Everything you need to know about the new SAT

Say hello to the new SAT.

Next month, the college admission test debuts a major makeover. For high schoolers taking the new, redesigned exam, amNewYork spoke with Lee Weiss, Kaplan Test Prep’s vice president of college admissions programs, about what to expect and how to prepare.


What are the key differences in the new SAT?

Every aspect is changing in a major way. These are some of the biggest changes in the history of the SAT. Everything from the scoring scale, which is going from a 2400 scoring scale to a 1600 scoring scale. The essay is now optional and will be a separate score, it’s not part of the writing section anymore. In the math section of the test, there are some questions where you are allowed to use a calculator and other questions where you’re not — on the old SAT you were allowed to use a calculator on all questions. There’s a lot more text on this test. On the old SAT there were all different types of verbal questions, there were short questions that had a vocabulary component. It’s all reading comprehension on the new test, and the reading passages also have charts and graphs attached to them. On the math side of the test there is a lot of text also, a lot of word problems and reading involved in solving math problems.


How can those who are not strong readers, maybe they are ESL students or have a reading disability, prepare for the new SAT?

You really want to get comfortable reading on a time condition and reading academic dense text under those conditions. It’s a very different sort of skill. I would suggest all students, whether they are ESL or otherwise, be taking practice tests, start reading at a timed condition, understand what it’s like to read and then have to answer questions specific to that reading. It’s not like reading a novel or reading a newspaper where you’re doing it for your understanding and entertainment. You’re reading to get points and you’re reading to be able to answer questions.


How can students best prepare for the optional essay?

It is significantly different [from the old SAT]. One of the major differences is on the old SAT you could basically write anything you wanted. You’d be given a prompt and as long as you were able to make an argument it didn’t matter if it was factual or not. On the new SAT, your essay actually needs to be tied back to the prompt that you’re being asked and use the information from that prompt. So in many ways I think this is a better exercise you are being asked to do. Even though it’s optional, we advise students to do the essay. Many of the top schools that students are applying to for admissions require the essay, so it gives you more options.


How does the new SAT compare with the ACT?

They are very similar exams. In fact the chief architect of them, the woman who created the modern day ACT, is also the chief architect of the new SAT so there are a lot of similarities between the exams. They both contain a lot of reading comprehension and math questions. Some of the major differences are the ACT has a science section and the ACT is actually the more popular of the two exams. There are more ACT test takers in the U.S. and globally than there are SAT test takers. But there’s a lot of similarities between the tests. They both have optional essays. I would say that the SAT has more multi-step questions, so on the reading side of the test there’s a lot of charts and graphs that are associated with a question. It’s testing sort of multi-step, critical-thinking skills. In the ACT test they are testing those skills also but in a little bit more straightforward way.


What are the top tips you would give students who are looking to succeed and are maybe a little nervous?

I think regardless whether you’re taking the new SAT or the ACT, knowing what you’re taking and knowing what the test is going to be like is number one. There’s a big fear of the unknown. Getting used to what it’s like to sit for a three-hour-plus exam and getting the types of questions you are going to be asked and being tested under timed conditions is really important. Knowing the content is very important. If there are math skills, like geometry, that are challenging for students, it’s important that they understand those core skills or they’re going to have a hard time taking this exam. I would also say test-taking strategies are very important. There’s no guessing penalty on the new SAT or the ACT, so students should put an answer for every question and they should use good test-taking strategies to eliminate wrong answer choices and that they choose better answers.


What else should students know going into the exam?

I think a very important thing in general, whether it’s the new SAT or the ACT, these are really important tests for college admissions, so families should take them seriously. Once a student is a junior, their GPA is pretty much a fixed thing, so if you get a much better score than you were expecting to on the SAT or the ACT, that can improve your chances for college admissions significantly and also get you scholarship money, so it becomes a very important part of the admissions process.

Upcoming SAT dates

  • March 5 (late registration deadline Feb. 23 via phone/online)
  • May 7 (registration deadline April 8)
  • June 4 (registration deadline May 5)