Is The New SAT Harder Than the Old One?

ScantronThere are major changes to the SAT and it is important to know some key differences about this test to best help your child. It seems that some changes are beneficial while other factors make the test much more difficult.

One major change is that there are no longer point deductions for incorrect answers, which was the case with the old test and made it tricky to know when to guess and when to skip questions.

Another change is that now there are only 4 answer choices compared to 5, which increases the chances of guessing correctly. With the new test, students should always guess on questions they are unsure about to maximize their score.


But do more substantial changes to the content make the test harder? Let’s look and see…

More time, but also wordier questions…

Though students are given more time per question compared to the old test, the questions are also much wordier. The New SAT focuses on giving background information and putting problems into context. For example, in the Writing and Language portion, instead of focusing on specific sentences to correct, students must now read a passage and figure out the best correction.  Gone are the days where students only needed to interpret grammatical errors.

With the Writing and Language problems now embedded within a passage, this means that students will need to read around the question for context to understand what to change in each question. Additionally, there are also more rhetorical questions that require students to understand passages and determine sentence placements.

Math & the new SAT

Significant changes to the Math Section in the New SAT include:

  • Content covers through trigonometry
  • Wordy problems mean more reading is involved
  • 1/3 of the questions test students’ ability to interpret and use data

On the old SAT, students who were strong in math were able to excel because the test was designed to test a student’s ability in math. Now, even though the Math section constitutes half of the overall points possible, this may not be an advantage for students who are strong in math but weak in reading since there is quite a lot of reading involved in the Math portion of the test.

The no-calculator portion

As you may know, many students now overly rely on calculators to solve math problems. Because many math classes in school allow calculators, kids may have forgotten how to solve some fundamental algebra problems without a calculator. Knowing that there will be a portion that does not allow calculators, the Math test can now seem a lot more intimidating to kids.

Adding to the difficulty, the new test now includes concepts through trigonometry, which is more than the Algebra 2 that was required on the old test. This means that students who have not taken trigonometry by the time of taking the test will have a harder time with the more advanced math content.

The essay: better or worse?

Looking at the completely redesigned essay on the New SAT, it is much more formulaic than before and tailored towards what students use in English class. Students are given a passage and asked to write an essay about how well the author conveys his or her ideas. Examining a passage and writing about how well the author persuades an audience is really just a typical “passage analysis” essay taught in high school English class.

Although more time is required to read and understand the prompt and passage with this new test, students also get double the time they had before to write their essays. With much more time to plan and write, this new Essay may be easier for students who tend to do well in high school English class and are strong at writing.

The all-important question: should my child take the new SAT?

In many ways the content on the New SAT is now more difficult than the old SAT. For this reasons, we are seeing a huge trend towards taking the ACT for current juniors.

If your child is deciding between taking the New SAT and the ACT, one thing we would recommend is taking a diagnostic test under testing conditions. Taking a mock test gives the best representation of how your child will do on the actual test. Comparing your child’s New SAT and ACT scores will help determine where your child’s strengths lie and how to best tackle the exam.

At Educational Connections we offer free mock tests each month in Fairfax. Click here for a list of our upcoming test dates.