10 Ways the SAT is Changing

….And how you can prepare

By Andrea Slaydon

When you think of taking the SAT test, what comes to mind? Memorizing vocabulary words? Cramming for weeks? Worrying about what to write on the essay? Well, all of that is changing. The College Board is drastically changing the way the SAT works, and it could mean students will do better on the test.

Typically the SAT test is taken by students seeking entrance into a college or university.

“Bottom-line, the SAT determines where you get to go to college and who is going to pay,” says Fayee Czarnik, SAT instructor with College Prep Genius. “Universities and colleges use scores on the SAT and ACT to determine eligibility for many of their academic scholarships. Colleges go up on their rankings nationally based on test scores, so the higher the scores the more money you get! Scholarships could include full-ride, free tuition, free room and board, honor dorms, and other valuable incentives.”

The College Board says the new test will be, “more focused on the skills and knowledge at the heart of education. You’ll be asked questions grounded in the real world, directly related to work performed in college and career.”

Basically, the College Board wants students to use the information they are learning in high school, instead of just memorizing knowledge for the test. The new test is designed to do a better job at predicting college performance.

10 Ways the SAT is Changing

1. Score Scale: Test test score is returning to the old 1600 standard. If you graduated high school in 2005 or earlier, you probably remember the “1600” scoring. In 2005, the SAT changed the format and scored out of a 2400.The new 2016 test score will range from 400-1600.

2. No Penalty for guessing. Students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers. You simply earn points for the questions you answer correctly. This means an end to going back over the test and randomly filling in the bubbles on the empty answers.

3. Optional Essay. You read that right. You don’t have to take the essay portion if you don’t want to do it. There also will be changes with the way the essay is given. Instead of giving an opinion on a topic, students will be asked to read a selected passage from a previously published, high quality source and then respond to the reading in essay form. You will be given 50 minutes to write the essay, and it will be given at the end of the test instead of the first section since it is optional. (While it is optional, many colleges will require it, so make sure to check before taking the test.)

4. Fewer answer choices. There will be four answer choices instead of the current five. This technically means you have a better chance at getting the right answer. You have a 25% chance of getting the right answer compared to a 20% chance in the current version.

Czarnik says the questions are still logic based.

“The test is not about IQ, so students need to learn the hidden, recurring patterns that point the students to the answer,” she says, “These questions are purposely tricky, and the wrong answers look very appealing so students.”

There are also fewer questions. The current SAT has 171 questions total, including the essay. The 2016 test has 154 questions total, with the optional essay. You still have three hours to complete the Q & A sections of the SAT, so essentially you are getting more time for each question.

5. Longer sections: The question formatting will be a little different. Currently the SAT has three sections: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. These sections are broken up into 10 subsections. The new test will just have four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math and the optional Essay.

6. More Real History reading: The College Board says the new SAT reading section will include excerpts from important United States documents like the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. This doesn’t mean you need to be more familiar with the documents, it is just included to make sure the test is better in sync to what students are learning in school.

7. Math word problems: There will be less geometry, more algebra, problem solving and data analysis. Some Trigonometric skills and linear equations will be added. Most of the math section will be a lot like the reading section.

“Math fluency, as traditionally thought of, is changing entirely,” says Ellie Franz, Director of the LearningRX, Katy. “Students will be given more word problems pertaining to everyday life situations. These will assess a student’s ability to derive the math necessary to complete the problems. All of this will require good reading comprehension.”

A calculator will only be allowed in certain parts of the math section, as opposed to all of the math section on the current test.

8. No more random vocabulary words: Goodbye flashcards! The new SAT does away with obscure vocabulary words. The College Board says they will test students on familiar words they hear and use. Questions in the vocabulary section will instead focus on the knowledge of the word using relevant context. Another bonus: Antonym and analogy questions are gone on the new test.

9. Computer Option: Starting in 2016, the SAT will be available in paper and digital formats. Previously, the SAT was given with paper and pencil only.

10. Free Test Prep: This is a big one! The College Board teamed up with Khan Academy to offer free, personalized SAT practice help. This means students no longer need to sign up for the sometimes expensive programs like Princeton Review or Kaplan. Since the Khan Academy is working hand and hand with The College Board, which creates the SAT, the free prep might also be the best for students to use.

Even with the best online test prep, some students benefit best from having the face-to-face test prep method. There are many companies out there, including College Prep Genius, that offer live classes or DVD sessions.

But still, Czarnik says even good students can bomb the SAT.

Her top tips for doing well:

  • Don’t take the SAT just once.
  • Don’t wait until your senior year to prepare, start early.
  • Don’t use fake tests to practice! Only use study guides published by the College Board.
  • Test taking is a learnable skill. Given enough time and practice most students can do well.
  • If you have already been taking test preps, don’t think you have to start over. Previous information learned is still helpful to your preparation.

“Start taking SATs early in high school so you can become familiar with the test and have time to work on your weaknesses. This will give you plenty of opportunities to take the test before applying to colleges in the fall of your senior year.” says Czarnik.

Your first chance to take the new SAT is March 5, 2016. The College Board reminds, SAT scores and high school GPA are a powerful combination. Used together, there’s nothing better at predicting potential college success. For more details on specific changes, sample questions and test taking time tables, visit collegeboard.org.

SAT Tips from Students

“Study what your most struggling in, and ask a few teachers if they could help you out. Don’t just study the easy stuff that you already know,” – Jamie Contreras, 18, current student at SFA

“Use process of elimination the best you can!” – Maggie Carter, 17

“Don’t spend too much time on questions that stumble you. And relax, it is just a test!” – Mandi Vincent, 20, current SHSU student.

“Get plenty of sleep and a good breakfast the night before. It really does make a difference!,” – Julie Riggs, 18.