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There's a surprising explanation for why the SAT is changing its format

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Marcelo de Pozo/ReutersThe SAT will be changing its format in 2016.

The College Board, the company that owns and publishes the SAT, is changing the exam next year.

Test-takers may be surprised to learn the new test will line up more closely with the Common Core, nationwide education standards that sparked a national outcry for being too one-size-fits-all.

The new test "aligns with the Common Core curriculum standards," Kasey Urquidez, dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Arizona, told US News & World Report in 2014.

The College Board doesn't point specifically to the Common Core as a reason behind the changes, instead speaking about making sure students are well-prepared for college.

"We basically focused the redesigned SAT and PSAT on the skills and knowledge that research says matters most for college readiness and success," Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at the College Board, told Business Insider.

Schmeiser still acknowledged that "we'll see a high alignment" between the SAT and Common Core in the redesigned exam.

While that may seem unexpected, there is more of a connection between the Common Core and SAT than many people likely know.

"The President of College Board, David Coleman, was a key person in helping develop the Common Core," Shaan Patel, founder of SAT-prep company 2400 Expert, told Business Insider. "Therefore, when he took over as the President of the College Board in 2012, David Coleman was very interested in aligning the SAT with the Common Core."

President of the College Board David Coleman College BoardPresident of the College Board David Coleman

The College Board hasn't said much about the specific ways the Common Core standards and the new SAT line up, but EdWeek did a side-by-side comparison to highlight how similar Common Core and the redesigned SAT actually are.

They used the following example to demonstrate the alignment:

Current SAT: Reading and writing sections do not require students to cite evidence. Students select answers to demonstrate their understanding of texts but are not asked to support their answers.

Redesigned SAT: Evidence-based reading and writing. Students will support answers with evidence, including questions that require them to cite a specific part of a passage to support their answer choice.

Common Core: Citing specific “textual evidence” when interpreting material is a key thread of the common core. In the introduction, the English/language arts standards say college- and career-ready students “value evidence.” It says, “Students cite specific evidence when offering an oral or written interpretation of a text.”

Opponents of the Common Core may be displeased to learn the standards they decry as educationally inappropriate were used to update the format of arguably one of the most important standardized tests.

U.S. Navy/Flickr

And there are further questions for the seven current states — Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia — that have not adopted the Common Core, and other states which may decide in the future to opt out of the Common Core.

For these states, it doesn't make much sense to have an SAT that aligns with the Common Core, when they will not be learning under those standards in high school.

The College Board, for its part, says students in Virginia and Texas should be fine. 

"The new SAT is focused on what is being taught today in classrooms across the nation," a College Board rep said in a statement. "In redesigning the SAT, the College Board used the most current research to identify the knowledge and skills most essential for college readiness and success. The same knowledge and skills are found in state academic standards focused on college and career readiness, including those in Texas, Virginia, and in other states." 

Either way, there is good news for students in every state. The revamped SAT will be the easiest version of the SAT ever, according to Patel, the SAT preparation company founder.

The new SAT will also feature other substantive changes. The College Board has said that there will no longer be obscure vocabulary on the exam. Each multiple choice question will have four answer choices rather than five, and there will be more time to answer each question.

Additionally, the penalty for guessing will no longer exist in the new format. These changes, taken together, mean that the new SAT will be easier, according to some experts in the test prep field.

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