What is the difference between the Old SAT and the New SAT?

Well, there’s actually an Old Old SAT, too. Allow me to explain:

In the spring of 2005, the SAT changed a great deal. In the Math section, Algebra II-level problems replaced Quantitative Comparisons. The Verbal section (renamed Critical Reading) added more reading passages and removed Analogies. The real shocker was the addition of an entirely new Writing section, comprised of an extensive grammar skills test and a mandatory written essay. This Writing section increased the cumulative score of the SAT from 1600 to 2400 points.

The SAT changed again in 2016, just as dramatically as it did a decade earlier:

  • Penalties for guessing incorrectly were eliminated.
  • A no-calculator Math section was added.  
  • Sentence Completions were eliminated to place less emphasis on knowing difficult vocabulary words.
  • The format of the essay was changed, and it became optional.
  • The Writing and Critical Reading sections were combined into one 800-point section so the optimum cumulative score, added to the 800-point Math section, returned to 1600.

So, why did the SAT people make these changes?

Basically, because they were losing market share to the ACT. They can swear up and down that this isn’t the case, but almost all of their changes make the SAT more like the ACT. Also, the Collegeboard billed the New SAT as emphasizing ‘”real-world’”math, reading, and writing skills, in order to address the complaint that standardized tests don’t adequately reflect skills that students learn in school

Thus far, the Collegeboard’s strategy is probably working, business-wise. My students seem to prefer the New SAT to the previous version and, in my experience, usually prefer it to the ACT.

Also, students’ scores are about 30 points higher on average (adjusted for the 1600-point scale) than they were on the Old SAT.

Higher scores? Sounds great!… until you think about it. If everybody’s scores are going up, then no one is any better off. Also, raising the average score causes colleges to distrust the SAT even more—and they were already ticked that the SAT was changing its format again so soon after doing it in 2005.

If you’re interested, here’s the official breakdown of the differences between the Old SAT and New SAT from the Collegeboard:

In my opinion, the ACT is the better option for now. Want to learn more about the ACT? Click here.