What to expect from the new SAT

by Michelle Szabo, Instruction Program Manager, Stern Center for Language and Learning

The NEW SAT arrived in March 2016 – are you ready? There have been a number of substantial changes and revisions to the SAT, and it goes well beyond the kinds of questions asked and how the test is scored. While there may be fewer overall questions asked, the depth of each section is significantly greater. 

This redesigned SAT is more closely aligned with high school standards in college and career preparedness, challenging students to think both logically and critically. The College Board has redesigned the SAT to align more closely with the concepts of the Common Core State Standards, meaning there is a greater emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving and data analysis. This revised SAT challenges students with providing evidence to support their claims, as well as to analyze them as they would in classes throughout grades 11 and 12.   

Let’s first review how this new SAT format will be scored. You may be familiar with the “guessing penalty.” On the previous test, answering a question incorrectly meant losing a quarter of a point. On the newly revised SAT this wrong-answer penalty is no longer in effect. This means that if a student can narrow down the options of possible correct choices and make an educated guess, no points will be deducted for an incorrect answer. Instead, the final score is solely a reflection of the correct answers.  

Additionally, the multiple choice questions now have four possible answers instead of five. Previously, there were three sections with a possible maximum total of 2,400. Now the total possible score for the New SAT is 1600 – 800 for Math and 800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. 

The newly restructured SAT will also be greatly changed in how it will be administered. The previous test took 3 hours 45 minutes (general administration); the revised SAT will take 3 hours, or 3 hours 50 minutes if a student chooses to complete the optional essay. Instead of 10 shorter subtests, where the student has to go back and forth between subjects and skills, the new SAT has only four sections. More time is allotted to each section as follows: a 65 minute reading section, a 35 minute language and writing section, a 55 minute math with calculator section and a 25 minute math section without a calculator. 

Furthermore, the preparation needed for this new SAT has changed. Practice tests alone will not be sufficient for many students, as students must now apply their understanding of reading, writing, language and math to unique science, social studies, and US and world literature extended prose. 

This means that there will be longer passages for students to read, analyze and answer using already developed critical thinking skills. Some students may find it challenging to sustain their attention during these longer reading passages, while others may have difficulty keeping track of relevant material while finishing each 400-500 word section. 

Customized and personalized SAT instruction can be beneficial. Test preparation can include strategies to improve active reading, sustained concentration, multiple choice test taking strategies and thinking critically about information text, to name a few. The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy for students to prepare for the SAT, offering a variety of practice questions and tests. 

Finally, when students get their scores under the new SAT format, they will receive more information about how they did on the test. Instead of seeing a score between 600 and 2400, they will have an overall score, a section score, and test scores (there are five test scores – math, reading, writing/language, history/social studies, and science). 

These test scores will reflect how students performed on specific questions. The math sections will reflect a heavy emphasis on algebra. The essay is now optional and will be scored separately. It will be based on analysis and critical thinking, with the purpose of identifying persuasive strategies in a chosen author’s piece of writing with a score ranging from 6 to a maximum of 24.  

In conclusion, the newly revised SAT will challenge students to demonstrate their critical thinking skills, their understanding of algebra and problem solving, and will provide greater emphasis on analysis of various text structures and types. 

Students will need to continue to develop their vocabulary and hone their math skills throughout school, as well as gain knowledge from scientific and technical texts. These skills are essential for college success. 

There are numerous resources available to assist students in preparing for this test, and it is important to find the combination that best supports your student’s individual needs.