The Redesigned SAT

Learn about the Changes to the SAT that Will Appear in March of 2016

Students taking an exam
The redesigned exam places the emphasis on language, mathematical, and analytical skills that are essential for college success, and the new exam should be better aligned with high school curricula. Doug Corrance/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The SAT is a constantly evolving exam, but the changes to the exam that launched on March 5th, 2016 represented a fairly significant overhaul of the test. The SAT has been losing ground to the ACT for years. Critics of the SAT frequently noted that the exam was detached from the actual skills that matter most in college, and that the exam succeeded in predicting a student's income level better than it predicted college readiness.

The redesigned exam places the emphasis on language, mathematical, and analytical skills that are essential for college success, and the new exam is better aligned with high school curricula.

Beginning with the March 2016 exam, students encountered these major changes:

Selected locations offer a computer-based exam: We've seen this coming for a long time. The GRE, after all, moved online years ago. With the new SAT, however, paper exams are also available.

The writing section is optional: The SAT writing section never really caught on with college admissions offices, so it's not surprising that it was axed. The exam will now take about three hours, with an additional 50-minute period for students opting to write the essay. If this sounds like the ACT, well, yes it does.

The Critical Reading section is now the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section: Students need to interpret and synthesize material from sources in the sciences, history, social studies, humanities, and career-related sources.

Some passages include graphics and data for students to analyze.

Passage from the Founding Documents of America: The exam does not have a history section, but readings now draw from important documents such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, as well as documents from around the globe related to issues of freedom and human dignity.

A new approach to vocabulary: Instead of focusing on rarely used vocabulary words such as mendacious and impecunious, the new exam focuses on words that students are likely to use in college. The College Board gives synthesis and empirical as examples of the type of vocabulary words the exam will include.

Scoring returned to a 1600-point scale: When the essay went, so did 800 points from the 2400-point system. Math and Reading/Writing will each be worth 800 points, and the optional essay will be a separate score.

The math section allows a calculator for certain portions only: Don't plan to rely on that gadget for finding all your answers!

The math section has less breadth and focuses on three key areas: The College Board identifies these areas as "Problem Solving and Data Analysis," the "Heart of Algebra," and "Passport to Advanced Math." The goal here is to align the exam with the skills that are most useful in preparing students for college-level mathematics.

No penalty for guessing: I always hating having to guess whether I should guess or not. But I guess that isn't an issue with the new exam.

The optional essay asks students to analyze a source: This is far different from the typical prompts on the previous SAT.

With the new exam, students read a passage and then use close-reading skills to explain how the author builds his or her argument. The essay prompt is the same on all exams--only the passage will change.

Do all of these changes give well-to-do students less of an advantage on the exam? Probably not--well-funded school districts will generally better prepare students for the exam, and access to private test tutoring will still be a factor. Standardized tests will always privilege the privileged. That said, the changes do make the test better correlate with the skills taught in high school, and the new exam may actually better predict college success than the previous SAT. It will, of course, be many years before we have enough data to see if the intentions behind the new exam are realized.

Learn more about the changes to the exam on the College Board website: The Redesigned SAT.

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