Changes to the SAT: What You Need to Know

Just a few weeks ago, the College Board, publishers of the SAT announced sweeping changes to the test that will impact over 2 million students throughout the country.  Today, they released additional information as well as sample test questions.  Here at Educational Connections, we’ve been reviewing the specs document as well as the test.  I’ve created a Q&A list of the topics that are most pertinent to parents of middle and high schoolers.

collegeboardWhat are the changes that test takers will see in 2016?

There are a lot of changes, but here are the big ones:

Right now, there are three sections: critical reading, writing, and math. Students can earn a top score of 2400 points. The new test is going back to the 1600 scale just like in the old days.  You may remember this format when you took the test years ago.  It includes two sections only.  Math will remain a standalone section, but critical reading and writing will be combined and renamed “evidence-based reading and writing.”  The essay will be optional on the new test whereas now it is required.  I have to think that every competitive school will want to see the essay, so there’s no free ride here.

Secondly, there will be a bit less strategizing on the student’s part.  There will be no penalty for wrong answers.  Currently, a quarter point is deducted for each incorrect answer.  The College Board believes that this will reduce the amount of strategy practice students do to prepare for the test, but I believe that students will continue to prep, just in different ways.  Now, pacing throughout each section will be more important than ever.  In order to earn as many points as possible, students will want to work quickly in order to attempt as many questions as possible.

The most significant and most important change is that the new SAT will better reflect what students are learning in school.  The biggest criticism of the current version is that it tests content such as esoteric vocabulary and math concepts that are not relevant to a student’s ability to succeed in college and career.  It requires a tremendous amount of critical thinking and analysis.  In fact, we see many of our hard-working, straight “A” students who are not great standardized test takers, elect to take the ACT.

Why did College Board decide to change the test?

There were a variety of reasons, but many believe that competition from the ACT was the driver.  For the first time ever, more students took the ACT than the SAT last school year. The ACT has grown 128% in popularity since 1986 while the SAT has grown only 68%.

This morning, the College Board released sample test  questions, which we’ve reviewed here at EC Tutoring.  Many of the sample questions are similar to those found on the ACT.  For example, after a brief passage, the student is asked questions about the punctuation in specific underlined parts and broader, organizational type questions about the structure of the passage.

Another reason the test is changing is to align with the much-discussed Common Core standards, which the president of the College Board helped to design. These standards dictate what students should learn in English and Math from kindergarten to the 12th grade.  They’ve been adopted in 45 states and the District (Virginia elected not to adopt them, but Maryland did).

What impact might these changes have on which test students decide to take? 

There is so much uncertainty about the SAT now and it’s likely that that preparation materials may be limited in the beginning.  Here at EC Tutoring, we’ve seen a preference towards the ACT even before the College Board announced the redesign.  I believe that the ACT will gain even greater momentum with the students in our area because of the ambiguity associated with the new SAT.

scantronWhich students will be impacted by the new SAT changes?

Current freshmen and those in grades below will be affected; however, current sophomores, juniors, and of course, seniors will take the current version.  In the spring of 2016, when the new exam is rolled out, the class of 2017 will have a choice to take the new version or the old one.

Are college admission tests still relevant at this point?

The bottom line is that most competitive colleges want to see top test scores.  Although GPA is the primary factor in admission decisions, test scores are a close second.  Although standardized testing plays a role in admissions, many schools realize that GPA is a greater indicator of college success.  Over 850 colleges in the US are now test-optional.  That means that if the student has a high GPA, he or she does not need to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of the application.

For example, Wake Forest stopped requiring the ACT and SAT and as a result saw their incoming class’s GPA increase.  They also saw a more diverse pool of applicants.  On the other hand, schools such as the University of Arizona receive so many applications that it’s not possible for the admission team to vet them all. So they use standardized tests to set cutoff points to decide which applications they will review.

We’ll continue to monitor the changes to the test for our clients.  Look for our test prep summer program information to be released shortly.  For rising juniors, we’re assessing their scores to help them determine which test will be best and to prep accordingly.  Rising seniors will continue to prepare for one last exam in the fall of the coming year.  If we can be of assistance to help your high school get ahead this summer or now, let me know.  I can be reached at