The announcement that the College Board will give the SAT a makeover, the first revamp in a decade, is a welcome step toward the ultimate transformation: an end to the college entrance exam.

The test changes, which go into effect in 2016, include returning the test to its original 1600 grading scale (the current 2400-point scale was introduced in 2005), scrapping fancy vocabulary words and axing mandatory essays. The changes will shorten the exam by 45 minutes, to 3 hours. And it will likely be taken online.

The updated exam will ask students to support their answers in the reading section with evidence from the passages. The math topics will have a narrower focus; calculators will be used for only some math sections.


I have been a volunteer SAT tutor to dozens of students in New York City's public high schools. Many of the students I work with live below the poverty line; most will be the first person in their family to attend college. Some have autism; others are homeless.

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I tutor to help level the playing field. I tutor because education is relevant; it is the great equalizer. Education is a chance for the son of an insurance broker to grow up and lead the nonprofit College Board and earn $1.3 million a year, more than the president of Harvard.

The changes being planned by the College Board include a partnership with educational website Khan Academy, which will offer free online SAT prep courses. It will likely deliver a crushing blow to companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review, which are at the center of the $1 billion test-prep industry.

Test preparation is not the problem. The techniques I teach my students are effective in gaming the SAT; the "tricks" actually help students do better on the exam and raise their score by hundreds of points.

Still, none of the test skills will help them in college. A professor will give them more than 25 minutes to write an essay, and they will not need to answer five multiple-choice questions in just seconds on how the Laffer curve measures prison populations.

The greater problem is that the nation’s high schools are not properly preparing students to develop the intellectual firepower to get through college.

Those who are graduating will tackle the SAT, which is the equivalent of judging every student by their ability to swim a mile.

And they’re drowning.

In New York City, the high school graduation rate is 60 percent. Chicago’s is 65 percent. In Los Angeles, 66 percent of students graduate from high school.

The SAT is irrelevant. The test cannot measure the real-world success of students: the fashionista whose designs are worthy of a runway show; the potential social worker who visits the elderly; the future salon owner who is already earning income cutting hair for friends; the powerful stroke of a champion swimmer.

The only thing the SAT measures is how well a student does on the SAT.

An SAT essay finished in 25 minutes -- which must be written in long-hand, using a No. 2 pencil -- cannot signal a student's ability to write an insightful university term paper. One SAT section gives students 10 minutes to answer 14 questions. Do the math -- that's 43 seconds per question, to read, figure out, and then shade-in the tiny bubble on an answer sheet.

For the student who needs help with geometry or who may take an hour to write just a few paragraphs, the test's rapid-fire model brings self-doubt and anxiety. It sets up students to fail.

The only meaningful change will come when higher education officials acknowledge that a high school transcript, school attendance, teacher/coach recommendations, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, internships, jobs and interviews are the best gauge for whether a student will succeed in college.

Lion Calandra, a Senior Editor at, has been a volunteer SAT tutor in New York City's public high schools since 2007.