The Redesigned SAT

In the spring of 2014, the College Board announced that it would be revising the SAT, the well-known standardized exam taken by millions of college bound high school students annually. The announcement reignited a discussion about the validity
and purpose of standardized college admissions exams, and raised questions among the administrators,
parents, and students who, starting in March 2016, will need to deal with the redesigned test if they want to sit for the SAT. Now, a full year after the initial announcement, we have a detailed idea of the information the SAT will test and how it will test it. It’s time to take a look at the Revised SAT, from its conception to its content.

Why Is The Exam Changing?
This is the question in the minds of almost every current sophomore and freshman student and parent. Why, after revising the SAT in 2005 (and trumpeting its merits compared to those of the
previous form), is the College Board throwing another wrench in the works so soon? The answer is twofold.
First, it seems the current SAT just isn’t that great a predictor of student success in college. When it
surveyed university and college administrators, the College Board found that many elements of the current SAT were not particularly relevant to the most important elements of high school-and college-level coursework; moreover, past studies suggested the SAT was not a particularly good predictor of first-year college success. This was a problem, especially since the supposed use of the SAT is to help university and college admissions committees decide whether its applicants would be well suited for high-level academic coursework. Second, the ACT, another standardized college admissions exam, has become a stiff competitor to the SAT. Now regarded by almost all colleges and universities as just as acceptable a test as the SAT, the ACT has cut into the predominance of its rival in a big way. Many students find the ACT to be more test-taker friendly due to its predictable structure, less abstract reading comprehension, and more straightforward math. Though the College Board is
technically a not-for-profit organization, its continued viability depends heavily on the success of its SAT programs. It is thus likely that the development of the SAT is, at least in part, a response to the growing popularity of the ACT.

Though there has been much fanfare surrounding the new test, the Redesigned SAT will not be administered
until March 2016. Until then, the current form of the SAT will remain in place, and will be administered in October, November, & December 2015 and January 2016. The same, however, cannot be said of the PSAT, the “pre” test that many high
school juniors (and more recently, sophomores as well) take in October to gauge their SAT-taking abilities. The next PSAT administered (this fall, October 2015) will be modeled after the Redesigned SAT. (The College Board recently posted the first
complete sample Redesigned PSAT here:
The timeline has caused much consternation for educators, parents, and students. Which exam should students prepare for? Is the Revised SAT going to be more difficult? Will colleges accept scores from both the current and new exams? (In short, the
answers are: (1) It depends on a particular student’s strengths and preparation timeline, (2) It depends on what you mean by “difficult”, but it’s fair to say it’s not getting easier, and (3) Probably.)

The SAT is changing in major ways. There are many things to highlight, but a few are much more important.

The current SAT is 10 sections long, consisting of 3 Critical Reading sections, 3 Mathematics sections, 3 Writing sections (including the essay), and an experimental section (not scored, but used for data collection and trial runs for new question types). All sections are between 10 and 25 minutes in length, and, with the exception of the essay and the final Writing grammar section, show up in random order. The Revised SAT will have fewer, but longer, sections. In particular, there will be a 60-minute Reading section, a 35-minute Writing & Language section, a 45-minute Mathematics section with calculator, and
a 25-minute Mathematics section without calculator*. (*Note: all sections lengths are subject to change by the College Board and will be made official prior to the new test’s first administration.)

Remember those vocabulary-based fill-in-the-blank questions that featured words that seemed like they must have been pulled from the Oxford English Dictionary, 16th century edition? These questions are no more. Vocabulary will still be tested in the
context of larger reading passages, but students can say goodbye to stacks of flashcards peppered with obscure words.
Past the absence of those sentence-completion questions, the Reading section is introducing a few minor changes. New follow-up reading comprehension question types will ask students to justify their answer to the previous question by asking them to identify which piece of the text best supports their answer. The Reading will also introduce diagrams paired with text; students will be made to integrate information from both the graphics and the reading passage.

The math on the new SAT seeks to serve as a corrective to current math instruction, which, according to the College Board, covers too much breadth and not enough depth. Geometry will be deemphasized in favor of algebraic reasoning, statistics (graph and chart interpretation), and function models. The catch, of course, is that there will be two sections: one that allows the use of a calculator, and one that does not. The latter will not test complex computation, but will seek to show whether students
actually understand how to manipulate equations and discern algebraic relationships.

Writing & Language
Simply put, the Writing & Language component of the Redesigned SAT bears striking resemblance to the English section of the ACT. The only difference is that there will be graphics incorporated into the passages, as discussed above for the Reading test.
This section will test many of the same grammar and structure concepts already tested on the current
SAT’s Writing section: punctuation, rhetorical purpose, subject-verb agreement, etc.

Somewhere along the line, the College Board discovered that the 25-minute opinion-based essay on the current SAT was all but useless to university and college admissions officers. Students could concoct
stories to justify their points, and many of the writing prompts were so superficial that they could be addressed by applying one or two canned strategies. On the new test, there will be a more formidable
Essay, albeit an optional one. Students will have 50 minutes to respond to a prompt presented in the
context of a provided document. In this “evidence based writing” format, students will have to pull
from the document to argue their points and justify their conclusions.

What Does This All Mean?
The College Board hopes that its Revised SAT will serve as an answer to the current test’s problems, and to the educators and parents who question the exam’s relevance to today’s college admissions. It will likely be a few years until universities and colleges can say with any degree of certainty whether the new test is more valuable to admissions than the current one.

Evan is VP of Education, Method Test Prep. He can answer any questions you may have about the SAT by e-mailing him at or visiting visitingtheir website at