As you've probably heard, the College Board has revamped the SAT, which many students take during their college application process. Students who plan to take the SAT in 2016 have a lot of questions about changes in the test and how that might influence test prep for the new SAT, including:
• Why did the SAT change? • What's different about the reading sections in the new SAT? • What's different about the writing sections in the new SAT? • What's different about the math sections in the new SAT? • Should students take the ACT or the new SAT? • How should teens prepare for the new SAT?
We wrote this article to help answer some of these questions so students can be as prepared as possible when the new exam rolls out.
new sat test prep | Why Did The SAT Change?
It seems like the SAT just went through a change by switching from the old 1600-point system to a 2400-point scale, but now the College Board has decided to shake things up again. The new SAT will be offered starting in early 2016, which means that teens who are sophomores and juniors now might want to pay attention to the changes so they know what to expect.
One of the biggest questions is why the SAT test has changed at all! After gathering plenty of feedback from students, teachings, college admissions workers, and other people who interact with students during the high school and college years, the College Board decided that the SAT did not accurately reflect students' skills. In addition, the Board felt that the test did not show readiness for college, which is the whole point of taking the exam. In addition to these factors, many colleges have decided to become test-optional, which means that they will consider student portfolios, interviews, writing samples, etc., instead of asking students to provide test scores as well. The ACT has also emerged as a serious competitor to the SAT, and because slightly more students have taken the ACT for the past two years, the Board redesigned the SAT to share more of the principles of the ACT, including the optional essay section.
The new SAT | General-wide changes to the test
The specific changes for the SAT sections are below, but there are a few general test-wide changes that students should be aware of. First of all, the SAT will revert to its 1600-point scoring system, instead of the 2400-point system it uses now. This is due in part to how the writing and language scores will be combined, instead of being counted separately as they are under the 2400-point system. The scoring change does not just extend to the total number of points. There was a guessing penalty of 1/4 point for each wrong answer, which required students to make wise choices about answers that they weren't positive about. There were plenty of guessing strategies based on this penalty, but the new SAT will no longer have a guessing penalty. This New York Times article has a good overview of some of the reasoning behind the new test.
What's Different About The Reading Sections on the new sat?
The biggest change in the reading section is the elimination of some vocabulary questions. Many people felt that the SAT tested someone's ability to memorize complicated words instead of testing knowledge of words that students need in college. This didn't fit in with the end result of making an exam that shows college preparedness, so the new SAT will have a different approach to vocabulary. Though students will still need to know vocabulary words, the College Board wants to test words that might come up in academic settings (think "personification," "satirical," or "empirical," instead of words like "adumbrate" or "intransigent"). Even more importantly, the focus will shift from multiple-choice questions that depend on knowing the meaning of a word to questions where students could determine the meaning of the world using context.
The reading sections will also seem a little more like the ACT, because there may be some questions that include graphs or charts, which students will have to interpret in addition to the words in the passage. Basically, the College Board wants students to get better at analyzing and comparing texts, not just knowing strange vocabulary words and being able to find the sentence in a passage that best supports one claim or another. To emphasize this push, there may be questions that require students to compare passages, or questions where students must look at paired passages and determine their meanings and argument styles.
These passages will come from different sources. In total, the reading questions will take about an hour. There will be four long passages and one pair of passages, and these materials will come from US/world literature, history or social studies, and science. Even though it might seem like less work than the old SAT, the new SAT will require students to dig deeper with the passages and understand the nuances of words, instead of just reciting definitions.
What's Different (and the Same) About The Writing Sections on the redesigned test?
There's no mandatory essay! For teens who chose the ACT because they didn't want to write a response to a prompt, this will be great news. Now teens can take the SAT without the essay (three hours) or choose to do the additional essay section (nearly four hours). Other than the essay change, the writing section will be the most similar to the old SAT. There is a little more emphasis on including questions from different academic disciplines, just like the reading questions, but ultimately students will still need to identify proper or improper punctuation and understand what makes a sentence well-written or poorly written. Old SAT and ACT practice exams will remain a great way to prepare for the multiple-choice questions, but students who decide to do the essay should get ready for a totally different prompt.
The old essay section was mandatory, and it required students to choose one side of a prompt and then write an explanation of their side (for example, "Do people make better decisions if they stay neutral and impartial?" or "Does working with others yield better results than working alone?"). The new essay takes a different approach, following the same changes as the reading sections. Since the College Board wants to improve students' abilities to compare and analyze passages, the essay will require students to do exactly that. Now the prompt will give students a passage and require them to write an essay analyzing the argument in the passage: how does the author make his or her point, what evidence is used, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the claim, etc. Hopefully this new essay will test students on their abilities to understand texts and how arguments are formed, which is a necessary college skill.
