Update on the New SAT: Major Changes

This post is the first in a series examining the changes to the SAT announced by the College Board in March 2014 and scheduled to take effect in Spring 2016.

First off, here’s an answer to the question everyone seems to be asking: The new SAT will affect you ONLY if you are a rising sophomore or younger. (And even then, only if you choose to test in the Spring of your junior year or later.) 2014 juniors and seniors will still take the SAT as it is currently administered.

THE BIG PICTURE.

In future posts, we’ll go more in-depth about each of the new test sections. This post is focused on a general review of what the new SAT hopes to achieve and the methods to achieve it. In broad strokes, the redesigned SAT seems closer––in format, if not also in substance––to the ACT. The chart below delineates the major features:

Comparison of the current SAT with redesigned SAT for test prep

source: CollegeBoard.org

However, these changes are largely superficial. In the past few years the ACT has gained traction among test-takers and the SAT wants to regain some of this ground. The adjustments in the table above align the SAT format to the ACT by: making the Essay optional; eliminating the guessing penalty; and reducing multiple-choice answer sets to four options rather than five.

That’s where the similarities end. The College Board recently released a 211-page document relating “test specifications” for the redesigned SAT, which shed a good bit of light on what students can expect. After a thorough review of this document, it’s my impression the new SAT seeks to test the same skill set that the current SAT tests––but it differs in how it seeks to test this.

College Board insiders gave three reasons for needing to revamp the SAT:

  • Give a better picture of college-readiness and provide a better prediction of college success.
  • Be more focused on skills needed for college success.
  • Better reflect what is taught in the best high school classes.

The execution of this vision required modifying the current SAT in a variety of ways. For instance, to combat the perception that the SAT tests mainly arcane vocabulary, David Coleman has vowed to make the phrase “SAT word” a thing of the past, choosing to test vocab exclusively with in-context questions from passage-based reading and even then only testing words “common in college courses, like ’empirical’ and ‘synthesis.'” Another, similar change to the math section will pare down the content areas of SAT Math to test mainly linear equations, functions, and proportional thinking. Presumably, the idea here is to focus on mathematical concepts with the broadest range of applications––not only in college-level math courses, but in areas like economics and engineering.

LET’S TALK SPECIFICS.

Timing. Overall, the redesigned SAT will give students more time per question.

  • MATH: 1.30 min/question on current SAT // 1.40 min/question on new SAT
  • READING: 1.04 min/question on current SAT // 1.25 min/question on new SAT
  • WRITING: .71 min/question on current SAT // .80 min/question on new SAT

Scoring. Back to the two-part 1600-scale score. Not much of a surprise there, but integrating reading and writing in a new section lengthily called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” was certainly an innovation. Moreover, the new SAT offers something truly new and potentially useful to college admissions officers: subscores. The SAT will report a number of subscores, some from a single test segment (just reading or writing, for instance) and some deriving from cross-test performance. For example, a student’s answers for social science passages in reading and writing will be cross-referenced with certain content areas in math to yield a test-wide social sciences subscore. (a student’s answers for social science passages in reading, writing, and even math will combine to give a student’s cross-test social science subscore). These subscores will ideally reflect a student’s ability to navigate the types of texts, graphs, and conceptual tools used in various disciplines and may indicate a student’s comfort level–and likelihood of future success–in those disciplines. This is possibly the biggest one-up the redesigned SAT has to claim against the ACT, which introduced the use of subscores to stratify students’ strengths across different subject areas and career paths.

Content and Format. The new SAT will introduce a few new question types. In particular, data analysis questions abound in all sections: reading, writing, and math sections will all require students to interpret charts and graphs. Additionally, there will be multi-part math questions requiring students to perform different types of math on the same set of data or real-life scenario. These questions will be worth more than regular math questions and will NOT be multiple-choice. There will also be calculator and non-calculator sections for math.

IN SUM, THE NEW SAT ATTEMPTS TO REWARD QUALITY ACADEMIC WORK OVER A SUSTAINED PERIOD RATHER THAN SHALLOW MEMORIZATION DIVORCED FROM REAL LEARNING.

All this means that while the SAT is evolving to look more like the ACT, students still ought to weigh the differences carefully and choose the test that offers the best chance for an impressive performance. If you’re wondering which test is right for you, get in touch to book a free consultation today!

Stay tuned for the next post in this series: an in-depth look at the Evidence-Based Reading section of the redesigned SAT!

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