With all of the hype, I would wager that the changes coming to the SAT will be around for a while. The last big change was in 2005 when analogies and quantitative comparisons were dropped and the Writing Section was added to make the exam almost 4 hours long. The redesigned SAT is scheduled to debut in March, 2016; the redesigned PSAT – the precursor to the SAT – will debut this October!

Here’s all you need to know about the new SAT . . .

Let’s look at the current SAT. There are three multiple choice sections – 9 alternating sections of each – 25 -10 minutes long – and a  mandatory essay. Each section is worth 800 points; the essay is factored into the Writing score.

  • Critical Reading Skills: with an emphasis on picking up on nuanced implications and inferences and vocabulary in terms of choosing the word or words that ‘fits’ a sentence’s core idea best
    • Math: which is basically testing logical reasoning with numbers, and does not actually test much high level math
    • Writing (grammar): by having students identify sentence errors and best sentence restatements
    • Essay Writing: which many schools do not even consider – asks students to take a stance on a rather global, often controversial topic

So what’s up with the new SAT? There are now two longer multiple choice sections and an optional essay*.

  • Evidence-Based Reading, Writing and Language: which still focuses on critical thinking as well as a stronger emphasis on the skills and knowledge mandatory for college and career success. Such skills include analyzing a sequence of paragraphs to make sure that they are not only correct substantially but grammatically as well. Students will be asked to interpret graphics and edit the accompanying passages. There will be a greater emphasis on the meanings of words in extended context as well as how word choice impacts meaning and tone. (Gone are the sentence completion questions which can test more esoteric language.)
    • Math Section: will focus on “math that matters most” including problem solving and data analysis, linear equations and systems, and more complex equations and systems. Studies have shown that competency in these areas of math contribute to college and career readiness. The math sections will also include multi-step applications to solve problems in social science, science, career scenarios and other real life applications.
    • 50 minute Optional Essay: now at the end of the exam – tests not only writing skills but reading and analysis.

*There are many more ‘moving parts’ and overlapping skills on the redesigned SAT in that the sections are not as black and white as before. This in itself may make it a fairer exam especially since it appears to echo the Common Core standards. i.e. more achievement based.

So what’s it really like?

  • The multiple choice will have only four options instead of five
  • Gone is the penalty for an incorrect answer
  • The score will be based on the two sections, 800 points each; the essay is scored separately, 1-4 on each of the three categories measured.
  • The test will be shorter, 3 hours + 50 optional essay. (Which based on the latest information, most schools will require.)


Here are example questions from the 3 major types of questions:

READING: The critical reading section will take 65 minutes, and contain 52 multiple choice questions. There will be 4 single passages and one double passage, usually 8-10 questions per passage. They will average 500-750 words and typically come from 4 genres of writing: history, social studies, science and literature. (Prior language is not necessary.)

EXAMPLE from the Reading:

“The coming decades will likely see more intense clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions.”
Intense: most nearly means: (A) emotional (B) concentrated (C) brilliant (D) determined. The answer is B.

WRITING AND LANGUAGE: This 35 minute section will have 44 questions. It tests college and career readiness in editing and revising a variety of texts in a 4 of content areas: career, history/social studies, humanities, and science. The areas tested are conformity to the conventions of standard written English grammar, punctuation and usage as well as expression of ideas. (Prior knowledge is not necessary.)

EXAMPLE from the Writing and Language:

Dong Kingman: Painter of Cities
A 1954 documentary about renowned watercolor painter Dong Kingman shows the artist sitting on a stool on Mott Street in New York City’s Chinatown. A crowd of admiring spectators watches as Kingman squeezes dollops of paint from several tubes into a tin watercolor (1) box, from just a few primary colors, Kingman creates dozens of beautiful hues as he layers the translucent paint onto the paper on his ease.


(B) box. From just a few primary colors,
(C) box from just a few primary colors,
(D) box, from just a few primary colors
(The answer is B)

(SIDE NOTE: This type of question is almost identical to the types of grammar questions on the English section of the ACT.)


MATH: The 80 minute math test contains 57 questions, divided into 2 sections – with and without a calculator. Most are multiple choice and some are student response – as is presently contained on the exam. The calculator will not be allowed for the 25 minute section of the test.


EXAMPLES from the Math:

math problem 1

math problem 2



Both answers are C.


ESSAY: The optional 50 minute essay may be required by most colleges. Students will be asked to analyze a given argument rather than take a stance. The analysis may be from a published work such as, poet Dana Dioia’s essay on “Why Literature Matters”.


Side note: Students taking the SAT may now be actually experiencing the redesigned SAT in the experimental sections. Their reaction? Interesting.

So when all is said and done will this be a ‘fairer’ test? It appears to be more of an achievement test and more related to school work. So in that regard it may be a much fairer test.

My take? I’ve always respected the SAT as I think it is a good test to measure a student’s critical reading and analytic skills. Students that are avid readers always do well and will continue do so regardless of any changes. So what does that tell you? Read, study hard, take challenging courses and get good grades. Perhaps that will matter even more come 2016.

What is your take on the redesigned SAT? I would love to hear your comment, please leave them in the section below.


Interested in finding out more about the new SAT as well as which is the better exam for your teen? Schedule your complimentary Test Prep Strategy Session now!

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