A Closer Look at the New SAT

Do the Changes Help Test Takers?

The College Board offered the redesigned Scholastic Aptitude Test for the first time earlier this year. Test takers now receive a score between 400 and 1600, rather than 600 to 2400, and they can choose to tackle the essay section that the previous SAT test required, but they don't have to take it. In addition, students receive a series of sub-scores with their test results that provide a clearer picture of their college readiness.

Dylan McEvoy, a senior at Downingtown High School East in Exton, PA, scored better on the new SAT test, which he took in May 2016, than he did on the previous SAT test in the fall of 2015, but he gives the new test mixed reviews. “I like the math section on the new SAT better, but I hated English on the new test because you had to explain where you found the answer in the passage.” On a positive note, he thinks the new SAT seems more tailored to what students are learning today, while “the old test felt like it was trying to trick you.”

Content changes

The SAT changes in 2016 include a reduction in the number of sections from four to three, by combining the formerly separate sections on reading and writing into one section on evidence-based reading and writing, with math and the optional essay to round out the exam.

Reading and writing

The new SAT emphasizes vocabulary less, with vocabulary-in-context questions rather than “SAT words,” says Jonathan Chiu, PhD, national SAT & ACT content director at The Princeton Review. Because the answers appear in the in-test reading selections, students do not need to spend time on advanced study of vocabulary words, says Chiu.

Perhaps the trickiest part of the new SAT is the introduction of paired questions. The test asks an initial question and then a follow-up question about where that information came from in the reading selection. “If you get one question wrong, you get the other one wrong, too,” says Lynne Fuller, test-prep teacher at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA.


For the first time, the test has a no-calculator math section. “This is one of the hardest things for the students” to adjust to, says Anita Pettitt, owner of Club Z In-Home Tutoring, based in Marlton, NJ.

“By high school, kids have been using their calculators for years and have lost a lot of their basic math skills,” agrees Linda Jacobs, one of Club Z’s tutors. To prepare, review the basics, she says, including long division, multiplication and algebra, she advises.

See page 2 for information about test strategies and the optional essay.


The essay

McEvoy preferred the essay section on the previous SAT, in part because it was the first part of the test. Now, the optional essay section appears at the conclusion of the test.

“It was hard at the end of the test. I was brain-dead at the end,” says McEvoy.

For the new essay, students must give an analysis of a text, rather than offer a personal opinion as on the old SAT.

“This essay makes them think, evaluate and write,” says Pettitt.

Test-prep strategies

“Students are really fatigued at the end of the test,” says Chiu. As a result, test takers must have a strategy and execute it when they go into this new test, he advises. In addition to reviewing grammar, math skills and formulas, experts recommend students take practice tests to be familiar with the specific types of questions they will need to answer. The College Board now partners with Khan Academy to offer free online SAT prep courses.

Although teen schedules typically fill up with work, homework and extracurricular activities, Fuller recommends trying to find 30-40 minutes a night to prepare for the SAT. Jacobs believes the best preparation is becoming familiar with the specific type of question the new SAT asks.

Because there is no penalty for incorrect answers on the new SAT, Jacobs recommends a new test strategy. “Read the question but not the answer choices,” she says, because the answers may try to trick you. First, try to think of the correct answer, next use process of elimination and if all else fails take a guess, she suggests.

Improved scores

According to Chiu, students’ scores have increased on average as much as 80-90 points on the new SAT over the previous version. “This increase is mainly due to students not being penalized for wrong answers,” he says.

The College Board’s online score converter can help students make comparisons between old test scores and new test scores to see how they stack up.

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids

Categories: Secondary Education