9 Things Every Student and Parent Needs to Know About The New SAT

From the old SAT to the new SAT, here's what you'll need to know about the new one.

Source: Flickr user billselak.

The old SAT is fading and the new SAT is on the horizon. Here are 9 things you need to know about this new test so you can navigate the transition with as little stress as possible.

1. The new SAT will be released in March 2016 (but, you don’t have to take it)

This new exam releases in the middle of spring, the busiest time in testing. This poses the biggest challenge to the Class of 2017. Those students who will be juniors when this shift takes place.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to take the new SAT.

All colleges that require tests will take either the SAT or the ACT.

For the Class of 2017, that means there are actually 3 exams colleges will accept: the old SAT, the new SAT, or the ACT.*

If your junior has not yet taken or prepared for the current 2400 SAT, I recommend you opt to focus on the ACT this year.

Why? Because it’s a known exam. By opting to take the ACT, you’ll avoid the angst of the new, unknown SAT completely.

Less angst means less stress for students.

Another lower-stress option is taking the current SAT if you feel that the exam is a better fit for you. The only catch here is that you’ll need to be completely done with testing by the final offering of the current SAT in January 2016.

Not sure if the current SAT fits you? Check out my ACT vs SAT comparison.

*I have not heard of a school that will not accept all 3 exams for the Class of 2017, but I encourage you to contact the schools on your college list to verify this fact if you plan to use the current SAT for admission. (Better safe than sorry!)

2. The new PSAT will be administered in October 2015

You read that correctly. An iteration of the new SAT, the PSAT releases before the new full-length test.

While that might not seem like a big deal, the PSAT isn’t a practice exam. The Preliminary SAT lets top-scoring juniors earn recognition for their academic achievements through scholarship awards.

Again, this bit of news impacts the Class of 2017 the most because the scores that count for National Merit recognition are the ones from the PSAT given in a student’s junior year.

My recommendation is that students who are naturally good test takers and are likely candidates for National Merit recognition leverage the free prep for the new SAT that is available at Khan Academy before heading in to take this test.

A little bit of prep will give them an advantage over unprepared testers.

3. The new SAT is going to look very different from the current SAT

In many ways, it’s going to look similar to an ACT. Tutors and teachers won’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to advice on strategies. However, they will need to tweak what they teach to fit this specific exam.
Even though they’re similar exams, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all strategy that works for both the new SAT and the ACT.

4. The math section will be expanded

The new SAT adds basic trigonometry and statistics to the math section. Again, this is similar to the ACT and is by no means the majority of the math questions.

Luckily, students can still do well on the new SAT without having taken trig or stats.

5. The dreaded Vocabulary section will be reworked

The vocabulary may be “easier”, but it is by no means gone. In fact, for some students, it may actually be a little more difficult, because it draws on secondary and tertiary definitions of words many students think they already know–tricky.

You will still need strong reading skills and a strong vocabulary.

6. The essay is “optional”, but not really

According to College Board, the essay section is now optional–except for at colleges that still require it.

If the college where you’re applying requires the essay portion of the test (which many do), the essay is no longer optional for you–it’s mandatory for admission. Therefore, I advise that all students opt to take it. It would be a shame to want to add a college to your list last minute only to discover that you don’t meet their admissions requirements.

To be safe, I recommend all students plan to take the essay.

7. There’s a new calculator-free math section

From my perspective as a test prep tutor, the biggest change coming is that there is an entire section of math in which students can’t use calculators.

This is going to be challenging for many students – especially students taking higher-level math courses in which calculator work is the norm. Some students will be completely overwhelmed by that one section. It could affect their performance on the test as a whole.

8. Be wary of prep books from 3rd party publishers

It amazed me how quickly prep books hit the market after College Board announced changes to the SAT. In fact, there were many full-length prep books available from 3rd party publishers before we ever saw a full-length practice exam from the test maker.

As you can imagine, such books aren’t very accurate representations of the new exam.

For the next year, I would avoid purchasing any 3rd party materials. If you plan to prepare, stick to what’s available from College Board and its official partner, Khan Academy.

If you don’t have to prepare right away, wait. Read through #5 to learn why.

9. All current practice tests are incomplete – even those from the official test maker

What’s the one thing we all want to know once we’ve finished taking a test? Our score, right?

You worked hard and did your best…so…what’s your score?

As you may know, the SAT and ACT are “normed” exams. This means raw scores translate into scaled scores that fall along the standard bell curve distribution.

Norming the exams helps even out any variations in the level of difficulty from test date to test date. But, you have to have many raw scores (number of questions answered correctly) in order to curve the test and provide the scaled scores (the score in each of the two main sections that falls between 200 and 800).

Because no official exams have been administered for the new SAT, we don’t know what the scaled scoring is going to look like.

Will 50% of the questions answered correctly give students a 400 or a 450? What about 75%? How will the raw scores translate to the scaled score?

We simply don’t know. Nobody does–not even College Board.

If you plan to take the new SAT in fall 2016 or beyond, hold off on purchasing any books or prep for the time being. Once a few real exams have been given, there will be better information available.

In the meantime, read a lot, do well in school, and shore up any academic weaknesses along the way. Your score will be all the better for it when the time comes to test no matter which test you end up taking.

Personally, I have committed to not teaching the new SAT until, at the earliest, fall 2016 because of the reasons I outlined above. Despite what we do know, there is still a whole lot that we don’t and won’t know until after the new test is actually released.

I need to know the scale so I can advise students as to what they need to do to hit their target scores.

I also need to take the test in the real testing room to see if the strategies I think will work actually do work on the real exam before I hand them off to my students.

(Yes. You read that right. I still take the SAT and ACT a few times a year to ensure that I’m up-to-date on any shifts that have come to the exams. It’s a very important part of my philosophy on teaching.)

The bottom line on the changes coming to the exams is this:

  • If you do choose to pursue the new SAT, take care with how you select your prep materials. Go straight to the source (College Board and Khan Academy) whenever possible.
  • If you want to avoid the confusion and stress that will no doubt surround the first few administrations of the new SAT, look no further than the ACT! It’s a great alternative that colleges will be happy to accept.

Whichever path you take, good luck to you! May higher scores be yours!

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One thought on “9 Things Every Student and Parent Needs to Know About The New SAT”

  1. pseudonym sue says:

    ” recommend you opt to focus on the ACT this year.

    Why? Because it’s a known exam.”

    not exactly. there was a new scoring protocol for the act essay this fall resulting in a hot mess of scorer training issues and exam turn-around times. I can’t say more publicly, but this is not a good time to be taking ACT essays.

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