Published On: Tuesday, July 5, 2016|Categories: News, Parents, Tenney Subscribers|

After 30 years, the new SAT rolled out in March 2016 with substantial changes. This post will explain some of the changes made and the initial feedback on the new SAT.

What’s different?

Scoring: The scoring changes are two-fold: Firstly, the point scale will return to 1600.  This is a return to the grading scale used prior to 2005; secondly, there will no longer be a point reduction for wrong answers, encouraging students to answer all questions. In the past versions of the SAT, students would lose points if they answered a question wrong, but lost no points if they simply skipped the question (which still wasn’t right). Now, students will not lose points either way.  This change in scoring will change the test taking strategies students use while taking the exam.

SAT Words: Anyone who has ever taken an SAT test or known someone who has, may have heard comments about the “SAT words.”  David Coleman, the president of the College Board, which administers the SAT, had made suggestions prior to this regarding the SAT words. He felt the SAT words were the type of words students would not have seen or used before and probably never would, with the exception of the SAT test. He argued that what was the use, really, of testing students on impractical vocabulary, when it made much more sense to test using words that would be necessary for college, career, and life in general. At first, Mr. Coleman met with resistance. One critique he received was that he “was sending a message that devalues language.” However, in the long run, he won the case for practical language testing. The new SAT will zero in on words that the student will use after high school. Words such as “empirical” and “synthesis” were two such examples.

Essay Option: The writing section of the SAT used to be essential for completion of the test, now it is optional. This will likely be a relief for those students who are not as comfortable expressing themselves in written form. The College Board felt the essay portion had not proven over time to be a prognostic of college preparedness, and the Board members weren’t in harmony about whether the essay portion was useful or not. Due to these two reasons, they made the essay optional, and it’s scored separately.

Other features of the essay will change also; the previous SAT required students to respond to a “prompt using their own background and experiences, and evaluators did not verify the accuracy of their argument or examples.” They were given 25 minutes to complete their responses. The new SAT will give students evidence to assess and they must write a critique, using the material provided. They will have 50 minutes to complete their work.

Reading: The reading passages on the new SAT will come from what the College Board is calling a “Founding Document” or a “Great Global Conversation.” They have pointed to such works as the Declaration of Independence and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I have a Dream” speech. The older version of the SAT had random reading passages with no predictability.

Math: The new SAT limits the use of calculators but also limits the amount of concepts covered; so, it is an even trade-off. Instead, more algebra and problem-solving is covered.


Approximately 60% of the students who took the test felt the questions were more straightforward and simple to understand than the previous version. “About half, 48%, said the test was about what they expected, 30% felt the test was more difficult than expected and 22% felt it was less difficult than they expected.”

Here are a couple of student testimonials:

Brian Keyes, a junior at Woodrow Wilson High, had positive remarks about the new SAT.

“There aren’t as many questions where it’s trying to trick you … It was much more straightforward,” he said

For math, he said, “the new version was a lot more like basic concepts, so it wouldn’t be very obscure formulas that you have to remember. If you had the basics of algebra down, even if the problem was difficult, you could work your way through it.”

Isabel Suarez had this to say: “I liked it better than the old one. I thought that it was way more applicable to what we’ve been learning in school. The English was a lot easier for me than it was with the old one.”

At the Tenney School, we are keeping you on top of the latest in academic developments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, please contact us today!

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