What the new 2016 SAT means for you

Redesigning the SAT for 2016

Big changes are coming to the SAT in the spring of 2016.  On March 5th, College Board President David Coleman revealed his organization’s plans to shift the SAT from superficially testing a broad selection of concepts to more focused testing on a select few concepts.  Some original elements will remain, but the 2016 SAT will be less complex, more in context with the real world, and more accessible to all types of students.  These changes are also meant to address concerns that the current SAT does not accurately predict a student’s college-readiness.

Who is affected?

If your student is a current sophomore, junior, or senior in 2014, then they need not worry about the 2016 SAT redesign.  In other words, as long as your student is graduating by the spring of 2016, then they will not see the new SAT.  If your student is a current freshman in 2014, then they will be affected by the 2016 redesign, since they will be juniors in the spring of 2016.  These students will have the rare opportunity to take both versions of the SAT, which can work in their favor if a student scores better on the old versus the new SAT.

Changes to structure

The 2016 SAT will still feature three sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, and the Essay.  For the first time, the test will be available both on paper and on computers in select locations.

No longer paired with a writing section, the Essay will be optional and receive its own separate score, much like the ACT.  Students will read a passage and analyze the author’s ability to persuade readers.  The prompt will be the same across all versions of the 2016 SAT, but the passage will vary from test to test.  The Essay will be scored based on the strength of the student’s analysis and writing ability.

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section replaces the current SAT’s Critical Reading section and will feature passages pulled from a much wider range of fields and subjects.  It will combine elements from the current SAT’s Writing section.  Every 2016 SAT will feature an excerpt from one of the USA’s founding documents, such as the Bill of Rights.

Instead of sampling from multiple mathematic concepts, the 2016 Math section will focus on three areas: data analysis and statistics, linear equations and systems, and higher-level functions.  Versus the current SAT, students will be required to have a working proficiency on a narrower range of concepts, making review relatively easier.  While the 2016 SAT will still have a few questions from other areas of math, it will mostly test algebra concepts that are used across all areas of study in college.

Changes to scoring

The 2016 SAT will revert to the original 1600-point scale, with Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math each receiving a scaled score of 800 points.  Since the Essay is optional, it will receive a separate score.  However, the biggest change to the 2016 SAT is that there are NO penalties for incorrect answers or skipped questions.  Students will no longer be penalized for educated guesses.

Changes to questions

“SAT words,” or those words you’ve never seen before and never will again, will be eliminated from the 2016 SAT.  Instead, vocabulary words will be tested in-context and will be more consistent with a student’s current and future vernacular.  The new “SAT words” will be words that should appear in college and in their career.

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing passages will feature literary and nonliterary passages, as well as graphs and charts.  Students will be asked questions based on the information in the passage, but they will also be asked to cite what part of the passage is the evidence that supports their answer.  Students will be asked to edit inconsistencies between reports and data.

The Math section will feature “real world” scenarios, such as in the sciences or career situations.  Students will be tasked with mathematically analyzing these scenarios by solving the series of word problems that follow each scenario.

What should be done?

Current sophomores and juniors should focus their efforts on preparing for the current version of the SAT.

Current freshmen should begin reviewing for both versions of the SAT as early as the summer before their junior year.  Exact specifications and content for the 2016 redesign will be released by College Board next month on April 16, 2014, along with sample questions.  Thus, current freshmen will have about 1.5 years to slowly familiarize themselves with the structure of the new content.

More information concerning changes can be found here: https://www.collegeboard.org/delivering-opportunity/sat/redesign

What about the PSAT?

Historically, the PSAT has featured any changes made to the SAT in the fall before the new SAT is rolled out.  This means that the new PSAT should appear in the fall of 2015 and act as a preview to the 2016 SAT.  Current freshmen eyeing a possible National Merit Semi-Finalist designation should absolutely review the new content.

Leveling the playing field

David Coleman stressed in his announcement that the 2016 changes are designed to level the playing field for all college-minded students.  By eliminating esoteric elements from the SAT and focusing on more specific, real-world context content, the College Board hopes the 2016 SAT will be more about opening doors rather than fitting them with complex locks only solved by the most well-equipped student.

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