Ready Reckoner: Everything you need to know about the New SAT

We expect some constants in life. The sun will rise in the east. Primetime TV debates will get harder on our ears every single day. The SAT will continue, as the institution it is, long beyond our lifetimes.

But sometimes, even the SAT changes. For the first time in a decade, the world’s most important undergraduate admission exam is undergoing an overhaul, and the old SAT will give way to the New SAT. This has understandably had a lot of people asking a lot of questions – we counsel dozens of anxious families every day, who want to know whether the new SAT is going to be easier, more difficult, longer, shorter, and so on.

Here, for the first time, is an exhaustive overview of the New SAT:

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Section 1: Key points about the New SAT

Why is there a new SAT?

The SAT has been the pre-eminent standardized test of its type for decades. However, you sometimes need to keep running to stay in place, and the ACT – the new kid on the block – is growing faster than the SAT. In addition, the College Board takes a large number of surveys every year, and periodically acts on the results of those surveys. The result – an overhaul of the existing SAT to create the new SAT.

What is new about the SAT?

There are many small differences, but they can be summed up in a few lines, thus: The new SAT is leaner, and more structured. The Math section has more focus, and more rigour, than in the earlier version. There are many superficial differences (e.g. a 1600 point scale, the essay being ‘optional’), but we will examine them in detail in the next section, and show how they do not really make a large difference.

When will the new SAT start?

In March 2016, the new SAT will be offered for the first time in the US, and in May 2016 in all other countries. January 2016 will be the last month in which the old SAT will be offered; there are many students who are at an advanced stage in their prep, and want to give the format they are familiar with, who will be looking for a date in this slot.

Section 2: Differences between the new SAT and the old SAT

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

At first glance, it might seem like the SAT has turned on its head. But that is definitely not the case; the only substantial difference is that the new SAT is more application and analysis oriented. Here is a rundown of the major differences between the current SAT and the new SAT:

2400 is now 1600: Long ago, the (really) old SAT had a 1600 point scale. That changed about ten years ago, when the current SAT happened. The new SAT goes back to a 1600 point scale, with 800 points each coming from Math and English. The Maths section will be scored in a range of 200-800 and English in a range of 200-800. The total SAT will be scored on 400-1600. One major change is that the Essay score will NOT be a part of the total score. The essay will be scored separately on a scale of 2 – 8.

4 answer options: In the current SAT, you have to pick one correct answer from five options. In the new SAT, you have 4 options. So, your chances of getting it right has increased from 20% to 25%!

Vocabulary should not scare you anymore: In the current SAT, there is a certain focus on vocabulary in the verbal section. In the new SAT, it is no longer the case. The focus is more on contextual meanings and analysis. So, you do not have to mug up words.

Wrong answers are still bad, but they’re not the end of the world: The current SAT penalizes those who give wrong answers, with a small but significant quarter mark penalty for every mistake. The new SAT will do away with negative marking altogether.So do make sure that you attempt everything in the new SAT – you have nothing to lose.

Post test, you will get a detailed breakdown of how you did: Your score report will now give you a breakdown of performance by section and skill, with analytics and charts. This will enable you to send customized reports to your target universities, and also help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, to help you perform better on standardized tests in the future.

The Essay is ‘optional’, but not really optional: The new SAT will, for the first time, give test takers the option of not attempting the essay, but beware of leaving it out, and leaving your centre in 3 hours. Most schools that you will want to apply to will still require essay scores reported separately from your main score, so do talk to your coaches before taking this step. For all intents and purposes, the essay remains compulsory.

A lot of numbers change: The number of sections in Math and English will change; sections, in general will become shorter and more concise. The essay will need to be more data and fact intensive. Overall, there is more focus on the numbers, and on structure. Every detail matters.

Section 3: Misconceptions, and key success factors

“Do I need to be a math whiz to even have a chance at success in the new SAT?”

The new SAT does not necessarily have a quant section that is more difficult; it just looks for a more structured way of thinking. Problem solving is a focus, and three areas have been specifically identified (Data analysis, Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math). All the indications so far say that the ‘syllabus’ will not become more ‘vast’; everyone will be studying the same amount they did before – with a focus on depth of understanding, rather than memorizing, or practicing, different formats of sums.

“Is the new SAT completely different from the old SAT? Will those who mastered the old format be able to advise on the new one?”

On the surface, there might seem to be many differences between the new SAT and the old, but they are mainly of two kinds. There are the superficial differences (e.g. 2400 → 1600), and the deeper differences (more structure in the Math section). The latter is a set of changes to a system, so those coaches who were able to deliver results earlier will probably be those who can adapt most quickly to a new system.

“Will everyone taking the new SAT in 2016 be like a guinea pig, and will their scores be significantly lower than the scores of anyone in the old SAT?”

This is definitely not true. Since the SAT scoring is on a bell curve, the average score is unlikely to change at all. In addition, the new SAT is not necessarily tougher, it just necessitates different preparation. Additionally, the difference in preparation is not absolute; it will change perhaps 10% of the preparation cycle. Hence, there is no reason to think that any prep so far will go down the drain.

Given that changes are coming, and that those who are clued in to the new system best will do well, it is critical that you find the right partner in your journey to the top undergraduate programs in the world. If you would like to learn more about the new SAT, and understand how it will impact your preparation, do get in touch with Jamboree.

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