new SAT

The New SAT: What is It? Do I Have to Take It?

Times they are a changing…

Which SAT Do I Take?

Which SAT Do I Take?

The SAT is changing format in 2016.  We’ve written a bit about the new test format, such that we are aware of, and you should check out our chart to see how it compares with the current SAT and the ACT. Here, we want to provide some broad advice for students during the transition on which test to take, when.

The first new-format SAT will be administered internationally in May 2016.  During the transition, universities will accept both the old and new tests for several years so there isn’t much danger of prior scores expiring.  The new test is still largely an unknown quality so our broad advice is “better the devil you know” and students should take the old test format if at all possible.  The old test also lends itself better to preparation than the ACT or the new SAT.  This broad advice must be weighed against taking the test too early, something we’ve been railing against for years.

International School students (Sept to June school year)

Current Seniors and Juniors (class of 2015 and 2016): take the current test.  The new format SAT will not be available until after the standard application deadline so don’t sweat the new one.  Where is gets a bit trickier is for present sophomores/10th graders who will graduate in 2017.  Such students are right on the cusp of the transition to the new test and will hence be able to take the old test up until January 2016 (during their Junior year) or hold off and be in the first batch of taking the new test come May 2016.  Some would say that as the test is technically meant to be taken in the end of 11th grade then all students should hold off and take the new test.  While this advice would be valid for many students, we think that being in the first batch of taking the new test might not be the best idea.  The new test format is still very much a great unknown while preparing for the current test is something that we have basically mastered.  Hence, for most current 10th graders we’d recommend taking the CURRENT SAT in November or December of 2015, with the January 2016 test kept in reserve.  If you don’t do well, then you can turn to the new test but if you do well then you will have that score on record and worry about more important matters such as sports, dance or glee club.

Kids in local schools (Jan to Dec school year)

This is a bit more simple.  Students graduating from JC this year are clearly going to take the current test.  Those graduating at the end of 2016 are recommended to take the current test as the new test format will be something with which most local students will struggle mightily.  Those finishing school in 2017 (current Sec 4 students) probably aren’t really ready academically for the current format so will be “stuck” with the new test.  Boys with a National Service commitment adds a layer of complication to the equation but as most every school will accept both the new and current test when the time comes, so the advice above still applies.

As stated many times here, there are no real “rules” that American universities have to abide by and they all set their own policy.  If you are in doubt then contact the school – most should have a clearly articulated policy on their websites. Of course, if this all seems too complicated to you then just go ahead and take the ACT test.  College Board has been mismanaging the SAT for the last several years in Asia and there have been delays on scores being released as a result of perceived cheating.  This scourge hasn’t reached the ACT (yet!) and that test isn’t going through any major overhauls for the next few years anyway.  Of course, a core problem with taking the ACT here is that seats are highly limited unless you attend a school which is a test center.  So, as with the SAT: register early and register often.

Still confused?  We don’t blame you.  Ask your school university advisor for specific advice as everyone’s case is unique and the answer to many things in American education is “it depends”.  You can also email us on:, be sure to include what school you presently attend as well as your graduation year.

(PRESS RELEASE) The New SAT: how it will impact pre-university students in Singapore

April 17, 2014
For immediate release:


Yesterday, the College Board released a 208 page document broadly outlining what the new SAT will look like in 2016. The document spent about half its length justifying the changes with a range of studies and surveys and the other half detailing what each section of the test should look like. Tellingly, the changes are justified by the College Board as addressing the perceived failure of American high schools to adequately prepare students for collegiate-level work. How changing the SAT will help address this failing at the teaching level isn’t entirely clear, but the overall tenor of the change it to make the test more “real world” and less esoteric in order to do a better job of predicting university success – one of the core stated aims of the test. Rather than get tied up overly with a debate on the failure of education in the United States and the specific rationales for the changes, we will focus here on what the basic changes are – and how they will directly impact the performance of students in Singapore in the three different pre-university education systems: American High School (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge O level/A level/Integrated Program (A Level).

When and What:

The changes will come into effect with the May 2016 test date. This means that the new test will only directly impact students looking to start university in September of 2017 – high school class of 2017 for those on the North American school year. There will be a certain amount of overlap of scores between the new and old test when the time comes and College Board will publish equivalency tables to aid university advisors and college admissions departments in comparing scores on the two tests.
The biggest change is a reversion to the 400-1600 scoring scale from the current 600-2400. The old Reading and Writing sections are being effectively merged to one section now called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The math will remain with some key changes (see below) and the essay portion will now be optional. The MCQ portion will now have 4 options instead of 5 and students will no longer lose points from wrong answers.

