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Originally published October 17, 2004 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 19, 2004 at 2:22 PM

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Essay added to SAT, but don't worry just yet, say admissions officers

Starting next spring, students will have to do more than shade in the dots on the SAT. The college-entrance exam is undergoing several changes. The biggest, and most likely to...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Starting next spring, students will have to do more than shade in the dots on the SAT. The college-entrance exam is undergoing several changes. The biggest, and most likely to make most students' fret: the addition of a timed essay .

Students will get 25 minutes to develop a point of view on an essay prompt and write a rough-draft essay that will count for one-third of their writing score. The essay is meant to reinforce the importance of writing skills and help colleges make better admission and placement decisions.

   Who takes the SAT

Of the roughly 35,000 Washington students who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test in 2003:

12% had taken Advanced Placement tests

48% had taken four years of math

77% had taken a year or more of chemistry

93% had taken a year or more of biology

According to the Tech Alliance Study of Washington Higher Education, Washington state rated lowest in all four categories when compared with eight other states deemed similar by the researchers: California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, Texas and Virginia.

But don't worry too much, said Ken Woods, chief education manager of the College Board's western office. He said high-school teachers and college professors who score the tests are instructed not to expect a perfect paper. And some schools say they won't rely on the essays until they've been studied for a few years.

At Seattle University, Michael McKeon, dean of admissions, said his staff needs time to figure out how the essays fit into their selection process. "We'll look at the results and study it for a few years to see how it correlates with Seattle University," he said. "We just want to understand it first."

Other major changes include:

The addition of third-year college-preparatory math , or Algebra II, which includes exponential growth, absolute value and functional notation. Quantitative comparison questions were eliminated.

Elimination of verbal analogies where you compare words like heat and sweat and ice and cold. Instead, the verbal section, which has been renamed Critical Reading, will include shorter reading passages along with the standard long reading passages.

The changes add an extra 45 minutes to the exam, for a total of three hours, 45 minutes.

The new test will be administered in March 2005. (Note: The new PSAT, distributed this month, does not include the timed essay.)

So how can students prepare? According to "Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT" (Workman Publishing, 2004, $10.95), your best bet is to get hold of some practice tests. Sample essay prompts are available at www.collegeboard.com as well as Kaplan's Web site, www.kaptest.com, where you can download a free new practice SAT. In addition, the College Board will send high schools sample essay prompts as part of the new PSAT registration process.

   Sample essay questions

1. "While secrecy can be destructive, some of it is indispensable in human lives. Some control over secrecy and openness is needed in order to protect identity. Such control may be needed to guard privacy, intimacy and friendship."

Adapted from Sissela Bok, "The Need for Secrecy"

2. "Secrecy and a free, democratic government, President Harry Truman once said, don't mix. An open exchange of information is vital to the kind of informed citizenry essential to a health democracy."

Editorial, "Overzealous Secrecy Threatens Democracy"

Assignment: Do people need to keep secrets or is secrecy harmful? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience or observations.

Source: College Board

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