What's Different About The Math Sections on the new sat exam?
The math questions will have the most changes, other than the new optional essay section. On the old SAT, students always came in with a calculator and had plenty of multiple-choice problems, and then a few fill-in-the-grid problems where there were no answer choices provided. This will be completely different now: nearly half of the math questions will be fill-in-the-grid, while slightly more than half will be multiple-choice, like the old test. Now students won't be able to use a calculator for every section:test-takers will only have the option of doing so in some sections. Instead of numerous complicated equations that students need a graphing calculator to solve, the new exam will require students to do many of these problems on scratch paper. Even though the calculations will be more simple, students should still expect to have plenty of scratch work.
Just like the rest of the test, the math questions were redesigned in order to be more relevant to college academics. This means that students should expect to see more word problems with real-world applications, instead of meaningless numbers. The next big change is how the questions fit together. The old SAT had standalone multiple-choice questions, but the new SAT takes a new approach. This time, there will be several questions in a row all on one topic, almost like an extended word problem that students have to do in steps. Think of having to find the average distance someone traveled, then their speed during the return trip, then analyzing how a map might describe the trip, and finally the fuel cost based on their speed and distance. Students will have to build their answers on previous questions for this type of problem.
ACT or New SAT | which should students take?
Now that the SAT has an optional essay and "science" passages in the reading sections, it will be much more like the ACT than it was before. Since many students decided to take the ACT because it had an optional essay section, students who planned to make their test decision based on writing will have a tougher time. The two exams are still quite different, though: the ACT has fewer vocabulary words and more straightforward questions, while the SAT can sometimes throw in questions that test concepts in unexpected ways. Whether this will still happen on the new exam remains to be seen, but there's a strong chance that students will still have to deal with some surprises.
The best bet will be to look at whatever practice material teens can find. For the ACT, this will include test prep books and old exams, though for the SAT there will not be as much material to choose from. However, the College Board has provided explanations for the changes and what students can expect to see, which will be helpful when teens decide which exam is the best fit.
Students who want to do a writing section should look carefully at both the SAT and the ACT sample prompts, because the questions tend to be different. As we mentioned before, the focus on the new exam will be on getting students to analyze arguments and explain how a certain passage makes its point. The questions on the optional ACT essay are more like the old SAT essay, where students have to pick a side and argue for that side of a debate. It might be wise to try a few practice prompts for each type of test, and then choose the type of essay that seems easier to write within the time limits.
How Should Teens Prepare for the New SAT?
Many of our previous SAT test prep tips will still apply to the new exam, because the basic math, writing, and reading concepts all remain important. However, there will be a little less focus on memorizing vocabulary than before, which means students won't have to make flash card towers, and the math questions will be more targeted to real-world ideas. Choosing the essay or skipping it will also be a crucial decision for students to make, and this is where taking practice exams will come in handy. Sample prompts can help students decide if they want to do the writing section, especially when they see if their practice exam score was boosted or lowered by their essay grade. Doing a few of these sample tests will help teens see if the writing section will pay off, and for students who choose to skip it, they'll get a shorter test.
Since the new SAT will be more like the ACT, it can actually pay off for students to look through ACT practice tests. The new SAT reading sections will include "science" passages like the ones on the ACT science section, and these same ideas can be applied to the history or social sciences passages on the new SAT, which might include graphs or charts for students to analyze. The more practice they can get with this type of reasoning, the better, and ACT practice tests can be good resources.
The math section might require the most studying, because students will only have the option of using a calculator for a few parts of the exam. This means that teens who aren't so sharp with mental math should brush up, or at least make sure that they can do division, multiplication, and other basic operations with pencil and paper. Even though the computations on the sections without a calculator will be a little less complicated, there will be plenty of equations to solve and analyze. The switch to more fill-in-the-grid answer choices will also eliminate many of the guessing strategies for math, such as throwing out half the answers because the number given has the wrong sign, then eliminating one more choice, and finally guessing with a good chance of making the right decision. These fill-in-the-grid questions require more thought, because there's nothing to go on if students are stuck.
Even though the new test will not be rolled out until 2016, students who might plan on taking it could start thinking about its components and what they need to improve. Thinking about interpretations of an author's point during reading can help students get comfortable with the essay prompt and reading questions that will show up on the exam, while doing more mental math can help students get ready to tackle problems without a calculator. Keep an eye out for any College Board news (which you can find here) as 2016 gets closer, just in case they release more information about the new SAT.
new SAT test prep
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