The SAT is dead. Long live the SAT! What are the changes in the new SAT?

What are the changes in the new SAT? You’ve probably heard that big changes are in for the SAT but in actuality they are nothing to lose sleep over.  Why?  Three reasons:


1) Simplest first: the test will literally have zero changes until 2016 so almost all students currently preparing to take the test can continue without altering their plans.

2) The changes that are occurring are more cosmetic than functional.

Elimination of the “guessing penalty”:

This one will receive a lot of fanfare but it boils down to a tiny difference in test-taking tactics.  On the current SAT you should guess on any question where you can eliminate a single wrong answer.  On the new SAT you will benefit from answering every single question even if you have no idea what the right answer is.

Vocabulary: No more “SAT” words.  Instead the test will “focus on words that students will use consistently in college and beyond.”

This “change” strikes me as particularly silly.  The pool of words may be somewhat different but it will not be limited to words that the average college-bound high school student uses on a daily basis (otherwise the vocabulary section would be pointless).  If SAT vocabulary can be made more relevant to college curricula that’s great, but the tactics to learn new words and to infer meaning from unknown words will see almost no change.

Evidence-based reading and writing: “Students will be asked to support answers with evidence”

For reading passages, this is simply an explicit statement of the current model.  With close reading, the correct answer to any reading comprehension question is already directly supported in the text, so reading comprehension questions should see little change.

The essay portion of the test is slated to actually change in a meaningful way.  And I don’t mean that it’s becoming “optional” (only consider it optional if you’re a recruited athlete and you’ve been told by an official source that it’s not necessary).  The essay is moving in the direction of document-based questions from the College Board’s Advanced Placement tests.  Students will be given 50 minutes (increased from the current 25) to analyze a source document rather than respond to the current open-ended prompt.  I think this change is a positive one for two reasons.  The first is that planning and writing an essay in 25 minutes is not a terribly good measure of overall writing ability and speed-writing is not a required skill for very many college courses.  The second is that analyzing a document provides a clear focus for the essay and allows students to demonstrate mastery of analytical writing and rhetoric more easily than with the current setup.

Math focused on problem solving/data analysis, “the heart of algebra,” and “passport to advanced math”:

I’m reserving judgment on the changes to the math section.  The College Board has implied that the SAT will move away from it’s current tricky/puzzle-type math questions towards more straightforward ACT-style math questions.  It sounds like a non-trivial change, but the College Board also alluded to significant changes in the math section for the 2005 SAT revamp and when the new test debuted almost nothing was actually different.  I’ll update my thoughts when the College Board releases some specifics.

3) The SAT will remain a standardized test and will always favor the prepared student (just like every other standardized test in the history of mankind).  For a student, preparation can mean learning specific tactics to deal with tricky or counterintuitive questions or simply becoming familiar with the material and style of the test.  Right now if you study hard and study right you will improve your performance on the SAT.  That’s not going to change no matter how the test changes.  Ready for more good news?  Simply by visiting a website like ours to learn about the new SAT you’ve put yourself on the track of preparation and the tutors at Strommen would love to help you continue down that track.

Written by Strommen’s SAT expert Joe. Read about our SAT program here.

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