This coming Saturday, January 23rd, marks the last time the SAT will be offered in its current format. Beginning in March 2016, the “new” SAT will be rolled out, much to the dismay of college counselors and anxious juniors nationwide. It is just another hurdle the class of 2017 must face as they navigate the college search and application process.
Collegeboard announced these changes more than a year ago in response to a loss in market share to its competitor, ACT. The redesigned SAT will move away from serving as solely an “aptitude” test, but has a new goal of aligning more clearly with the Common Core standards. The new SAT aims to more accurately reflect skills learned in the high school curriculum, and may reward students who pay attention in class over those who simply study for the test.
The new test includes several larger structural changes. For starters, the new SAT will no longer penalize students for guessing, a plus for more risk-averse students. Secondly, each multiple choice question will have four possible answers instead of five. Furthermore, the redesigned SAT will now include science questions throughout both the reading and math sections, and students will receive a science “sub-score” with their reports. And lastly, the testing time will be longer, giving students more time to reflect on each reading passage and question.
Here are some of the major changes broken out by section:
Math Section: Instead of focusing on simply finding the answer, the new math section will focus more on interpretation, relationships and application. The focus of the test will shift away from Geometry concepts, often learned early in a student’s high school career, and will include more Algebra and Trigonometry. This is a plus for students who are in more advanced math classes during the junior and senior year.
Reading Section: Obscure vocabulary will no longer be included on the new format. It will be replaced by longer reading passages, a move which makes the test more similar to the ACT or AP English tests. Grammar questions will be presented within the context of a reading passage, and students will be expected to back up their answers with evidence.
Essay Section: The essay or writing section will now be offered as an optional addition instead of being a mandatory part of the test. Over the years, colleges have often overlooked this part of the test in application review as it doesn’t often accurately reflect the student’s writing abilities. For those who do opt to take this section, 50 minutes will be allotted for the essay. It will shift away from making an argument, but will instead ask students to analyze an existing argument, a skill much more aligned with the critical thinking and analysis required throughout college coursework.
If the new test format seems like a good fit for your junior, the first available testing date is in March 2016. However, students who take the March test will not receive their scores until June at the earliest so Collegeboard has the opportunity to development an appropriate scoring rubric. Because of these score delays and general uncertainty about the new testing format, many college counselors recommend that current juniors focus on the ACT this year, or at least add the ACT to their testing schedule.