The New SAT and What it Means for Your Student
For every change The College Board has made to the SAT, there is a blog post debating whether or not this is the end of college admissions as we know it. I admit, tackling some of these changes can seem daunting at first, but students around the world are in the same boat and the admissions process will continue to involve many different factors. In many ways, preparation for the new SAT and the ACT is now more similar, so students interested in taking both tests can benefit from the added instruction. Vanguard’s College Preparation class, offered to all junior students, prepares students for the entire college application and admissions process – the PSAT, SAT, and ACT, choosing the right college, writing essays, and so much more.
Why the change?
Simply put, the older SAT was not doing its job. As a test, the SAT wasn’t measuring much of anything beyond how well students had been prepared for the SAT, making it irrelevant to the enigmatic idea of “college readiness” it was supposed to evaluate. The new SAT suite (including the PSAT) is designed to test students on how well they can use, manipulate, and interpret given information rather than testing them on the information itself. Overall, that means more multi-step problems and synthesizing information from various sources in all of the sections. In addition, the new SAT eliminates one answer choice (so now there are 4 choices instead of 5) and removes the quarter-point penalty for incorrect answers, making the test much more user-friendly for students.
Perhaps the most noticeable (and confusing) change in the SAT is the scoring: the new SAT is scored out of 1600. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section (made up of the Reading Test and the Writing and Language test) score ranges from 200-800, and the Math section (made up of Math – Calculator and Math – No Calculator) score ranges from 200-800. The essay is now optional and receives a completely independent score. During this transition period, colleges are accepting all SAT scores and will create new average score ranges as more information becomes available, so consult individual admissions websites for requirements.
One of the clearest examples of this shift in focus is in the Evidence-Based Reading section. Instead of isolating main ideas, authorial points of view, or defining vocabulary, students now work through passages to answer questions and then choose the best proof from suggested selections. Vanguard students already have experience supporting their arguments with evidence from the text from years of passage analysis practice in the English classroom, so in this sense, the new SAT better evaluates their training and knowledge.
On all five of the passages (one from American or world literature, one primary historical source, one social science passage, and two science passages), students use given information to answer more analytical and higher-order-thinking questions, all of which are multiple choice. In addition, students may be asked to interpret graphs, schematics, and charts and use the information to supplement the passages. These infographics are generally not difficult and can help science- and math-minded students feel more confident on the reading test.
Similar to the Reading section, the new SAT writing section is entirely multiple-choice and based on given passages. Students will evaluate conventions and grammar rules in English as well as word choice, sentence structure, and sentence order. Rather than testing knowledge of English idioms and phrases, the new test emphasizes mechanics and usage of English of conventions within context, which mimics real-world applications of editing and composition. The Writing test can, in fact, be the most practical section, because students prepare for it every time they correct and revise their own schoolwork (or notice an error on a sign or advertisement).
Although now optional, the SAT Essay provides an opportunity for students to show their knowledge and capabilities in a different format, and Vanguard strongly encourages students to take advantage of this opportunity. Students are presented with a passage in which they must analyze how an author builds his or her argument, something that Vanguard students practice beginning in the 7th grade. Scores are based on reading comprehension, strength of analysis, and fluency of writing – again, all skills that are reinforced in many different departments at Vanguard.
The Math tests (divided up between Math – No Calculator and Math – Calculator) have also been revised to evaluate students based on data interpretation and real-world applications. Both Math sections assess linear equations and systems, quantitative literacy, the manipulation of complex equations, as well as topics in Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. The new SAT is targeted towards students who are enrolled in Algebra II or higher, although students who have not yet taken Algebra II can still understand most of the material.
How to Prepare
In terms of preparation, the SAT has not changed a great deal. The best way to be ready for the SAT is to be comfortable with the question types, the sequence, and test pacing, so taking advantage of the College Preparation class and taking practice tests can help immensely. For the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, students who are close, critical readers perform best. The only way to increase reading speed and comprehension is through practice, so read more than what is required for school. Read for fun, and start as early as possible (although it’s never too late!). There are myriad online opportunities for test preparation – I personally recommend the Khan Academy free online preparation and tutorials available on The College Board’s website – as well as test books and classes (such as Vanguard’s College Preparation Course).
For more information, please feel free to contact me or Vanguard’s Full Time Director of College Counseling, and be sure to join us for Vanguard’s College Panel night on December 5 to hear from college admissions counselors from around the country.