Evidence Based Reading and Writing:

The focus on this section will turn slightly away from vocabulary and grammatical mastery towards reading for context and analysis of rhetorical structure. All of the questions are passage-based with the elimination of sentence completion and the familiar grammar MCQ of the old Writing portion. The passages will cover a range of different disciplines each test and also have a range in perceived difficulty from 9th grade equivalent up to those deemed college-level. The vocabulary-based questions will make up about 20% of the total but all of them will be what we call “vocab-in-context” and are intended to steer away from the traditional esoteric “SAT words” and more towards words with more nuances of meaning – an example give was the different meanings of the word “dedicate” as used by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. The grammar questions are akin to the old paragraph improvement questions and suspiciously similar to those questions on the ACT – with students being asked to improve the grammar of selected sections of passages as well as making changes to improve the rhetorical and logical flow.

  • For AP & IB Students:

Students who do four years of high school English should have no problem with the passages and the focus of questions based on context rather than isolation may benefit students who have a good ear for grammar but don’t know the specific rules. Students who do a science/math heavy course mix in the IB will likely find this section a bit trying. Of course, all students who are bookish and read regularly should excel at this section – as such students normally excel in most things academic.

  • For A Level Students: 

The minority of students who are doing Literature will be well-equipped with the reading skills and knowledge to do well on this section. As the passages will also include history and the social sciences (as well as the hard sciences), students with a background in economics or history will be comfortable with the type of passages they are likely to see. However, students in the pure science stream who do not pursue an active reading habit will generally have difficulty as the level of English in the passages will often be beyond what they encountered in O Levels and their science and math courses wouldn’t expose them to this sort of writing. The vocabulary questions will prove difficult as well as simply memorizing long word lists won’t be nearly as effective as the questions are going to focus on nuance of meaning gleaned from context rather than a strict dictionary definition.

The Essay:

The College Board has finally gotten wise to the prevalent practice in Asia of memorizing canned essays and then just tweaking the intro and conclusion to fit vague prompts. Rather than ask a student’s opinion on something, students will now be asked to analyze the argument of a persuasive passage. Over 55 minutes at end of the test, rather than 25 minutes at the beginning, test takers will be asked to comment on the efficacy of the author’s argument with a special focus on the rhetorical devices used to fully flesh out an argument. Students will have to not only fully understand rather nuanced, high-level passages, but will also have to demonstrate a mastery of commentary that borders on literary criticism. The essay will be scored by English teachers in the States and this score will be reported separately, not aggregated with the Writing score as is the current practice.

While not required for all test takers, the essay will probably be mandated by most competitive universities. The essays will likely be able to be viewed by admissions committees and will provide an unvarnished view of the applicant’s writing ability. This will at least partially address the problem of students seeking undue (and inappropriate) help in “editing” their admissions essays. 

  • For AP & IB Students:

Students in AP Literature or Higher Level IB Literature are going to excel in the essay. Students who aren’t strong readers will have problems in crafting something coherent as they will have issues in fully understanding the passage to be analyzed. The longer time will allow for more thought, and that will be expected to be transmitted to deeper insights on an essay that will be outside of the 4 to 5 paragraph norm.

  • For A Level Students: 

As with the Reading and Writing portion, students who are doing A level Literature will be entirely comfortable with this task as it mirrors what they would have been working on. Those in the science stream will be seriously challenged by this task as it will be entirely foreign to what they have been working on in school and involves thought and deep analysis on the rhetorical level.


The new math section will not be nearly as much of a change compared to the Reading and Writing. There will be one shorter section where students will not be allowed a calculator, and a longer section where students will be encouraged to use one. The SAT is largely dispensing with the logic and game-type questions in favor of more straightforward math questions with a turn back towards algebra and real-world word problems with concepts such as rates and ratios at the fore. The breadth of the concepts tested is being reduced, but the depth of presumed knowledge is being deepened with an introduction of quadratic equations and trigonometry to the test. Rather than simply solve equations for “x”, students will be asked to generate an equation or even a system of equations which would describe and match a real world situation of applied math. The test taking techniques of Backsolving or Plugging In will still have some efficacy, but not as much as on the current test, though reducing the answer choices to 4 from 5 makes things easier on eliminating obviously wrong answers. Data analysis will get much more emphasis with 28% of the questions involving charts or graphs with real data from scientific studies.

  • For AP & IB Students

Good math students will not have trouble with this section. The concepts are nothing beyond what is taught in a normal 11th grade math class and the elimination of the “weird SAT” math questions now on the test mean that students who are good at solving equations and are marginally numerate won’t have issues. For weaker math students, this section will be more challenging than the current math section. In particular, many students are completely lost without a calculator and the calculator-free section will have many shaking in fright. Students will have to re-master concepts like mixed numerals, long division, and converting fractions to decimals – tasks long since relegated to their friend from Texas Instruments.

  • For A Level Students:

Math and science stream students will excel on this section. Even more so than the old math section, the new focus on more straightforward math with some science-like problem solving will mirror their normal curriculum. For the Arts stream students, there are no concepts beyond what is taught in standard O Level math so our recommendation would be to take the test in year one instead of year two in JC while math skills are still relatively fresh.


