The New SAT: What Students Need to Know

Have you been hearing all the chatter about upcoming changes to the SAT? Here's a look at what's going on and whether or not you'll be affected.

Maybe you’ve heard the interwebs buzzing about the “new SAT,” announced yesterday by College Board President David Coleman at SXSWedu. And, indeed, it’s quite the hullabaloo.

What does it mean for you? Well, first things first: if you’re planning on taking the SAT this year or next . . . it doesn’t mean much. The new SAT rolls out in 2016, so those of you that will be taking the “old”/current SAT (mainly sophomores and juniors) can continue preparing as you would anyway. Younger students who will be the first ones to take the “new” SAT will have plenty of time to adjust to the changes—though in many ways, there’s not much to prepare for. In fact, the test will likely be easier for those students. But when we say “easier,” we don’t mean dumbed down. Rather, the SAT is designed to more closely correspond with what students are learning in high school, and it’s hoped it will be a more accurate representation of students’ fundamental academic skills.

As reported by The New York Times, Coleman himself said both the SAT and ACT had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” And that’s what he says these changes to the SAT are trying to correct.

So, without further ado, here’s our laundry list of the top changes to the new SAT:

  • No penalty for wrong guesses/answers. That’s right: wrong answers, which used to deduct a quarter of a point from your score, will simply count as zero.
  • Updated vocabulary words. In lieu of more arcane vocab words (see what we did there?), the new SAT will feature words students will likely encounter in their college course work. So instead of words like “bucolic” (of or relating to the country or country life), you’ll be seeing “empirical” (based on testing or experience).
  • Scores returned to the 1600 scale. With 800 total points available in both the Math section and a retooled “Evidence-based Reading and Writing” section—which will also be more closely tied to college course work. What happened to the other 800 points in today's 2400-point SAT? Glad you asked . . .
  • Optional essay. Again, back to the way things once were, the essay—the other 800 points—is no longer required in general, but some colleges might require it as part of their application. Students who choose to take it will receive a separate score.
  • More “real-world” math. Instead of problems that require a wide variety of math skills, including more abstract areas, the new SAT’s math questions will be focused on math that may be more applicable to college and postgraduate work, like data analysis.
  • More “real-world” questions in general. These questions will draw from materials learned in high school classes, like history and social studies, and may also delve into career-readiness issues.
  • Fee waivers for low-income students. They will be able to send their scores to up to four colleges for free.
  • Free prep tools from Khan Academy. The College Board is partnering with Khan Academy to offer free online SAT prep and practice resources for students, to be launched in the spring of 2016.

This is just the beginning, though. Full details will be revealed in mid-April, and we have yet to see how colleges and universities will respond to the new SAT.

In related news, the announcement of the new SAT comes on the heels of a recent report discussing the rising prominence of test-optional schools—and how standardized test scores may not be such a useful indicator of college success after all. You can learn more about test-optional schools here and at FairTest.org.  

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