The New SAT | All You Need to Know About the New SAT

The College Board shook up the college admissions process when the organization released plans to reformat the SAT, which millions of students take each year. Parents might be confused about the new system, or worried that teens will be underprepared for the new version of the test, and these concerns are reasonable. Families may wonder:

• How will the SAT format change, and what will stay the same? • What different learning skills will the new SAT emphasize? • Will the new SAT be just like the ACT? • Why did College Board make this change? • Should students take the ACT or SAT? • How can students prepare for the new SAT?

This article was written to answer these questions and provide some helpful information.

The New SAT: What Will Change? What Will Stay the Same?

The new SAT test will launch in early 2016, just in time for students graduating in 2016 or 2017 to take as they choose and apply for colleges. That’s just around the corner, so now is a good time to begin learning about the changes in the new SAT. Currently, the SAT has a 2400-point score system and three test sections, but the new SAT has a completely different format, and a new test scoring system. The old SAT had three sections that covered math, critical reading, and writing: each section had a top score of 800, with a mandatory essay component factored into the writing section, for a top score of 2400. The new SAT has a 1600-point scoring scale, and only two sections: verbal reasoning and mathematics, each of which are worth 800 points.

The new SAT is College Board’s answer to the ACT, its rival college entrance test. The College Board made a number of changes that closely mimic its competitor, including testing skills that are more closely aligned with high school standards, and making the test's questions more straightforward. In addition the new SAT, like the ACT, will have an optional essay. This particular change is great news for students who struggle with writing or who just want a shorter exam. Thanks to this optional essay, the new SAT shaves forty-five minutes off the total exam time from the old test.

The new SAT also eliminates the guessing penalty. Previously, a blank answer was worth zero points, while an incorrect guess deducted one-quarter of a point from a student’s score. This made guessing into a complicated strategy game that students had to master. The new SAT will get rid of this penalty, which means that students can fill in answers for every question without having to worry about losing extra points for making a mistake. Ultimately, the biggest changes on the new SAT are the 1600-point scoring scale without a guessing penalty and the optional essay.

The New SAT | Skills Tested and Content Covered

Parents and students are probably used to the three sections of the SAT (math, critical reading, and writing), along with their corresponding math questions, reading comprehension questions, and writing/grammar questions. With only TWO mandatory sections, math and reading with an optional essay, the new SAT covers slightly different ground and takes a somewhat different approach.

The New SAT | Fewer Math Topics, More Straightforward

The math section will only see a few changes. The SAT has been notorious in past years for having “harder” math questions than the ACT, but this is a bit misleading. The ACT actually tests a wider variety of mathematical concepts, but the ACT questions do so in a straightforward way. The SAT math section will sometimes create scenarios with made-up math formulas, and then ask students questions about these formulas, or set up complicated word problems that don’t actually require very tough math, but seem overly tricky. The math section on the new SAT will stick to a more transparent approach: the test will still cover basic geometry, algebra, and essential arithmetic concepts, but it will test these concepts in an easier-to-understand manner. Part of the difficulty students have had in the past with the SAT math questions has just been understanding what the questions mean! The SAT overhaul aims to address this by changing the presentation of its math concepts in questions.

The New SAT | New Material for Reading Passages

The new SAT will contain less random source material for passages, and instead material will be pulled from a wider range of academic disciplines, including historical and scientific texts. For instance, students can expect to confront at least one passage drawn from well-known historical documents such as the"Declaration of Independence" and from key speeches, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream". On the new SAT, students can also expect to encounter questions asking them to integrate information from graphs and data, and to cite evidence from passages to support their answers.

The New SAT | Less Obscure SAT Words

The reading/writing section will see significant change. First of all, the two sections will merge into one, with the optional essay factored into the total score. In 2005, the SAT got rid of “analogy” questions, on the basis that these questions were only fair to students of specific backgrounds. Now, the new SAT will also cut down on challenging vocabulary words. No one really needs to be able to use “expectorate” in casual conversation, but rising college students will need to know certain academic words (such as “empirical” or “anecdotal”) in order to do well in a college environment. The new vocabulary for the SAT will try to use words that students will see in college, and not just force students to memorize lists of confusing, obscure words. For students who were dreading creating flashcards with words like "lachrymose," this will be a relief. That said, students who do well in high school and build an age-appropriate vocabulary will have much less vocabulary prep to do when getting ready for the SAT.

The New SAT | An Optional Essay Section

The optional essay itself will have a completely different focus. Previously, the essay question presented students with a quote or scenario that showed two sides of a debate. Students had to choose a side of the debate, then write a twenty-minute essay explaining their choice and providing supporting evidence.

A few examples of old SAT prompts are:

• Should people who are more fortunate than others have more of a moral obligation to help those who are less fortunate? • Can popular entertainment offer us anything of value, or is it just a worthless distraction?

