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What is the New SAT?

Instructor: Nicky Davis
The College Board introduced an updated version of the SAT on March 5th of 2016. Read on to learn how the new SAT differs from the previous version, and get tips on how to prepare.

The New SAT: Structure and Content

In March 2016, the SAT underwent a major change for the first time in 30 years. While nearly all U.S. colleges will still accept the test as an important part of admissions materials, the structure and content of the exam itself has been largely re-imagined. Information on changes to each section is outlined below.

New SAT Reading Section

The reading section of the SAT focuses more on contextual analysis and evidence-driven reasoning than on general reading comprehension. Questions ask students to identify the piece of evidence within a text that supports a claim or interpret the context of a commonly-used vocabulary word. Below are some key features of the new reading section.

  • Reading Content: The documents included in the new SAT reading section are similar to what students will encounter in college. The test includes a literary passage; a passage from or inspired by a key historical document; a passage about economics, sociology, or other social sciences; and two scientific passages.
  • Charts, Tables and Graphs: The new reading content asks students to interpret infographics and use them to draw conclusions about related passages.
  • Vocabulary: The new SAT reading section focuses on the multiple meanings of vocabulary words and how these meanings are derived from context, rather than testing students' knowledge of complex and obscure terms.

New SAT Writing Section

The new SAT writing section is named the 'writing and language' test and focuses primarily on proofreading and editing skills. Like the reading section, passages are based on science, social studies and history topics. A key change to the new writing section includes:

  • No Sentence Completions: The sentence completion section of the test has been removed altogether in favor of exercises that require students to select responses that improve a passage's word choice or organization, strengthen its argument, or correct any grammatical errors.

New SAT Math Section

The new SAT math section requires more in-depth knowledge of fundamental math concepts and their real-world applications. Students will be asked to translate English into math and vice versa and will be tested on trigonometry, in addition to algebra, geometry and data analysis. Below are some key features of the new math section.

  • Grid-In Questions: In addition to multiple-choice questions, the exam includes grid-in questions, which ask students to come up with their own answer rather than filling in a multiple-choice response.
  • Multi-Part Questions: The exam also includes math problems that are solved in multiple steps, requiring more complex thinking and understanding of the concepts being assessed.
  • Calculator Use: The new math section includes two subsections - a longer section allowing calculators and a shorter section in which calculators won't be permitted.

New Optional Essay Section

The essay section of the exam is optional, though some college admissions departments may require it. The essay will no longer be a personal essay or an essay requiring students to state their position on a topic. Instead, prompts ask students to analyze the argument being presented in an accompanying reading passage. The time allotted for the essay section is twice as long as it was on the previous SAT.

The New SAT Structure

The new SAT consists of fewer sections overall and includes 45 minutes less testing time for students who choose not to complete the essay. Students who complete the essay will receive roughly the same amount of testing time as the previous test version. The table below shows the structure of the exam.

Test Section Number of Questions Time Given
Reading 52 65 minutes
Writing and Language 44 35 minutes
Math 58 80 minutes
Optional Essay 1 50 minutes
Total 154 180 minutes

New SAT Scoring

The new SAT no longer penalizes students for wrong answers. Instead, only correct answers are considered in scoring. This means it's in students' best interests to guess an answer when they are unsure. Moreover, the new test only has four answer choices for multiple-choice questions instead of five, so the odds of guessing correctly are higher.

Preparing for the SAT

Now that you're familiar with the new SAT, make sure you're ready when exam day comes around. Study.com offers in-depth SAT test prep courses with quizzes and video lessons that can help you sharpen the math, reading and writing skills required to perform well on each section of the exam. Check out the courses below for help as you study:

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