The New SAT: Everything You Need to Know

As your high school years come to an end, there’s likely a lot on your plate. If you’re a rising junior, you’re thinking about taking AP and IB classes, figuring out your interests and boosting your resume. If you’re heading into senior year, you’re all about college applications, admission interviews and the Common App essay. But whether you’re a junior or a senior, you’re bound to also start thinking about another very important thing: the SAT. And this year, it’s going through a total makeover.

What is the SAT Suite of Assessments?

 

The SAT Suite of Assessments basically refers to the following redesigned tests: the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 8/9 (both launching October 2015), the PSAT 10 (launching February 2016) and the new SAT (launching March 2016). The combined “SAT Suite,” as it is referred to, is lauded by the College Board as transparent, straightforward and reflective of challenging work you would find in the classroom and apt to predict college readiness. The exams also have interconnecting content and scoring methods, making them a combination of tests that succeed in recognizing students’ growth, ability and need for improvement.

“The SAT Suite of Assessments makes it easier for students to navigate a path through high school, college and career by providing unmatched benefits to students, educators, districts and states,” The College Board claims.

What is the SAT changing?

 

Good question.

The College Board, the administrator of the SAT, found that 57 percent of students in a 2013 study would require remediation in at least one subject in order to be academically successful in college-entry courses worth academic credit (aka, what you’re paying your hard-earned money for). They even put out a report describing the situation as a “circumstance that represents a tragedy for those individuals whose potential isn’t being realized” as well as a “serious threat to the nation’s economy and democracy.”

Following those somewhat scary-sounding findings (you’re probably thinking, “I just want to make it to graduation in one piece, okay?!”), plans for the redesigned SAT were announced in March 2014. According to Kate Levin, Associate Director of External Communications at the College Board, “The new SAT is more focused, useful, and clear for students, parents and educators than ever before.” She adds that the new SAT is a “key piece” to their mission of increasing access to things like scholarships and challenging coursework.

Now, before you start freaking out even more than you probably already are (that plate is getting a lot fuller isn’t it?), keep calm: we’ve outlined all the changes you can expect in the redesign.

What should I expect?

 

Overall, Levin shares that the new SAT is going to test students on what she describes as “the few things evidence shows matter most for college and career success and reflect what students are learning in classrooms across the country.” It is comprised of fewer questions and can potentially take less time to complete due to an optional portion of the test.

Further, the new SAT is formatted differently and uses a different scoring method than before. Compared to the current SAT which primarily tests general reasoning and vocabulary, the new SAT will test these in a more sophisticated way, aiming to better its focus, relevance and transparency.

(Want the info straight from the source? Here’s a breakdown of the major changes you can expect provided by The College Board

More of a visual learner? Check out this great Wall Street Journal video on five things to know about the new SAT!).

Number of questions asked:

Original: 

Critical Reading: 67

Writing: 49

Essay: 1

Math: 54

Total: 171

Redesigned:

Reading: 52

Writing and language: 44

Essay (optional): 1

Math: 58

Total: 154 (155 with essay)

The redesigned SAT consists of significantly fewer questions; however, don’t think that the difficulty or quality of the questions has also decreased. The questions are being assessed based on criteria that will hopefully improve college readiness.

Time Allotted

Original:

Critical Reading: 70

Writing: 60

Essay : 25

Math: 70

Total: 3 hours 45 minutes

Redesigned:

Reading: 65

Writing and language: 35

Essay (optional): 50

Math: 80

Total: 3 hours (plus 50 minutes for the optional Essay portion)

Depending on whether or not you choose to complete the optional essay portion, the redesigned SAT could be much shorter in terms of time than that of the original. The same test-taking rules still apply, though: use the full time available to make sure you’ve answered all the questions completely and thoroughly!

Format

While all your pre-collegiette predecessors were taking a SAT composed of Critical Reading, Writing, Mathematics and Essay Tests, the new SAT is going to be formatted quite differently. The redesigned SAT will include an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test (which includes the Reading Test and Writing and Language Test), a Math Test and an optional Essay (yes, optional—you read that right!).

The College Board affirms that the redesigned format of the new SAT is most apt in being able to predict post-secondary readiness—even more so than the original.

