Changes Coming in the SAT - March 2016

Continuing our focus on standardized testing and how it relates to college admissions, we discuss the redesigned SAT which incorporates significant changes to the structure and scoring of the test as well as several new question types. Rolling out in March 2016, the new format will affect all juniors, sophomores, and freshmen as several admission offices have already announced that beginning next year, they will not accept "holdover" scores from the current test.

(At SC Test Prep, as part of a consensus among testing professionals, we advise current seniors either to make the most of the remaining test dates using the existing format: Nov. 7, Dec. 5, and Jan. 23 or to focus on the ACT. The College Board has announced that the first score reports for the redesigned version will be delayed until mid-May, far too late for most admission deadlines.)

Note: The following discussion uses terms and definitions covered in our previous post on standardized testing.

For students taking the redesigned test, here are 3 key changes for your attention:

1. The redesigned SAT will have a very different structure.

Currently, the SAT involves 10 sections divided among 3 subject areas: 3 Critical Reading, 3 Math, and 3 Writing (including the mandatory essay) as well as 1 "variable" section that is not scored. The new test will reduce that total number to 4: 1 Reading, 1 Writing and Language, and 2 Math, with an optional essay. Each section will involve a greater number of questions, but the total number for each subject will be approximately the same as the current version.

More significantly, the soon-to-be-optional essay will no longer be included in the Writing and Language score; instead, Writing and Language will be grouped with Reading to produce a single 200-800 point sub-score. This shift is important because while many schools have opted to ignore the Writing sections since their addition to the test in 2005, now students' ability with grammar and syntax will unavoidably become a part of their total evaluated score.

2. The new SAT will be scored differently.

At present, students receive a 200-800 point scaled score for each of the three subject areas tested on the SAT, resulting in a total possible combined score of 2400. As stated above, the combination of Reading and Writing and Language will be combined into a single scaled score, resulting in a return to the 1600 scale familiar to everyone who took the SAT before 2005.

More significantly, students will no longer receive a -¼ point "guessing penalty" to their raw scores for each incorrect answer. This change and a reduction in answer choices for each question from 5 to 4 should drastically alter each student's strategy when taking the SAT. While students have been advised to omit questions unless they were sure, the lack of a penalty and the greater probability of a guess being correct means that students should attempt to answer every question on the new test.

3. The questions will be, if anything, more difficult.

The College Board has stressed repeatedly that many of the changes to the SAT, such as the removal of "SAT words" from the Reading subject area, were made to better reflect real-world problems and offer a more accurate prediction of college success. While it is difficult to predict whether they have achieved these goals, particularly the latter, the practice tests released indicate that the test has become more challenging and complex and possibly further removed from students' classroom experiences.

From a greater number of problems involving advanced math while disallowing the use of a calculator for one of the Math sections to "Command of Evidence" Reading problems in which students must supply evidence for their answer to a previous question, the new question types will certainly test students' critical thinking ability and command of basic principles like never before.

What does it all mean?

The effect of these changes on students' scores is obviously unknown until at least next summer when the first score reports are released. However, one possibility is particularly troubling: given the increased reliance on high-level concepts and advanced skills, the new SAT may unfairly penalize students who have taken a solid college preparatory curriculum, but have not competed with their high-achieving peers in Honors, Advanced Placement, and dual-enrollment courses.

If so, this would make both the growing movement towards test-optional admissions and test-prep services like SC Test Prep's even more important. Do your research at or contact us to Enter Prepared on test day!