HomeCollege AdmissionsNew SAT Puzzling! What Is The Big Deal?

Dear Estelle. As a junior in high school, I have serious concerns about the new SAT and the old SAT. I have heard they are significantly different but I may be more successful on the old because several test prep tutors say it’s easier. I’m taking the PSAT in a few weeks which I understand is tied to the new SAT. Are there any possible reasons to take the current SAT or is that just a waste of time? I’m a reasonably intelligent junior so feel I could meet the challenge of either.  BJS, Junior @ Cherry Creek High School

“The new SAT-featuring the math that matters most, more relevant and clear vocabulary, questions that better reflect classroom learning, and free test practice from Khan Academy. It’s simply the most open and useful SAT we’ve ever created.”

Recently I attended a College Board workshop and heard these words directly from the speaker. They are a measure of what test takers can expect from the new SAT scheduled to be rolled out March, 2016. He said the guessing penalty will be eliminated, the essay, formerly required, will now be optional and the scores will range from 400 to 1600 instead of 600 to 2,400.

I’m not sure there is much value in taking the current SAT unless you really enjoy taking standardized tests. The October PSAT is directly tied to the new SAT. It’s also utilized for the NMSQT, the qualifier for National Merit awards. By the end of 2015 you should have received a score report from the PSAT and know if additional tutoring might be desirable. At this time there are a few colleges like Virginia Tech, that don’t even want to bother with the old SAT. Denver University will keep files of both.

The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free, personalized test practice for all. They suggest in their materials that “the tutoring will not be cramming for individual tests, like traditional test prep, but will complement one’s classwork to help improve skills long after the test is over.” They also suggest that taking challenging courses and working hard in high school is the best way to prepare for the new SAT. How effective this will be for the student who likes to cram and prepare for the specific test is questionable. Will they feel prepared or will they simply continue to take test prep courses from the many excellent programs offered by schools, private companies and tutors?

If you decide to take the optional essay portion of the new SAT the prompt will be available online prior to the exam. Students will have 50 minutes to complete it and will be administered first. The redesigned SAT will mirror a student’s writing assignments. Students will read a passage and be asked to explain how the author is building an argument. Many colleges and universities may not require the essay portion of the SAT so it behooves the student to check out each institution to see whether it’s necessary. Some may take it just to show their writing proficiency to colleges.

The math section will focus on three “essential” areas of math: Problem solving and data analysis, basic algebra like linear equations and “passport” to advanced math. You will be allowed to use a calculator.

There will be passages from the U.S. Founding Documents and texts from ongoing global discussions about freedom, justice and human dignity. The redesigned assessments will be filled with questions about the “real” world and work related to performance in college and career. The vocabulary used throughout the assessments will be relevant rather than obscure words.

Tenth graders will be offered the opportunity to take the PSAT 10, a new iteration next spring. It will not be a qualifier for National Merit.

Proficient 11th grade test takers will probably adapt to either or both versions of the SAT. Others may decide to devote their efforts totally to the ACT.

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