The SAT is changing and many parents and students are panicking. If you are one of them—stop. Take a deep breath! There is no reason for concern. The SAT changes regularly. It changed in 1995, in 2005, and now again in 2016.
Each time the test changed, people worried. In 2005, the changes were far more drastic than the current changes, and everything was fine. At that time, the reading sections changed, the math sections changed, and a whole new writing part was added to the SAT.
Students faced 35 minutes of multiple-choice grammar questions, and for the first time ever, students had to write an essay. The SAT went from two parts to three parts, with the top score going from 1600 to 2400. That year, I wrote a book, published by Barron’s, entitled How to Prepare for the New SAT. Of course, that “new SAT” that everyone was so worried about is now the “old SAT” that everyone wishes was still in effect. In 2005, PowerPrep, the SAT/ACT test prep company I founded, as well as all other test prep companies, started teaching courses for the newly changed SAT. Students who prepared properly did just as well on that SAT as they would have done on the previous one. And the same thing will be true this year. Having just finished writing Barron’s brand-new book, The New SAT (to be published in November), to help students prepare for the new test, I can assure you that students who prepare conscientiously for the new SAT that will be given for the first time in March 2016 will do just as well as they would have had they been able to take the old SAT.
So, what is new about the new SAT?
First of all, the test will once again have only two parts—English and math—worth 800 points each. So the top score will once again be 1600 points. There is an optional essay that some students will choose to take, but their scores on the essay will not affect their overall score. The English and math parts of the new SAT will take exactly three hours to complete. After completing those parts, students who have chosen not to write the optional essay will leave the test center. The students who choose to write the essay will remain in their seats while the other students leave and then they will have 50 minutes in which to write their essays.
In many important ways, the new SAT will be easier
• First of all, as already mentioned, the essay is optional: students who don’t want to write an essay won’t have to, and for them the SAT will be much shorter than the current SAT—three hours instead of three hours and 45 minutes.
• Next, all of the multiple-choice questions will have four choices instead of five, making it much easier for students to guess correctly when they aren’t sure what the correct answer is.
• There is no longer a penalty for wrong answers. So students should always guess: when they don’t have enough time to finish a section they should take their final 10 seconds and make a wild guess on every question they don’t get up to. And, of course, they should fill in an answer for every question they do get to, guessing whenever they aren’t sure.
• Also, since sentence completions have been eliminated, students will no longer have to spend time memorizing the meanings of obscure vocabulary words. They won’t have to know whether really bad behavior is “ebullient,” “ephemeral,” “egregious,” or “evanescent.”
The math sections on the new SAT will be somewhat different, but not harder; in fact, many students will find them easier. The existing SAT is officially called the “SAT Reasoning Test,” and the math questions on it are meant to determine how good a student’s logical reasoning skills are. The math questions on the new SAT are more in line with what students have learned in school, so most students will find them to be more straightforward. There will also be more questions based on data in charts and graphs, something that students learn throughout their middle school and high school years.
The bottom line is this:
The new SAT is “new,” it is a bit different from the “old” SAT, but in many ways it will be easier. And in many ways it will be easier than the ACT. There is no reason whatsoever for students to sign up for the ACT in order to avoid the SAT. Finally, remember that all the students in the country are in the same boat; the SAT is scored on a scale: students who would have received average scores on the old SAT will receive average scores on the new SAT; students who would have received top scores on the old SAT will receive top scores on the new SAT.
Stop worrying, prepare properly, and you will be successful.
Dr. Wolf is the author of several test prep books and is the president of PowerPrep. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 516-484-4468.