Preparing for the 2016 SAT Changes

Written by tutor Regan C.

Starting in the spring of 2016, the SAT will be significantly different than the current SAT exam. Among the changes are revisions to the scoring format and math and verbal content.

How Do the Changes Affect Me?

The good news is that most of the changes are an attempt to reduce the topics tested. For example, students will soon need to study fewer vocabulary words and few math concepts. The test will not be easier but perhaps easier to study for…but only eventually. The biggest challenge, however, is going to be a lack of accurate practice materials. Currently, there is a great supply of old SAT exams that we can study from, so we get a very accurate idea of what the test will be like before you take the official exam. Unfortunately, that will change. The College Board will publish some practice exams in late 2015, and other companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review will try to mimic those exams, but we still won’t have that the good stack of retired official exams that we have today.

If you have a choice of when you are able to take the SAT, it would be wise to take the exam either before spring 2016 or after spring 2017. The reason simply being that we will lack a good supply high quality practice exams for at least a year after the updates.

Why the Change?

The primary goal of the SAT is to help colleges predict a high school student’s likelihood of being successful in college. In recent years, an increasing number of colleges have complained that the SAT does not accurately test the skills learned in high school, more students are choosing the ACT over the SAT, and a growing number of colleges are have made the SAT and ACT an optional part of the application process. The upcoming changes are the College Board’s attempt to make the SAT more relevant.

The College Board has recognized that certain psychological factors, usually termed “test anxiety,” create unfair disadvantages for many students. Many of the upcoming changes are the result of an overall effort to ensure the exam is testing knowledge and academic ability and not simply “testing ability.”

Scoring Changes

Under the current system, the composite SAT score is comprised of 3 section scores: math, verbal reasoning, and a free response essay. Currently, each section is worth a maximum of 800 points, making 2,400 a perfect score. In 2016, the essay will become optional and graded separately from the math and verbal sections, so a perfect score will soon be 1600.

The current SAT also utilizes a “guessing penalty,” whereby points are deducted for missed questions but neither deducted nor awarded if the question is skipped. The updated SAT will simply award points for correct answers without deducting points for incorrect choices.

Verbal Reasoning Changes

Currently, the SAT verbal section extensively tests vocabulary knowledge, using sentencing completion and analogy questions. The new SAT will only test “evidence based reading.” College Board has
emphasized that vocabulary knowledge will still be tested, but word meanings will be limited what can be gathered from the context of the passage. Additionally, the words tested will be words that are more common in academic writing. You will likely be tested on the words like “systematic” and “mitigate” instead of words like “dipodies.”

There will also be an increased emphasis on “justifying your answer choices.” The updated SAT will have questions that not only require the correct answer, but also require the student to select the part of the passage that supports the student’s response.

Math Changes

The topics tested on the new SAT will be dramatically reduced. The current exam tests a wide variety of math skills from geometry to algebra to statistics and some calculus. The new exam will focus on three areas: linear algebra, functions, and ratios.

What’s Next?

Because the SAT competes directly with the ACT for business, many exam experts predict similar changes to the ACT in the near future. In the past 3 years, the GRE, GMAT, and MCAT have all undergone similar updates.

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