Coming to a Test Center Near You: The Redesigned SAT

SAT Prep

So which test should you take? The current SAT, the Redesigned SAT, or the ACT?

By now you've undoubtedlyChange-2 heard that the SAT is changing in the Spring of 2016. But with a launch date so far in the future, it's easy to postpone making any decisions about which version of the test you take. And while I admit you do have some time to weigh your options, should you decide to concentrate on the current version of the test (and for any of you who are currently enrolled in high school and concerned enough to be reading SAT blogs, you should take the test before it changes), your study time is running out, especially if you plan to take the test multiple times. 

The new SAT appears to be quite a bit more difficult than the current version. I know, I know: they are removing Sentence Completion questions and thus vocabulary so many of you think it's going to be easier. But it's not. They are adding more vocabulary questions to the reading comprehension section, as well tables, graphs, charts, and arcane passages from our founding documents [in other words, text with archaic language that was written in the 1700s] or from the "Great Global Conversation."

So what are you in for if you hold out for the Redesigned SAT?

General changes

  • The Redesigned PSAT will be administered in the fall of 2015; the Redesigned SAT will follow in March of 2016.
  • The test is reverting back to the 1600 scale by combining the Reading and Writing scores.
  • An expanded score report will include five separate scores that will more clearly identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • There will no longer be a penalty for guessing.
  • Students will have a choice of taking the test on paper or on the computer.
  • The essay is now optional.
  • The test will be shortened to three hours in length without the essay, but will be 5 minutes longer than the current test with the essay.
  • Multiple choice questions will have four possible answers instead of five.

Changes to the SAT Reading section

  • The section has been renamed Evidence-Based Reading.
  • Sentence Completion questions, in which students select a vocabulary word to complete a sentence, have been removed.
  • Short passages have also been removed.
  • The section now consists of five long passage sets with eleven questions each. One of these passage sets will include a paired passage and another will consist of a passage from one of America’s founding documents or a document from the “Great Global Conversation” (such as a congressional speech).
  • Some of the passages will include a table, chart, or graph in which students have to interpret the data.
  • The current Passage-Based Reading question types will all be retained, but they are also adding “Command of Evidence” questions, in which students have to identify the portion of the passage that provided the answer to a previous question.

Changes to the SAT Writing section

  • The question format is changing from stand-alone sentences with grammatical errors to passages with eleven different errors or questions per passage. This format is nearly identical to the current ACT English Test format, although some of the passages have a post-secondary reading level.
  • The content tested on the current SAT will continue to be assessed, but punctuation will also be tested on the redesigned SAT.
  • Some of the passages will include a table, chart, or graph and a corresponding question in which students have to choose a grammatically-correct sentence that correctly interprets the data.
  • The essay is now optional.
  • The score for the Writing section will be combined with Evidenced-Based Reading to create an overall verbal score on an 800 scale.

Changes to the SAT Math section

  • There will be two sections, one of which allows calculator usage, while the other does not.
  • Student-Produced Response questions, sometimes called Grid-Ins, will be retained and will increase from ten questions to twelve. One of these questions will be an “Extended Thinking” Question worth 4 points.
  • The College Board claims that this test “will require a stronger command of fewer, more important topics,” but they are adding trigonometry and some advanced math concepts that are not currently tested, while also apparently retaining all currently-tested concepts.
  • The content focus is changing: Algebra will now make up 35% of the test while Geometry, which currently takes up over 25% of a test, will be relegated to less than 10% of the SAT. There will be four areas of focus: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math.
  • While the current SAT has an occasional question set in which there are two or more questions about a particular data set, the redesigned test hints at more of these “item sets.”

The president of the College Board insists that this new test is going to test fewer topics, but test those fewer topics in depth. I have yet to see anything actually removed from the test, though. They may be de-emphasizing an area, but not totally removing it. The focus on geometry is being reduced by about 25%, but students still have to know all of the same geometry concepts in case one of them surfaces. And now add trigonometry and advanced math concepts to the content tested. Plus, they are doubling the number of potential errors in the Writing section, and adding new passage sources and types of questions in the Reading section. This test is going to be a beast.

So what does that mean for you? You should take the ACT. I'm kidding. Sort of. Well, not really.

Recommendations for the Class of 2018 (current juniors): Thank your lucky stars and wonder what you did to deserve escaping this new test just in time. Then go rock the current SAT. You can find a slew of free study materials written by yours truly in our Free Help Area.

Recommendations for the Class of 2017 (current sophomores): We encourage you to take the current SAT in the fall of 2015 or winter of 2016, before the test changes. You may want to take the PSAT this October, too, since it is changing next fall as a prelude to the SAT changes. Note: If you are attempting to qualify for the National Merit scholarship program, you will have to take the redesigned PSAT as a junior.

Recommendations for the Class of 2018 (current freshman): If you are an advanced student--and you likely are advanced if you are reading SAT blogs in your spare time--we advise you to also take the current SAT before it changes. Then, during your junior and senior year you can concentrate on the ACT. If your class rank is closer to the 50th percentile than the 20th percentile, we suggest preparing for the ACT and taking it for the first time in the spring of your junior year. It would be best to give this new SAT a few years of "wearing in" with admissions deans before attempting it yourself. I reserve the right to change my mind when a few complete tests are revealed, but for now with the limited sample questions we have been given, I believe the redesigned SAT will be more difficult than the ACT.


Next week we can delve into the minor changes coming to an ACT near you.


Photo: Massive Change, courtesy of sookle