Preparing for the New SAT

Closeup of a SAT test answer sheet and pencil

Closeup of a SAT test answer sheet and pencil

Beginning March 6, 2016, the SAT will be offered in a completely new format. After careful analysis of “stagnant results” on the old SAT, College Board decided to revamp its most widely-used college admissions assessment to reflect the skills necessary for college success. The new SAT test will focus on the “critical set of knowledge, skills, and understandings that predicts student success in college and workforce training programs.” Simply stated, the new SAT will reflect what is learned in the classroom.

So what does this mean for the content of the new test? And how will these changes impact your student? With the help of the most recent College Board material, I’ve identified 5 key changes to the new SAT.

1.  No more ridiculous vocabulary words

Fecundity, Exculpated, Inveterate. These are words you may have seen on the old SAT. Chances are you won’t see these on the new SAT. Rather than make students memorize a thousand obscure words, the new SAT will require knowledge of more common words, such as Pervasive, Synthesis, and Accommodate. These words are intended to be more familiar to students and represent vocabulary that is encountered in their classes, particularly the upper level ones.

2.  Slightly shorter, sort of

The old SAT was 3 hours and 45 minutes long and 171 total questions. The new SAT will take 3 hours and include 153 questions. However, the new SAT will offer an optional essay, which will take an additional 50 minutes. I recommend students take the optional essay as some college will require it. Therefore, the actual time of the test is longer, but there are still fewer items on the new SAT. This will impact the timing that students dedicate to each item and give them a little longer on each question.

3.  No penalty for guessing

This is a HUGE change from the old SAT. Previously students were discouraged from taking a guess unless they could narrow down the choices. This made the SAT a game, and knowing how to play the game ultimately affected the score. Now, however, students will not be penalized for guessing. Not only will it give students a better chance of getting a question correct, but it will also give them confidence to take an educated guess without the worry of being penalized.

4.  Scoring

In the past, the SAT included scores from 200-800 on Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing, and a total score between 600-2400. The new SAT will provide a much more elaborate scoring system. Students will receive one composite score from 400-1600, two section scores (Reading/Writing, Math) from 200-800, two cross-test scores (Science, History/Social Studies) from 10-40, three test scores (Reading, Writing/Language, Math) from 10-40, and 7 subscores (words in context, heart of algebra, command of evidence, passport to advanced mathematics, expression of ideas, problem solving/data analysis, standard English conventions).

Needless to say this is a lot to keep track of. Fortunately College Board will provide an interpretive chart to help students and parents make the most sense out of these numbers. The goal of this particular change is to provide more meaningful feedback to students and colleges and help get students to the appropriate post-secondary school.

5.  Free SAT prep

College Board is partnering with Khan Academy ( to offer free test preparation for the new SAT. Khan Academy will offer free practice materials that can be personalized for each student. Their curriculum is designed to supplement the skills students are learning at school, which is the focus of the new SAT. This is an amazing service that students should use even if they are receiving test prep from another source.

No one knows for sure what the new SAT will look like or how it will impact the admissions process. What we do know, however, is that it is an inevitable change that will take place on March 6, 2016. If your student is in the graduating class of 2017 or later, then you will want to have as much information on the new SAT as possible. Stay tuned for further updates as they come!