6 Things You Need to Know About the New SAT

New SATAs coincidence would have it, within a couple weeks after the College Board announced major changes to the SAT (coming in 2016), I was already planning on taking the SAT at Lower Merion High School (which, as Kobe Bryant likes to point out, is the high school he and I went to…).  Sure, I am 44-years old, but I take the SAT often to stay up on trends and changes to the test and to show students and parents that their tutor is capable of a 99th%-ile score in any of the three sections.

The “redesign” announcement has inspired fear in the hearts of students, parents, counselors and some tutors (not me, of course).  With that angst lurking, it was more important than ever that I take last month’s test.  Sure, 2016 is 2 years away, but that didn’t stop the College Board from somewhat jumping the gun on the changes.   Last month’s SAT featured major changes consistent with the College Board’s announced plans.

Before I inadvertently cause more fear, let me be very clear: the changes appeared in the SAT’s “Experimental” section (which never counts towards a student’s score).  However, the College Board (administrator and writer of the test) never publicizes which of the 10 sections is the unscored experimental section.  Usually, it blends in very well with the rest of the scored sections and therefore provides the College Board with useful data about how students perform on that section under high-stakes conditions.

However, for a professional like myself, the “new SAT” experimental section stood out like a sore thumb.  For example, one reading passage had only one single question (I’ve never seen a test in the last several years with fewer than two questions).  Another reading passage had a whopping 16 questions (the most questions to follow a reading passage has been capped at 13 questions over the last several years).  In the 16-question reading passage, there were two instances of questions that asked for specific evidence regarding one’s answer to the previous question.  This was consistent with what the College Board announced regarding the reading sections (I’ll provide a list of changes later in this post).  Others reported changes in the math and writing sections.

What does this mean for your child’s upcoming appointment with the SAT?  It won’t likely mean much if your child is in the 10th grade or higher.  But if your child is in 9th grade, he or she will be in the first class to take the Next-Generation SAT.  How should you prepare?  Quite frankly, there isn’t too much you should do differently.  The questions will still largely be similar, and most of the techniques in the Veritas Prep curriculum will not change substantially.  There will be some math sections where calculator use is prohibited, so I advise you to cutback your child’s calculator dependency.  And there will certainly be changes and updates to specific sections of any good SAT course to narrowly tailor to the redesigned test. But the same study habits, thought processes, and content emphases over the next few years of your child’s high school career will continue to pay off.

Some of the announced changes include:

— The vocabulary section will be made more relevant to modern language (i.e., words that have a chance of making it into a conversation this decade.  See you later “capricious!”)

— The reading questions will emphasize the use of evidence from the passage just read (as discussed above, this change was on full display in my experimental section).

— The essay will no longer affect one’s overall score.

— Students should answer every question, as there will be no longer be a penalty for wrong answers.  This should come as welcome news to almost everyone, as the “incorrect guess” penalty has long been a source of stress for students and teachers.

— The new exam will narrow its mathematical focus to a few areas, including algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward.  A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion at current (again – as a parent you may want to wean your child off of calculator reliance over the next few years)

— The overall score will be reverted back to its original level of 1600, instead of the current 2400.  The reading and writing sections will be collapsed into one section worth 800.

We’ll continue to post updates as these changes are previewed publicly or appear on experimental questions.  In the meantime, those taking the “current” SAT should avoid any undue stress about changes that will not affect their own tests or scores, and those who will take the redesigned test should continue to excel in high school (and junior high) and build sound math, reading, and English skills while they wait for redesigned SAT curriculum to help harness it toward that 1600 score!

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Steve Odabashian received his BA in Economics from the University of Virginia and then went on to receive his JD at Villanova. He has worked in Tokyo as a foreign attorney, done pro bono work for the Committee of Seventy in several Philadelphia elections, and he is a well known pianist and comic entertainer in Philadelphia. Steve has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2004.