The 5 Big SAT Changes You Need to Know

satHigh school freshmen and sophomores will take a new version of the SAT in 2016. Here’s a run-down of what they can expect and how to prepare.

Last month, we covered in depth what you could expect from the new SAT coming in 2016 (in a post you can read here). But now that the changes to this 88 year-old exam are making the media rounds once more, we wanted to take a quick minute to recap the biggest adjustments, and hopefully provide some clarity in the process.

So, here are the 5 big changes to come to the SAT in two years’ time:

  • No more SAT essay! The essay section will become optional
  • No more “SAT words!” The test will quiz students on “relevant” words instead of obscure ones
  • No more point deductions for incorrect answers! Which means no penalties for guessing
  • Fewer questions! The test will shrink from 171 to 153 questions (52 in reading, 44 in writing and language and 57 in math)
  • And lastly, the 1600-point system will return making the 2400-point test a mere blip in the radar for a select few

But before you jump out of your seat with joy, future high school junior, you should read our in-depth analysis of the changes and how they’ll affect your test-preparation here. Just because $5 SAT words are out, doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn strategy to handle unfamiliar vocabulary. AND just because the SAT essay will be optional does not mean you shouldn’t take it.

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In essence, the SAT is going to look almost identical to the ACT, so the best way to prepare for these changes is to look into its counterpart. In fact, more and more colleges regard the ACT as equal to the SAT, though students tend to score better on the former than the latter. Which leads one to wonder, why are we still placing so much emphasis on the SAT? Our advice: take both and go with the test you’re better suited to.

Have questions about either standardized test? Or thoughts on the changes? Leave us a comment and we’ll help you with your test-prep!


Changes Are Afoot for the SAT

Yesterday it was announced that the SAT would be revising its test for the second time in just over a decade. To help you prepare for the next version of this popular standardized test, find here an outline of the changes plus other important announcements from The College Board that will impact future college admissions.

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What will the new SAT look like?

The new SAT, to be released in 2016, will feature four significant changes:

  • The SAT essay, introduced in 2005, will become an optional segment of the exam
  • SAT scoring, also changed in 2005, will return from the 2400- to the 1600-point system
  • Points will no longer be deducted for incorrect answers (currently students lose 1/4 of a point for each wrong answer)
  • And lastly, “SAT vocabulary” will become a thing of the past, as complete-the-sentence sections of the exam are replaced by ones that test students’ critical reading of a passage.

Why make these changes?

One thought that struck me when I read over these changes was that the SAT is increasingly becoming more like the ACT. The criteria are familiar: no deduction of points for incorrect answers, no required essay, and a significant critical reading section are all key points of the ACT that many students over the past decade have recognized as advantages to taking it over the SAT. So much so that gone are the days that the SAT is the go-to test; when I was a high school junior, nobody ever mentioned the ACT, but when I became a test-prep tutor five years later it was the exam 90% of my students elected to take. Why? When they were evaluated at the start of our course, the overwhelming majority performed better on the ACT than the SAT. It gave them a step-up in achieving a higher ranking, and as students’ favor of the test increased, colleges’ willingness to accept it on equal terms with the SAT followed suit.

For whatever reason, be it an attempt to curry more favor (and cash) or a genuine recognition of a need to assess students more fairly, the SAT is moving towards a format more similar to the ACT.

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What do these changes mean for students?

When I tutored students for the SAT, a significant focus of our preparation was on strategy. To perform well, one has to form a plan of attack, making a practical decision from the outset on how many questions would need to be answered to achieve the desired score. That’s because every wrong answer a student might give could decrease his or her overall score, thanks to the quarter-point deduction for an incorrect choice. Except for the cases where students strove for a perfect score, it was more advantageous to leave x number of questions blank.

Now, however, the idea of “SAT strategy” will be tossed by the wayside. Is this good or bad? Perhaps we should simply say it assesses a different skill. The SAT Reasoning Test, to go by its full name, was designed to test a student’s ability to reason and evaluate. In reality, though, this has meant that Read the rest of this entry »


Does “AP” stand for “Absolutely Pointless”?

My 12-year-old son began his first semester in junior high this year. In July, all of us parents were rounded up for a three-hour information seminar. We visited each of the “Pre-AP” teachers’ rooms,  a total of seven different potential course offerings. In every session, the message was the same: you enrolled your kid in ALL Pre-AP classes if your child isn’t a complete dummy. Pre-AP, it was (sometimes not) patiently explained, was necessary for your child so that he or she could take AP courses in high school, and then be eligible to skip introductory courses in college. The point, apparently, was to save us a little money and to (it was implied) feel a bit superior about our offspring.

The same teachers who teach Pre-AP classes also teach regular courses. Although our “information seminar” was supposed to tell us the difference between the two types of classes, virtually none  of the teachers even mentioned the regular classes. The Pre-AP was pushed so hard it made a parent feel like admitting your kid was as on par intellectually with the Honey Boo Boo clan for simply asking about the differences.

As the evening droned on and on, I began to wonder: Whatever happened to teaching students at the actual level they are at, intellectually, emotionally, and socially? I wondered too, as a college professor myself, if AP is pushed so heavily, why is it that I find my freshmen so unprepared for the rigors of a college course? This week, the Atlantic published an article by John Tierney, a retired professor and high school AP teacher. Like me, Tierney wondered the same thing.

So why this huge push into AP?  Probably the biggest reason is that the College Board, which sets the standards and publishes the AP curriculum, earns over half of its earnings from AP courses. Which might be all right with everyone if high schools truly were turning out enhanced and advanced learners. However, in Tierney’s experience, and my own, they are not doing any such thing.

Tierney investigated the many reasons for the failures of the AP programs, and some confusion about their promises. For example, while AP courses in high school may let a college freshman “opt out” of an introductory course, they often do not receive actual “college credit” for AP classes as expected. And when they do get to skip an intro class, many students find that their AP classes in high school do not remotely resemble the challenges of a true college class, and many wish they HAD taken the regular introductory college course.

Another valid argument is Tierney’s opposition to “open enrollment” for  AP classes.  This was the case in my son’s new school. There was no merit base.  No one was asked to join because of high scores in elementary school or a teacher’s recommendation. What we were basically told is that Pre-AP was “sink or swim.” Tierney argues that, “two thirds of the students taking my class each year did not belong there. And they dragged down the course for the students who did.”

And what of the kids who fail to swim? It’s pretty grim, according to Tierney. He says that those classes get ever more full as the years wear on and some kids just can’t hack it, but they are not given the strongest teachers. Those teachers, of course, are reserved for the AP program. A lot of these non-swimmers are minorities, who will now face even more obstacles to higher education.

Finally, and reinforcing what I have already seen in my own home, the push to cover so much material so fast leads to “rigid stultification — a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry.” No wonder when I took my Freshmen out on a sunny day and we all did nothing but read Thoreau out loud to one another, they all looked stunned… then they slowly began to relax, smile, and enjoy the pleasures of learning. Sadly, high school teachers are not able to take their students down interesting paths of learning. After all… there’s a test coming up.


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