Some 463,000 high school students are sitting the SAT today (Mar. 5), the standardized, hours-long entrance exam used by most universities in the US. Some will leave their testing rooms with dulled pencils and confident grins. Some will cry.
Every student, though, will have taken a test radically different from those in previous years. That’s because it’s been completely redesigned. It now puts more emphasis on analytical thinking, has no penalties for guessing on multiple-choice answers, and an optional essay. Perhaps most significantly, it’s done away with the famously obscure vocabulary that long peppered the reading section of the exam. (“SAT words” had actually become an universally recognizable term.)
High schoolers no longer have to memorize the definitions to terms like “prevaricate,” “abrogate,” and “plaudit.” Instead, they’ll just have to know the meanings of more common words like “devise” and “embrace.”
As a whole, the new SAT is supposedly more straightforward. According to the College Board, the organization that runs the SAT, the removal of arcane vocabulary is meant to help with that. The words on the new test “focus on words that students will use consistently in college and beyond,” rather than terms students “are likely not to hear again.” (The College Board essentially admits how purposeless its old vocabulary requirements were.)
But streamlining the SAT to be more accessible isn’t going to solve all of the maligned test’s woes. As Quartz has pointed out, there are abundant ways to game the new exam, and it still unfairly favors wealthy students who can pay for the right coaching and preparation.
An increasing number of colleges, now, no longer require students to send SAT scores as part of their applications and are instead choosing to rely on other demonstrations of merit like essays and evidence of extracurricular activities. Bard College president Leon Botstein recently dubbed standardized testing for college admissions “dumb” and “ludicrous” for being far too removed from applicants’ actual abilities. That disconnect is valid, and it’s not something the plucking-out of a few hard vocab words can necessarily cure.