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What to Expect on the New SAT this Spring

Preparing for the changes being made to the SAT

What to Expect on the New SAT this Spring

On March 5, 2016, the newly revised SAT will be administered for the first time. This updated test will still cover reading, writing, and math, but it will also include some key format changes that students should review. 

The four main sections will be: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (divided into two portions: one with calculator and one without), and the optional Essay. The two section scores—Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math—will range from 200 to 800. The total score will range from 400 to 1600. The Essay will be scored separately. In addition to those basic changes, here are some other updates to be aware of on the new SAT.

There is no penalty for wrong answers
In the previous version of the SAT, there was a one-fourth of a point penalty for every question answered incorrectly. On the new SAT, you won’t get any points taken off for wrong answers. Therefore, you should make sure to select an answer for every question, even if you have to make an educated guess. These scoring changes should alleviate some of the pressure of trying to get every answer right. 

The new SAT Essay is optional
The Essay on the new SAT is no longer mandatory and it does not factor into your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score. However, some colleges may require or recommend an Essay score, so it might be in your best interest to still sit for the Essay, which will now occur at the end of the exam. The time limit for the essay has also changed from the previous 25 minutes to 50 minutes. And the task has changed as well...

For this more in-depth composition, you will be asked to read a passage and then analyze how the author of the passage uses elements of writing to build a persuasive argument. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with the argument, you will discuss how that argument is presented and supported by the author. This update was implemented to make the Essay more comparable to the type of writing students will need to perform in college-level courses.

A calculator can only be used on one of the two Math portions
Algebra, geometry, statistics, and trigonometry will still be covered, but more of the math questions will relate to real-world situations. Most of them will be multiple-choice. There will be grid-in questions as well, in which you provide your own answer.

Reading, as well as Writing and Language passages, will involve history, science, and social studies
In addition to using excerpts from literary works, the College Board will now include passages from the founding documents of the United States, as well as texts in “the Great Global Conversation” that those documents inspired. There will be less emphasis on obscure vocabulary and more focus on deciphering words in context. These questions will be multiple-choice and you will need to demonstrate “command of evidence” through finding relationships and support for claims.

Overall, the new SAT should appropriately reflect what you have learned in multiple classes over your high school years—not solely in math and English. Use the above info to get ready for the test and start prepping now!


Mahlena-Rae Johnson is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.


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