The New SAT: A Blog Series That Answers The Questions You Have Asked (Part I)

by Ian Young

As the founder of a test-prep consulting company, The Learning Shack, I’m already getting questions about the new upcoming SAT exam: Why is the SAT changing? What’s on it? Will it be much harder? How should I get ready? What are colleges saying about this?

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Recently, the College Board, the company that creates the SAT, has released four full-length, already tested, sample redesigned SATs. If you are interested in finding out what the new exam looks and feels like, Khan Academy has partnered with College Board to offer free online prep materials. You can find it here: https://www.khanacademy.org/sat

While these tests are almost certainly not enough to succeed as a stand-alone comprehensive SAT prep course, they do give us some idea just what will be on the new test and how it differs from the out-going exam.

Over the next few weeks I will attempt to shed some light on why the SAT is changing, whether you should take the SAT or another well-known test, and how to prepare for them!  So without further ado, let’s jump right in to one of the biggest comments and questions I get:

I am used to the old test!  Why is it changing??

College admission testing, like a hurricane or a new tax plan, is like so many things in that it receives little attention until it suddenly threatens ones plans for the future and forces you to seek shelter. While the SAT has been largely the same test for years, the upcoming SAT overhaul, with the new PSAT in October and new SAT next March, is a significant enough departure to have made national news and generated questions of uncertainty from those most directly confronted—parents of students and students graduating in 2016 and after, or the first Common Core bracket.

The reality is that the SAT is a test that is created by a business, the College board; and that business has competition.  In this case, the College Board’s main rival is the ACT, inc. For years, students have asked me which test to take, the SAT or the ACT?  Is the ACT easier than the SAT?  Do colleges prefer one over the other?  Can I take both?

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With the advent of common core, the ACT now likely has a more distinct advantage than ever before.  While the SAT was always the more ‘coachable” test, the ACT has traditionally focused on more academic content.  With shorter and more coachable sections, learning the “tricks” of the SAT exam often gave SAT prep students an edge over the ACT.  However, since the majority of the ACT questions are more focused on classroom based content and are less amenable to “tricks,” the ACT may now actually lend itself better to students who will grow up with a Common Core curriculum.  In fact, this is the feedback I am getting from a lot of my students.

So back to why the SAT is changing…

The new SAT is a much different test with a new identity. It will focus more on the Common Core concepts taught in school and be less amenable to “tricks.” 

This is a HUGE deal. In addition to functioning as a categorization vehicle, the new SAT will now serve as an indicator as well. What used to serve as a type of college admissions discriminator must now function as a test of college readiness. It is no longer an exam sold only individually to college applicants, but also by the boatload through state contracts which attempt to compete with the ACT. So naturally, it will have a look and feel more like the ACT, and content more representative of Common Core.

While it may not be clear immediately how effectively the new test will correlate with a student’s success in college, we already know a few things as of now.  The new test will attempt to be more in line with the ACT and Common Core by: requiring students to use evidence to support answer choices, inspiring them to increase their focus on math skills, asking students to comprehend and deduce answers from information delivered through text and graphs, and involving students with multidisciplinary content.

In the next blog entry we will look at what specifically has changed and what is covered on the new SAT.  Stay tuned!