The SAT is undergoing yet another makeover, ditching some of the more obscure words on the vocabulary section and dropping the essay requirement (the essay will now become optional).
And it is reverting to the 1600-point score system that made SAT scores a quick and understandable shorthand (rather than a complicated “Wait, what’s that score on the new scale?” riddle), moving away from the 2400-point scale that arrived in 2005 along with the essay.
The retooled test will look considerably different from the exam given in recent years, as well as a decade or two ago. Sentence completion? Gone. Critical reading? Merging with the multiple-choice segment. For vocabulary, expect a move to words that the College Board says students will encounter in college and beyond. My colleague Nick Anderson has much more on the changes right here.
This move comes after a challenge to the test’s ubiquity and a recent decline in overall scores. In 2012, the ACT overtook the SAT for the first time as the most popular (in terms of people taking the test, not actual enjoyment, obviously) college admissions exam in the country.
Scores, meanwhile, have dipped recently. The average combined score for the verbal and math sections in 2013 was 1010, down slightly from the average of 1026 a decade earlier, according to the College Board. (Scores on the writing portion declined to 488 last year from 497 in 2006, the first year they were available.)
Performance on the SAT is, like so many things, related to a host of other factors. One particularly big factor: The income of the test-taker’s family. This chart shows the average score of college-bound seniors last year:
Elizabeth Kolbert recently wrote in the New Yorker about retaking the SATs as an adult. Her story also touched on the history of the test:
The SAT’s inventor, a Princeton professor named Carl Campbell Brigham, had worked on the Army’s I.Q. test, and the civilian exam he came up with was a first cousin to the military’s. It contained some questions on math and some on identifying shapes. Mostly, though, it focussed on vocabulary. Brigham intended the test to be administered to students who had already been admitted to college, for the purposes of guidance and counselling. Later, he argued that it was foolish to believe, as he once had, that the test measured “native intelligence.” Rather, he wrote, scores were an index of a person’s “schooling, family background, familiarity with English, and everything else.”