Scoring

Original:

A point is given for every question answered correctly and a point is deducted for all incorrect answers.

Unanswered questions are considered to have no impact on score.

Possible score could range from 600 to 2400

Critical Reading: 200 to 800

Math: 200 to 800

Writing: 200 to 800

Essay: scaled to multiple choice Writing

Redesigned:

Incorrect answers are not penalized.

Unanswered questions are still considered to have no impact on score.

Levin affirms the scoring scale will return to the 400 to 1600 point scale. 

Evidence Based Reading and Writing: 200 to 800

Math: 200 to 800

Essay (reported separately): each of three Essay “traits” are scored from 2 to 8

Subscores are provided for each test.

Yep—no point deductions for wrong answers! “This move to rights-only scoring encourages students to give the best answer they have to every question,” shares Levin. Note that the range of scores has changed significantly, so remember that when applying to colleges later on down the road (if they haven't updated their SAT requirements for admission, you could be left thinking you don’t stand a chance of getting in!).

The redesigned scoring methods can accurately measure growth, as well. According to the College Board, “Every exam in the SAT Suite of Assessments is scored using the same scale... This means that students with a 400 on any of the Math sections would have received a 400 on any other Math section had they taken the other Math section on the same day and performed at the same level.” How’s that for consistency and transparency?

How is each section of the test changing?

Evidence-based reading and writing (including reading test and writing and language test)

 

The Reading Test of the redesigned SAT aims to test your reasoning and comprehension skills. It will be comprised of what College Board describes as “appropriately difficult passages” from previously published publications and will cover a wide variety of subjects and contexts, following the theme throughout the test of making the SAT reflective of the numerous fields of study and real world contexts a student will be exposed to in their post-secondary work.

“We’re getting rid of obscure vocabulary words,” Levin says, adding that the new test aims to engage the test taker in close reading instead of prompting fast memorization of words.

The redesigned test will also require you to analyze graphics and longer passages, which will test you on your command of evidence. You must also show a deeper understanding of the meaning of words and how words help shape the passage as a whole. Interestingly, the redesigned SAT will also always include a passage from a “Founding Document” (think Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights), or a passage related to one, in order for students to demonstrate not only their ability to synthesize and analyze a historical document, but also to demonstrate their citizenship (throwback to all of your history and government classes—here’s to hoping you retained all that information!).

In the Writing and Language Test, the College Board has used research to determine that students will best be tested through an assessment of passages that will test students’ revision abilities according to traditional English grammar as well as their ability to analyze text and make claims according to the text’s features. The College Board also notes informational graphics, word meanings and command of evidence as concepts they are evaluating in the test.

Math

 

The math section of the redesigned SAT can be divided into three main parts: Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math. The redesign, Levin says, allows the SAT to test you on what officials are saying are the more essential areas of math. Problem Solving and Data Analysis tests you on your quantitative reasoning abilities and includes problems regarding ratios and percentages; The Heart of Algebra includes problems on abstract systems and linear equations as well as general reasoning, and Passport to Advanced Math will challenge you on more intricate and complex equations and problems, thus both giving you an insight to and testing you on post-secondary math readiness.

While there will be some problems that fall outside of these three sections of the test, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the Heart of Algebra and Passport to Advanced Math will test what research has found to be the most necessary math-related skills for young students to have when entering college, as well as the most useful math skills people use in the real world. The College Board has also put a huge emphasis on having these math problems allude to science and social science contexts, as well as other fields of study you would encounter in college and beyond, allowing students to connect mathematics with the real world. Also, get ready for a whole lot of charts, tables and graphs comin’ your way.

Students are permitted to use a calculator on part of the test; the other part of the Math Test must be done without a calculator. As with the original SAT, the non-calculator section of the Math Test can be easily done without use of a calculator (aka our lifeline with buttons).                      

