The SAT is not new lingo for you. You’ve heard about the SAT your entire life, and you know it’s potentially an important step to being accepted into your first-choice colleges. (No pressure.)
But you might have heard, the SAT is changing. What does that mean for you? Are all your prep courses and guidebooks out of date? What do you need to know to be ready for the new SAT?
Time to answer a few of these very important questions.
Q: When will it change?
A: The new SAT will debut at the next SAT testing day, Saturday, March 5.
Q: Why is it changing?
A: The College Board (the organization that creates the SAT) says the new test will more closely reflect what students learn in school, as well as the skills college students really need. The College Board states, “If you think the key to a high score is memorizing words and facts you’ll never use in the real world, think again. You don’t have to discover secret tricks or cram the night before.”
Q: What are the major changes?
A: Instead of three sections, there are now two: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The top score of 1600 is back (it was changed to 2400 in 2005) and now you can guess as much as you want; there are no penalties for wrong answers and test-taking “strategy” is now less important. Plus, guessing is easier because the number of options for multiple-choice questions has been lowered from five to four.
The essay is now optional, though some colleges may require it. The essay is also formatted differently. You’ll be asked to write a textual analysis rather than take a position on something or write about your own life. You can find the prompt online here; the only thing you won’t know ahead of time is the text you’ll be asked to analyze.
You also no longer have to memorize obscure words. Instead you have to figure out the meaning of familiar words in context. The reading section will be more focused on evidence (similar to the new essay section) and, according to TIME’s article on the SAT’s changes, “Students will be asked a question about the text, and then asked which piece of evidence best supports that answer. That means if you get the first question wrong, it could be difficult to get the second question right.”
The math section will include more word problems and will add more advanced math (like trigonometry). According to the College Board, “Questions on the Math Test are designed to mirror the problem solving and modeling you’ll do in:
- College math, science, and social science courses
- The jobs that you hold
- Your personal life”
Q: What hasn’t changed?
A: The test is still long (3 hours 50 minutes, with the essay). It will still be a stressful, under-pressure situation. The test is still entirely focused on math and English (no science, arts, technology, etc.)
Q: How can you prepare for the new test?
A: Test prep is now available for free by the non-profit Khan Academy in partnership with the College Board. This is great if you can’t afford Princeton Review or Kaplan, and some indications are that the Khan Academy prep may be even better. According to TIME, “‘Up until now, test-preparation companies have always been on the outside looking in, says Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at College Board. ‘Now the assessment and the practice tools are fully aligned, creating a connection between assessment and instruction that we haven’t seen before.’”
Here is what the College Board says about prepping for the new SAT: “The same habits and choices that lead to success in school will help you get ready for the SAT. The best way to prepare for the test is to:
- Take challenging courses
- Do your homework
- Prepare for tests and quizzes
- Ask and answer lots of questions.
In short, take charge of your education and learn as much as you can.”
Q: What’s next?
A: Taking the SAT is just one step to getting ready to apply to college. Download the Ultimate College Decision Timeline (below) to keep track of your progress in all the steps needed to apply to college, from taking the SAT to requesting letters of recommendation to accepting a college offer.