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The New SAT: What to know and how to prepare

For the first time in 11 years, The College Board will be offering an updated version of the SAT exam beginning in March, 2016.  The new test will be administered only three times during this remaining academic year, once in May and then again in June.  With seniors awaiting college decisions and most underclassmen being unfamiliar with the previous SAT, the onus of exploration and success now rests on the growing shoulders of high school students in the graduating classes of 2018 and, especially, 2017.  What follows is a run-down of key changes to understand and reasons to tackle the new test.

Those familiar with the ACT may notice some similarities in the new SAT, perhaps unsurprising following widespread speculation that The College Board’s overhaul is directly correlated to the increasing popularity of the ACT nationwide.  With that in mind, they have made a number of changes to the test’s format, structure, scoring, and timing.  Rather than a 2400-point scale, the new SAT will revert back to the 1600-point scale, with the Math Section and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing section each scored between 200-800 points.  Rather than 10 sections on the exam, the new test will feature only 4, including Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, and Math sections to be completed with and without a calculator. 

A common complaint of the old SAT was that some students felt they were forced to jump around from section to section very quickly; with 6 fewer sections in 2016, students will have more time to complete each.  In addition, the new SAT essay section will now be considered optional, and without the essay the exam will only require three hours to complete*Also gone is the scoring system that subtracts a fraction of a point for each incorrect answer.  There will now be no penalty for wrong answers, a benefit especially to students who tend to take longer to finish questions and may otherwise run out of time.  There will also be only 4 answer choices for questions on the new exam compared to 5 on the prior version. 

* The optional essay will be required for students applying to the University of California.

So who should take the new exam?

For starters, any high school juniors who scored competitively on the new PSAT last October.  Even if you have completed and done well on the ACT, you will need to take the SAT at least once officially to avoid disqualification from National Merit Scholarship consideration.  If you have taken the ACT and decided that is not the right test for you, the new SAT will be your best option. And as a growing number of students take the new test for practice, many are finding they prefer the new structure to the old exam.  Furthermore, colleges will be holding the new SAT in equal regard with the old SAT and ACT, so it will be important for students to learn if the new test is the one they score

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