By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - An obligatory essay, arcane vocabulary words and penalties for wrong answers will be gone from the widely used SAT exam as of 2016 as administrators try to make the standardized test more reflective of a student's readiness for college.
The College Board, which oversees the exam required by most colleges and universities for admission, wants the test to focus more on what students learn in high school and their ability to think analytically, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
"It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools," David Coleman told reporters in Austin in prepared remarks. The ACT is another widely used standardized test for university admission.
"Research shows that mastery of fewer, more important things matters more than the superficial coverage of many," he said.
More than 2 million students take the SAT every year, according to the College Board, which is based in New York.
The new SAT returns to a 1,600-point scoring system from the current 2,400, and the essay will be optional and scored separately. Quarter-point penalties for wrong answers will no longer be assessed.
The math section, which has covered a wide array of subjects, will be streamlined to the three topics of algebra, advanced math, and problem solving and data analysis.
A calculator will only be permitted on certain portions of the math section. Now, it is allowed for all math sections.
The new exam will have evidence-based reading and writing, in which test takers will be required to cite a specific passage to support their answer choice.
It will also require test takers to analyze text and data. A major document, such as President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, will be part of the exam.
The College Board is also trying to correct for advantages more affluent students have in being able to pay for exam tutors and test kits. It, along with the Khan Academy, a nonprofit education agency, will provide free test-preparation material for the new exam.
Wes Waggoner, dean of undergraduate admissions at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, applauded moves to increase access and information about the test. He added the SAT was in need of adjustment so it could better reflect how students would apply their education to college.
"The test had remained stagnant while the universe had moved along. This is realigning it with what we have been wanting and what students and educators had been wanting," Waggoner said.
The redesigned exam will be take about three hours to complete and will include three sections: evidence-based reading and writing, math and the optional essay.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)