If you’re taking the current SAT, you can safely ignore this. But if you are interested in the changes that will come in 2016, read on …
Today, the College Board released a 211-page document with info about the new test as well as practice questions. Much more to come as I digest this in more detail, but a few initial reactions from my quick skimming this evening:
Reading: Many of the question types look similar to current questions (and this is probably why there will be more time allotted for the SAT reading section—65 min!—than for the ACT reading section … ACT questions tend to be worded differently and go after different ideas). I continue to see a focus on the author’s argument, structure of a text, words in context, etc. The format—elimination of sentence completions, addition of figures, combination into a single section—does look a lot more like the ACT. I’m not sold on the presence of so many speeches in the sample materials—I’m not persuaded that the SAT is the best context for this. I also think that losing the explicit vocabulary component is a negative (I don’t find SAT vocab too esoteric, since the words are ubiquitous in college-level reading). I am glad, though, that they seem to be leaving a lot of question types fairly intact (and that these question types are different from ACT question types).
Writing: YES, they kept a real grammar section (writing and language test)! (I had been slightly concerned that this would be minimized, and—after having spent significant time grading college students’ essays—would have seen that as a negative.) Again, there are some real parallels with the ACT in terms of format, an apparent increase in punctuation, etc. Honestly, I like the game element of the current find-the-errors section and will miss that. However, the new grammar section looks much more straightforward (except perhaps for the graphics), and that is a positive thing.
Essay: I’m not going to miss the current essay. Glad to see an increase in the time to 50 min—25 min is so short! I think pretty much anyone in my line of work isn’t surprised that there’s a significant change. One thing that I do like about the SAT is how it makes people think through what an author is actually arguing (as opposed to what the reader thinks about the excerpt). I like that the essay is emphasizing this even more by making students write about the author’s argument (rather than forcing them to take positions on a particular issue).
Math: Wow—no calculators for part of the exam (!), and the addition of trig and complex numbers …Also, there seem to be even more extended word problems. Lots of stuff looks pretty similar, though—you’ll still need to be comfortable with basic algebra and geometry. From the sample questions, it looks like plugging in and backsolving will still be your friends.
A couple of (almost) final thoughts: Sections are much longer (and there are fewer). Also, I’m not sold on some of the College Board’s names for groups of concepts (Passport to Advanced Math, Heart of Algebra, Great Global Conversation … the first makes me wonder who is traveling, the second is very close to the title of a famous novel by Joseph Conrad that is well worth reading if you haven’t already, and the third … I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this is about).
Overall, this test will still assess reading, writing, and math skills. In order to do well, you’re going to need to know many of the same skills necessary to achieve a high score on the current version. The new version is still two years away, so there’s plenty of time before you see it on test day (though you will continue to see experimental sections that draw from these new questions). In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to focus on the current SAT (and ACT), which is the test that most of you will be taking!