From the Latest Study in America Newsletter: The Redesigned SAT

There has been no shortage of ink spilled about the new SAT, or the rSAT (“revised SAT” in College Board parlance).  For the last month or so we’ve been picking over the 4 full-length mock rSAT tests released by the College Board to get a feel for the new format.  Concurrently, our development team at Testtakers USA has been hard at work for some time on new materials and we’ll be more prepared than anyone else when the rSAT is first administered in May 2016. 

...We’d recommend most students graduating in 2016 or 2017 take the current SAT on or before December 2015 – leaving the January 2016 test date in reserve.

On first blush, the test does seem “harder”.  Math is a bit more advanced with no calculator allowed in one of the sections.  Arcane vocab is gone with a focus instead of more understanding of common words used in context and “evidence-based reading” – meaning answering inferential questions on the meaning of passages.  The grammar portion shifts to a format that we shall call “inspired by the ACT English Section” with the MCQ questions in the context of longer passages rather than stand-alone sentences.  The guessing penalty is eliminated and the number of multiple choices is reduced to four from five.  Two changes that mirror the ACT rather closely…  We’ve found that as a result of fewer choices on the reading it doesn’t really make it easier as there aren’t as many irrelevant answer choices such as we see on the present test.  The essay is much more challenging, bordering on literary criticism, and longer at 50 minutes.  Though the essay will not be required, most universities will want to see it.  There will be some “science” questions but similar to the ACT, they really just test your ability to understand a chart or graph.

For many students the new format will be a bit daunting at first, especially those who have been silly enough to do SAT prep for years based on the old format.  However, let’s remember that the test is meant to be used by universities as a predictor of academic success so if all of a sudden every kid did “worse” on the rSAT then the test wouldn’t be doing its job very well.  While the rSAT may look harder, if it is to satisfy its claim of being an useful test then the scoring range or curve has to match what we have with the old test.  Kids who do well in school and would do well on the current SAT will do just fine on the rSAT (or the ACT for that matter).  Students who struggle with MCQ tests will do poorly; middling students will perform…middlingly.  Rafa Nadal is strongest on clay courts, but he is no slouch on grass or hard court.  Similarly, students who do well on one (SAT, rSAT, or the ACT) will do well on all and taking all three represents a waste of time and money.

So, the million dollar question is which one to take.  Given that the rSAT is still a bit of a unknown and you get better gains preparing for the SAT over the ACT, we’d recommend most students graduating in 2016 or 2017 take the current SAT on or before December 2015 – leaving the January 2016 test date in reserve.  If you don’t do great the rSAT will be there for you as well as the ACT if needed.