This kind of essay required students to provide real-life experience or historical evidence for their side of the debate, but there was no emphasis on closely reading a text or using elements of a text to support the essay. The new SAT aims to change that approach. For the new version of the essay, students will receive a source document, and they will need to analyze the document for its use of textual evidence. Students will also have to write about the document’s use of reasoning, stylistic techniques, and persuasive arguments. This new essay format will require students to practice skills from English class, specifically the art of looking critically at writing, then explaining its strengths, or saying in detail how a source document states its argument.

The New SAT | Will the New SAT Be Just Like the ACT?

The new SAT will be much more similar to the ACT. Many students feel like the ACT has more questions like the ones they see in class in high school, while the SAT is a little more mysterious. The new SAT aims to change this belief by making the SAT more streamlined and understandable. The new SAT will also resemble the ACT in that it will also have an optional essay. And though the new SAT will not contain a science section per se, as the ACT does, the refurbished reading section of the new SAT will have a science passage. The good news is that studying for the SAT or the ACT will help students do better on both tests. Since the new SAT will be so much like the ACT, taking a look at some ACT prep books can give students an idea of what to expect on the new SAT.

The New SAT | Why Did College Board Make This Change to the SAT?

There are two main reasons why the College Board overhauled the SAT. First, the ACT, the other rival college admissions test, became more popular in the past few years than the SAT. Mainly due to the ACT’s predictable, straightforward nature, students preferred to sign up for the ACT, instead of taking the more "complicated" SAT. Since College Board has to profit from its testing systems, an SAT overhaul was the only way to get more students to take the SAT.

Second, the College Board wants to make the SAT more accessible to students of all different backgrounds. Many people have noted that students from wealthier, more privileged backgrounds will always outperform students who do not have the resources to attend SAT prep classes, meet with SAT tutors, and spend plenty of time preparing for the exam. This new SAT plans to cut down on this score disparity mostly due to the shift in content, but also by helping to provide free SAT prep.

In terms of content, the College Board feels like the new SAT is a more accurate reflection of the material that students cover in high school, no matter what school they attend. Basing questions on content that all students should learn will shrink this score gap, because students can prepare for the SAT by doing well in school, and not just by getting extra test prep help. By partnering with Khan Academy, one of the biggest free online academic sites (, the College Board will offer free SAT prep online to students around the world.

For more insight into reasons for the new SAT, check out this recent New York Times article:

However, according to a number of standardized exam critics and independent researchers, the redesigned SAT test still does not address varied concerns. According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing, the new test will still not be an accurate predictor of college success, and will continue to be susceptible to test prep tutoring.

The New SAT | Should Students Take the  SAT or ACT?

Now that the SAT is trying to mimic the test style of the ACT, students may wonder which test they should plan to take. A good strategy is to take at least one practice SAT and ACT exam in order to decide which seems like the best fit.Thankfully, the new SAT will not roll out until 2016, so students who have been preparing only for the SAT can still sit for the exam this year and next year without any surprises. Similarly, students who plan to only take the ACT should go ahead with that goal: there is not much point to switching to the SAT now, before it changes to become more like the ACT.

The difficulty comes for students who will take the SAT or ACT after 2016: students who just started high school or who are in their sophomore year of high school will have to decide which test to take. One thing to keep in mind is that taking practice tests—either for the SAT or the ACT—will help them prepare for full-length tests. Even though the tests have slightly different material and varying formats, both the SAT and ACT require students to master important math skills, draw conclusions from text, and have a strong working understanding of English sentences and grammar.

The optional essay used to be a huge deciding factor in whether students would take the SAT or ACT. Since both tests in the future will have an optional essay section, students will no longer have to choose their exam based on their ability to write well. Instead, students could try some practice essays for both exams, then opt to take the voluntary essay section if it seems like a good way to improve the total reading/writing section score

Since no one will experience the new SAT until 2016, taking both the ACT and the new SAT may be the the right choice.

The New SAT | How Can Students Prepare for New SAT?

Despite all the hubbub about the new SAT, it is still just another test that students have to prepare for. No matter how much emphasis gets placed on “not being able to prepare” for the new SAT, or how students can ace the SAT without any prep at all, the more students prepare for the SAT the better they will do. The same holds true for the ACT, AP exams, SAT subject tests, and any other test a student might have to take in high school.

Almost every old test prep technique will still apply for the new SAT. There are many options that a student can pursue: small study groups with friends, self-study with test prep books, group study classes, and private tutoring. All of these options have pros and cons but each one will help students get comfortable with SAT questions and topics before the test.

For the new SAT, students who want to take the essay portion of the test will have to practice writing SAT-style essays, including brushing up on how to critically read texts and understand the structure of arguments. Other students may just choose to skip the essay section and focus on other concepts.

Your family may not only be concerned about the new format of the SAT and how to prepare for the exam, but also feeling anxious about how colleges and universities will react to the new SAT. Will a particular school change its requirements as a result of the redesign? Will other elements of a student's application become less or more important with the new SAT? Families will have to figure out the answers to these questions through time-consuming research of their target schools. But try not to let concern about these issues distract from preparing and studying for the new SAT , if this is the exam your teen chooses. At the end of the day, a solid performance on the new SAT will help ensure a competitive application for a student's target college.