Preparing for the “New” SAT

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 written essay. This Writing section increased the cumulative score of the SAT from 1600 to 2400 points.

Now, the SAT has changed again, just as dramatically as it did a decade ago. There will no longer be a penalty for guessing incorrectly. Less emphasis will be placed on knowing difficult vocabulary words. The Writing and Critical Reading sections will be combined, so the perfect cumulative score will return to 1600, and math will once again account for 50% of the total score. The essay will become more a test of analytical ability, which would be a very good thing… if this new, more difficult essay were mandatory. However, the new SAT essay will be optional, so most kids will avoid it like the plague. The net result is that the reading and writing skills of American students will probably continue to worsen.

Why are the SAT people doing this?

They are losing market share to the ACT. They can say up and down that this isn’t the case, but most of their changes make the SAT more like the ACT. There will still be some important differences, though…

The New SAT is billed as emphasizing ‘real-world’ math, reading and writing skills. To some extent, this is true: the test will require kids to be more thorough in their analysis of the reading and grammar passages, the different math questions, and the source material for the optional essay. Also, the New SAT will probably do a better job of sorting which students are truly best prepared for college.

Unfortunately, for the majority of students, who have not been doing Common Core until the last year or so, the New SAT is going to be a rude shock. Given the sample questions we have seen so far, it is clear that most kids will find the new test more difficult, not less, than the current test. In a few yeas, if Common Core works out, this ‘raising of the bar’ may have a beneficial effect on American education.

Will this affect you?

The class of 2016 will be unaffected by the new test.

The students in the class of 2017 are the guinea pigs for the new SAT. These students were introduced to the new format last October with the New PSAT, but the SAT itself did not change until this past March; those scores took over two months to process. Clearly, it will take some time for the SAT folks to work out the kinks.

Each college will react differently to the New SAT, but it seems logical that most colleges will look askance at the New SAT for a while, and will probably prefer to deal with the Old SAT and the ACT, since they are familiar with these tests. Thus, Prepare recommends that all students in the class of 2017 at least familiarize themselves with the ACT–and take it at least one time–since this test will remain largely unchanged. It would be foolish for students to leave their fates entirely in the hands of a new, unproven test.

An alterate strategy would be just to concentrate on the ACT and to forget about SAT altogether.

In a few years, colleges will have a better idea about how the New SAT compares to the ACT, so students from the Class of 2018 should take both the ACT and the New SAT.

Prepare says: Most Class of ’17 students should take the ACT

Since it will take a while for the changes in the New SAT to shake out–and to know how each college will react to the new test–Prepare does not recommend that rising juniors put their fates in the hands of an unknown test. So, Prepare recommends that students from the class of 2017 take the current SAT twice (if possible) before it expires in March 2016, then take the ACT from that point on, since this test remains largely unchanged and familiar to college admissions folks.

Thus, Prepare will continue to teach the current SAT through January, 2016–when the last “old” SAT will be offered. At that point, when the SAT changes over completely, Prepare will combine the New SAT and the ACT into one, comprehensive prep course.

Still, rising juniors and sophomores who wish to take the current SAT course have one more opportunity: the Winter I session. They may also take an additional, single-day ACT prep class for an extra charge of only $100. Once they take this supplemental class, they will also be able to take the completely re-designed course in the future, for free.

Yale University

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