Essay (Optional)

 

As compared to the original SAT, the redesigned SAT’s essay is completely optional. The essay will be given to you at the end of the test instead of at the beginning and you will now have 50 minutes instead of 25 to write it, giving you ample time to show off your reading, writing and analysis skills—the same skills the new essay aims to test you on and the criteria upon which you will be evaluated. In the essay portion, students are required to analyze a previously published text and clearly explain how the author uses linguistic, persuasive and stylistic devices to persuade the reader (remember, this is an analysis, not an opinion piece!). The College Board is attempting to make the essay portion of the test similar to an assignment you would find in a college course, thus making it more of an indicator of your college readiness.

Some colleges may require an essay, so make sure you are well aware of the schools you are applying to and their specific requirements ahead of time! To do this, check their admission section of their website or speak to your high school counselor or a representative for the university.

Check out The College Board for more information!

How can I prepare for the new SAT?

 

So, you are aware of all the changes coming your way for the new SAT. But how should you prepare for them?

Practice, practice, practice. As obvious as it seems, doing practice tests and sample questions are going to be some of the most effective ways of getting ready to rock the SAT. Whether you take the online sample tests or go out and buy test prep booklets and study guides, getting familiar with the format and types of questions is going to be beyond helpful (don’t forget to time yourself, too!).

If solo studying isn’t your thing, study groups can be extremely helpful in getting you prepared to take the new SAT. When forming a study group, make sure your study buddies are people you can actually rely on to show up and focus (as in, maybe not your best friend who you can’t help but goof off with when you’re together). Also be sure they are somewhat on the same academic level as you (it’s not going to benefit you if you spend all your time teaching a friend something you already know, or if you can hardly keep up with the group you’re studying with). To make the most of your study group, assign each other roles and duties for each session (is each person going to teach the group a section from a study book? Is one person responsible for making copies of sample tests?). Also, be sure you begin studying weeks, if not months in advance (seriously!).

Another option for getting prepared for the new SAT is to enroll in prep classes. These can be a great option for those who are just not skilled test takers, because you get to work with officials and tutors who can coach you on how to best segment your time, when to know to move on to a new question if you are stumped, or just tips and tricks on acing the SAT. Classes can be expensive and often fill up way in advance, so be sure you communicate with your parents and guidance counselor and keep an eye out on classes if you are interested. Also, be sure to check and see if your school offers free or reduce-costs prep classes.

Want to make sure you are absolutely prepared for each and every change the redesigned SAT is going to bring your way? Levin says that the College Board has just created a landmark partnership with Khan Academy, and together they have produced what is called Official SAT Practice. Levin describes this as “the first-ever free, high quality, personalized, and official practice tools for the new SAT.”

“Official SAT Practice on KhanAcademy.org has been designed to level the playing field for all students who are interested in taking the SAT and preparing for college,” she says, adding that the program goes above and beyond to get students ready for the test. Within the practice sets provided by the partnership, there are four College Board-written full length practice tests, eight  diagnostic quizzes and thousands of practice questions (all available for free at any time!) that are sure to make you a master of the redesigned SAT. In addition to the tips, tricks, video lessons and instant feedback available to you, Levin says this partnership can give students instruction on how to interpret the new scoring guide as well as specific practice recommendations for the test.

But of course, prepping for the SAT doesn’t have to be a total cram session. “The best way for students to start practicing is to take challenging courses in high school and work hard in those courses,” adds Levin. That means AP, IB and Honors classes, studying hard and truly learning the information taught to you (as opposed to just memorizing it for the upcoming exam!).

How will this affect my college applications?

 

A national switch-up of everything SAT-related basically means a big headache for admission offices and students alike. But don’t worry: Levin says that both scores from the current and redesigned SAT will be accepted by colleges until the year 2018.

“The vast majority of colleges and universities support the changes to the exam, and students should be aware that most colleges and universities are prepared to accept and use scores from the new SAT,” she says.

Not sure which test you should expect this year? According to Levin, most 2016 students will take the current SAT during fall, but possibly the new SAT in the spring. Students in the class of 2017 can also choose which exam to take, but they should feel confident taking the new one.

 

When it comes down to it, just remember that everything related to the redesign of the SAT is there to help you succeed—definitely not to stump you or make the test more of a challenge. “It’s an achievement test [that] focuses on the few things that evidence shows matter most for success in college and career,” assures Levin.

And most of all don’t forget that the new SAT changes are implemented spring of 2016!