Our thoughts above on the new test should be taken with a large dollop of salt as it is based on the very incomplete data now available from the College Board. Once a full test is released we will be able to comment more fully. The basic summary is that good students will do just fine on the new test and don’t have much to fear, while students in a math and science stream will probably struggle mightily in the non-math portion of the test. We at Testtakers will be fully ready for the advent of the new test. Many of the changes seem to have been motivated by a desire to blunt the effectiveness of SAT preparation, but the planned provision of free SAT prep with seems to contradict that claim. We love Khan, but online learning can only be so effective and there is no replacement for a good teacher in a classroom with excellent materials.

About the author:

Jeremy Craig is the founder and managing director of Testtakers Singapore. He has been teaching SAT preparation since 1993 and has taught nearly 10,000 students over that time. Testtakers is the leading SAT preparation provider in Singapore and works with most of the leading international schools in Singapore and several more in the ASEAN region.

What the new SAT changes REALLY mean for Singaporeans

Our Program Manager, Khalid Barnwell, was asked by a Straits Times reporter what he believed the upcoming changes to the SAT would mean for Singaporean test takers.  Today's Straits Times feature stated the following:

"Mr. Khalid Barnwell, an instructor from Testtakers Singapore, added that doing away with negative marking -deducting points for wrong answers - will encourage students to take more risks in attempting questions instead of leaving them blank."

The overall slant of the article was that the new changes to the test will benefit Singaporean students.

But!  Khalid's actual comments that were sent to the reporter said a little bit more, and it didn't paint as rosy a picture for Singaporeans:

On the elimination of points deduction for wrong answers:

In a way it's nice that points will not be deducted for wrong answers.  In general, based on my experience, students in Singapore are risk adverse, and tend to leave questions unanswered if they do not absolutely know the correct answer, as opposed to those who actually benefit overall from aggressively, yet intelligently guessing.  Since test takers in fact do suffer a penalty for not answering questions due to the Raw Score calculation of the SAT (unanswered questions reduce one's maximum possible score), the fear of having points deducted will go down and as a result lead to students taking more of a chance and in general attaining higher raw scores.  Note, however, that the Scaled Score algorithm will adapt to reflect this effect and will reduce the score boost effect for all."

On the essay:

"The essay will be optional, and that at first glance will be a boon to Singaporean students, who generally struggle with the persuasive essay style that now features on the test.  However it could be the case that certain universities will still ask for the essay, for it serves other purposes than gauging writing ability (it also serves as a way to determine whether admissions application essays submitted are actually the student's essay, or the work of hired application essay writers).  In general, universities in the US (especially the most selective ones) like to have as much information about the applicant as possible, so I wouldn't be surprised if a significant number of schools will still ask for the essay as part of their admissions requirements.  So the gain to Singaporean test takers will increase, but only for those who apply to less selective schools that tend to require less. But for those who are applying to a range of schools in the US with varying selectivity in order to increase their chances of getting into at least one school, they will probably have to do the essay anyway just in case at least one of those schools require it.

Since the essay apparently will focus on building an essay based on provided passages and information sources, students will have an easier time formulating valid arguments and analyses, for they will not have to think of their own examples and references to back up their claims.  This will benefit Singaporean testers who usually struggle in this regard."

On grammar:

"It remains to be seen how much grammar will feature in the test, but if the grammar-oriented questions are eliminated, that will definitely benefit Singaporean testers, who struggle with some of the issues particular to American English and to "SAT English" - concepts that the test likes to include that technically is correct but is not commonly used, even to Americans."

On vocabulary and reading:

"The higher-level vocabulary usage is only minor and won't affect the test that much, for they feature in relatively few situations on the test.  There are many lower and medium-level words that occur frequently on the test and they will probably continue to appear.  The problem for Singaporeans is that many of these words are not used often here and have multiple meanings based on context.  I wouldn't be surprised if vocabulary-in-context questions become more prevalent in the new edition of the SAT, which is bad news for Singaporean testers.

The Reading passages will feature more passages from US History, so those who are not particularly familiar with such passages and their historical relevance will suffer a disadvantage.  This is therefore a potentially significant problem for Singaporeans, who know little to nothing about such subject matter."

On the Math:

"Singaporeans typically perform relatively well on the Math section, and since the scope of the test will narrow in the future, I expect performance levels to increase for Singaporean testers.  Reducing calculator use will have little effect on performance for Singaporeans, for technically Singaporeans don't really need the calculator for the current SAT.  Note that in general the Singaporean students who take the SAT are among the highest performing students academically in the country (as opposed to the population in the US who take the test, which includes a greater cross-section of all students)."

Final thoughts:

"Overall, the SAT has undergone numerous tweaks over the years, yet the need to navigate through the pitfalls and traps that the SAT creators love to include will remain in some sort of fashion.  There are many concepts covered in the test that are and will remain American in nature and usage, and the need for Singaporeans to familiarize themselves with such differences in grammar usage, vocabulary, writing style and, now, cultural relevance will endure.   Those who are familiar with these differences will possess a competitive advantage at the end of the day."