10 New Features of the Redesigned SAT

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

Ready for something new? Whether your answer is yes or no, the redesigned SAT debuts in March of 2016. Your answer will be a strong “yes, I’m ready!” if you know what’s new on the new exam.

  • No penalty for guesses: On the old SAT, you lost 1/4 of a point for each wrong answer, except for math grid-ins. Skipped answers didn’t add to your score, but they didn’t carry a penalty. With that scoring system, test-takers spent way too much time deciding whether to answer or skip a question. On the redesigned exam, you get 1 point for every correct answer (except for one of the math questions, which is worth 4 points). You don’t lose any points for wrong answers.

  • No strange vocabulary: Can you imagine a time in your life when you may need to know the meaning of asseverate (to declare passionately)? Not many people can. The SAT finally wised up to the fact that memorizing long lists of “SAT words” wasn’t the best use of students’ time. The redesigned test concentrates on words people actually write or say. Questions about meaning always refer to the context in which the word appears — giving you a clue to the definition.

  • Graphics: The real world is filled with visual elements — charts, graphs, maps, tables, and the like. The new SAT acknowledges reality by including visual elements in the Reading and the Writing and Language sections. (Graphics have always appeared in math questions.) You answer multiple-choice questions based on information in the graphics, often combined with facts from the passage.

  • Real-life examples: Stung by the criticism that the SAT wasn’t relevant to real life, the makers of the SAT created a new test that draws on current situations for many questions. Don’t worry if your knowledge of current events isn’t up to par, though. Everything you need appears right there in the exam booklet.

  • A nod to democracy: At least one passage on the Reading test touches on an issue related to democracy and the origins of the American system of government. You may see a presidential speech, a portion of a congressional debate, or an essay about human rights. Stop panicking! Everything you need is in the exam. You can answer these questions without knowing any history, which the SAT says is part of a “great global conversation.”

  • Optional essay: The SAT essay is now optional. Instead of asking your opinion on a random topic, the essay question now presents a passage on a random topic. (Hey, that’s progress!) You have to analyze how the author makes an argument, relating style to content. You get 50 minutes to complete this task.

  • Math without the calculator: First they take away your phone, and now your calculator? Those debased (low-level) miscreants (villains). What will you do? Don’t worry. These math questions are more logic than math, and the calculator wouldn’t help you anyway. Floating out in space, alone without a calculator, most students discover their inner strength and rise up to the task of actually working the math on paper. And besides, this is only for some of the math. The other math section lets you use the calculator.

  • Trigonometry: The new SAT adds trigonometry to its repertoire (selection) of math questions. Though trigonometry can comprise (make up) an entire semester of proofs, theorems, and formulas, and even borders on pre-calculus, the SAT doesn’t take it that far. If you know SOH CAH TOA and the unit circle, you’ve pretty much got what you need to handle these questions.

  • Passages for writing and language: The redesigned SAT asks you questions about passages that are 400 to 450 words long. No single sentence, out-of-context questions! You check grammar, punctuation, style, and organization to answer these questions.

  • Emphasis on evidence: It’s not enough to find a correct answer on the new SAT. In the Reading test, you see “follow-up” questions, asking you to find evidence for one of your responses. In the Writing and Language test (both multiple-choice and essay section), you have to identify and evaluate evidence. In the Math test, one of the math questions (extended thinking question) tests your ability to surmise (guess) what is happening based on the evidence — and then work the math.