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 »


The Writer’s Diet: Is a Trim Essay a Good Essay?

WARNING: your writing may be headed for a coronary.

No, this is not an indictment of your eating habits. (Believe me–these days I can hardly put fingers to keyboard without a sugary coffee and half a bag of Cadbury’s mini eggs in me. I am intimately familiar with the ailment that is “writer’s bum.” Ergo, I am NOT the person to school anyone on the deviousness that occurs between hand and mouth.)

I am, however, qualified to speak on the trimness of your writing itself.

Back when I tutored students for the SAT and ACT writing exams, “eloquence” was a prominent focus of the grading rubric. And while eloquence to me, as a Literature and Creative Writing major in university, harkens back to the masters of language–Dickens, Bronte, Austen–“eloquence” (dubious quotation marks and all) to the standardized testing officials actually means quite the opposite; sentences should be devoid of descriptive words, lean to the point of dullness, about as tasty and filling as a leaf of lettuce. It was soul-crushing to teach, though perhaps a necessity when it comes to teaching high school students how to write effectively.

That’s why I found The Writer’s Diet, a new tool that objectively assesses the “leanness” of a writing sample, so interesting. Could it be a helpful tool for students? A measure of eloquence? To find out, I gave it a whirl with one of the best opening paragraphs in the history of the English novel.

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Oh my dickens! Look at that lovely paragraph splattered with ugly neon highlighter. What’s even more injurious to the eyes? The Writer’s Diet test’s fitness rating, which breaks down on a smug little bar graph the faults of A Tale of Two Cities.

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Alright, so I get it that this test is a totally algorithm-based assessment, and that I chose one of the most flowery writing samples in existence to try it out. But to say that Dickens is beyond flabby is frankly insulting. The only way the WD test could redeem itself now was by casting its harsh neon criticism across the greatest assault to English literature I know of… Fifty Shades of Grey.

So yeah, turns out that the passage about the girl feeling adventurous because she borrowed her boyfriend’s toothbrush is officially “Fit & trim.” Nice one, Writer’s Diet.

As it turns out, there is no objective assessment for good writing, because no algorithm can calculate style. And what I didn’t mention before is that style is the one factor of the SAT/ACT grading rubric that separates a mediocre essay from a great one. It’s one thing to be able to simply state a message, and another to instill it in your reader. So before you forsake all commas, dependent clauses, adjectives and adverbs, take some time to become a master of the English language. Scratch that–become an apprentice of the English language. Even a small infusion of style will take you further than you think.

After all, would you rather chomp into a low-fat, gluten free cracker or a dripping, succulent guacamole bacon burger?

Yeah, I think I know your answer to that already.


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