We’ve spent a good chunk of our summer looking at the redesigned SAT–the one that will be at testing centers near you in March of 2016. It’s actually been a lot of fun, because believe it or not, we like this kind of stuff. It’s one of the reasons we do what we do: we see the SAT as a game, and we think it’s awfully fun to help other people see it that way too.
So if it’s a game, what are the basic rules? You’re probably more or less familiar with the current SAT, whether you realize it or not–your teachers at school have been feeding you information that can help you succeed on it, such as obtuse and esoteric vocabulary lists (see what I did there?). But here’s a refresher: the current SAT has 10 different sections, most of them 25 minutes long. Three of them–the essay and two writing sections–count toward the writing score, three of them are critical reading sections, and three of them are math sections.
If you were doing the math there, you know that there’s still one section to account for. That’s because somewhere in all of that, there’s one additional section for one of those three subjects. It’s a random section–you won’t know which one it is–and it doesn’t count toward your score. In fact, College Board uses it to test new questions and to help scale future tests.
The bottom line is that where the old test had three different sections, each with a possible score of 800, for a possible combined score of 2400:
the new SAT folds the writing and critical reading sections back together into a single score, which is now called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. (We say “back together” because when we were in high school, that’s the way the SAT looked.) The other major subject is Mathematics, so you have a total of 1600 possible points–with a separate score for the optional essay.
Where the old test begins with a fast and furious 25-minute essay, the new test begins with a marathon: a 65-minute reading test with 52 questions. The questions are based on a series of passages, many of them longer than you’ve usually seen on standardized tests, and some of them include charts and graphs (think USA Today and you’ll have the right idea). Are there questions about the graphs? You bet. It’s part of a College Board effort to include more data analysis in the whole test, not just a few math questions.
Fortunately, with the new test you’ll also get longer breaks between sections–long enough to use the bathroom and to wolf down a hard-boiled egg.
Next up is the writing and language test, 35 minutes long, with 44 questions. This section is very similar to the writing sections on the current SAT: you’ll read a passage with underlined sections and then choose the best way the underlined section could be phrased. You’ll also see a few questions about editing: which sentence should come first (and why)? What kind of information would be best to place in the middle of this paragraph? Believe it or not, you’ll see some charts here too.
Section 3 is math, and it’s here that you’ll see one of the big changes in the test: no calculators are permitted in this 25-minute, 20-question section. Remember fourth-grade multiplication–the kind you did on paper, where you had to carry the 2 and add a zero to each new line? You’re going to use it here. The last five questions are also grid-ins, where you’ll have to come up with an answer all by yourself instead of getting to choose A, B, C, or D (that’s another big change, by the way–the redesigned SAT questions have four answers instead of five, and College Board has done away with the “guessing penalty”–the -.25 off your raw score for each question you answer incorrectly).
Section 4 is more math, but you get to use your calculator this time. It’s a long section, too: 55 minutes for 38 questions. What you’re going to notice about the math sections on the new SAT is that College Board is taking a very different approach to math from the one it’s taken on previous SATs. Sometimes the question doesn’t just ask for the correct answer–it asks for it in a certain format, like slope-intercept format, or the form of the equation that gives you the x-intercepts of a parabola. And some of the test questions are a lot more related to real life (there are questions about what you’d do if you were a scientist doing field research, and one about video game scoring). There’s some light trigonometry. There’s also some more sophisticated data analysis than we’re seen before on the SAT–things you might not know unless you’ve taken an introductory statistics class.
Last–and definitely not least, because while it’s optional to write it, the school you want to attend may require it–is the essay. At 50 minutes, it’s twice as long as the required essay on the current SAT, so get those hand muscles warmed up and stretched out before it begins. It’s a particular kind of essay, too, one that you’ve probably been working on in your English literature classes. You’ll read a passage that’s about two pages long, and then your job is to analyze it and tell why it’s effective. How does the author build his or her argument? What kinds of evidence, reasoning, and persuasive elements are present?
So there are your rules, gamers. Play it smart and be prepared–we always advise you to go in with the deck stacked in your favor.