What to expect from the new SAT

On March 5, thousands of students nationwide will take the redesigned version of the test.

The revamped version of the SAT debuts March 5. Alex Brandon/AP

When Maria Selian heard that the SAT was changing its format, she was concerned for her daughter, Tori. The redesigned test would be released during the spring of Tori’s junior year of high school, which is when many high schoolers take the test for the first time.

“I was a little bit uneasy because of the timing for a child graduating in 2017,’’ she said. “I thought, ‘Should she take it or not?’ ‘What are her options?’’’

But Tori, now a junior at Newton Country Day School, wasn’t nervous. She’d already made up her mind about which test she would take.

On Saturday, March 5, Tori, and thousands of other students nationwide will take the “new’’ version of the SAT, which was first announced by the College Board in March 2014. Some test-prep experts believe the College Board decided to redesign the test because, in 2012, for the first time in the history of standardized tests, more students took the ACT than the SAT.

“I’m not sure the College Board will ever admit this, but, after 2012, they needed to make a test that students would want to take,’’ said Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert, a test-prep company that opened a Boston location this month. “People perceived the ACT as being easier, and, if colleges accept both equally, why wouldn’t you take ACT?’’

Here’s what changed: The new version of the test eliminated the guessing penalty, and decreased the number of answer choices from five to four. It also made the essay optional, which meant that the test would now be scored out of 1,600 points instead of 2,400.


Students can also say goodbye to “crepuscular’’ and “blunderbuss.’’ The test scrapped its challenging “SAT vocabulary words’’ in favor of featuring words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis’’ and “empirical.’’

The math portion of the exam will focus on linear equations, complex equations or functions and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. And finally, the exam will now include source documents from a wide range of subject areas, including science and social studies. This means every test will now feature a reading passage from one of the nation’s “founding documents,’’ such as the Bill of Rights.

Many students, including Tori, saw the changes as positive. But there have been some bumps along the road in the roll-out. The College Board has only released four complete practice versions of the test, which is minuscule compared to the hundreds of versions that exist for the old test. The College Board has already announced that scores from the first test will be delayed, which means students won’t receive them before they take the test when it’s offered again in May. That’s double the current wait time.

Because of this, Jay Bacrania, CEO of Signet Education, a Boston-based college-prep and tutoring company, said he’s seen more students opting to take the ACT this year. Tori took the ACT last month, and said she preferred it to the practice versions she’s taken of the new SAT.

“I’m a fast reader, so I like how quickly you can go with the ACT,’’ she said. “I also like vocabulary, so, if that were still on the SAT, I would’ve been ready to go in and do that. But I do like how there are four answer choices instead of five.’’


Matt Otting, a junior from Amherst, also chose not to take the older version of the test, though his reasoning was different. The new test and the old test can’t be superscored together, and because the test has not been issued yet, he thinks it might take a couple tries to improve his score.

“I’m nervous about taking the test,’’ Otting said. “I have put so much work into my GPA, extracurriculars, and AP tests, that it seems my SAT score is the final piece to the college admissions puzzle.’’

Although the new SAT is now designed to be more reflective of the Common Core and what students are learning in the classroom, Bacrania said someone would take the new SAT for the same reason they would take the old SAT over the ACT.

“Both tests have a slightly different approach and slightly different in skills they emphasize,’’ he said. “For the ACT, you need to be able to read quickly because it gives less time for questions. On the SAT, there’s not as much time pressure.’’

Students don’t need to go to a tutoring company to figure out which test to take. Bacrania said they can take a practice test at home and see which one they prefer before focusing their efforts on one particular test.

Or, like Tori, they could take both.

“There’s no way for me to really know what the new test will be like until I take it,’’ she said. “So I’m not too nervous. But I hope I only have to take it once.’’


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