SATs

The College Board is making far-reaching changes to the SAT exam that it says will help close the test's socioeconomic gap among college aspirants.

College Board President David Coleman announced Wednesday the alterations to the standardized test that is widely used by applicants to colleges nationwide, including free application waivers for low-income students and a series of changes to the test itself.

The College Board will team up with the Khan Academy — a non-profit educational website launched in 2006 — to provide free test-prep materials as an alternative to private courses that oftentimes carry a hefty price tag.

"What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities," Coleman said at a news conference in Austin, Texas. "The real news today is not just the redesigned SAT, but the College Board's renewed commitment to delivering opportunity."

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The SAT was last overhauled in 2005. More than 1.5 million high school students took the standardized test last year.

The College Board said the redesign is a "critical component" of its equity initiatives — and key to making the test better representative of high school curricula and undergraduate skills. Studies have found a strong correlation between family income level and test results.

A quick sampling of some of the marquee changes due to debut in the spring of 2016:

  • The exam will return to the 1600 scale. The exam has been scored on a 2400 scale since the last overhaul in 2005.
  • The essay section — added to the test in the 2005 upgrade — will now be optional and graded separately from the rest of the exam.
  • Administrators will make the test available in both print and digital forms.
  • The College Board won't deduct points for incorrect answers, a penalty that some critics have said discourages guessing. Students will now simply earn points for the answers they answer correctly.
  • Words used in the reading and writing sections "will no longer be vocabulary students may not have heard before and are likely not to hear again," according to a news release. Instead, the exam will "focus on words that students will use consistently in college and beyond."

The College Board also announced new criteria for the reading, writing and math sections.

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— Daniel Arkin