What Does the New SAT Mean for You?

By Amanda Bertsch


On Saturday, March 5th, students took the redesigned SAT for the first time. This test has been in the works for years—College Board announced the change exactly 2 years before the first test date. The new SAT is supposed to entail less memorization and more application of real-world skills, but what does that mean for the average student? Denobis breaks it all down.

The essay

One of the major changes on the new SAT is that the essay section is optional. Without the essay, the test is three hours long and you receive a composite score out of 1600. The essay section is now 50 minutes long (a huge improvement from the 25-minute essays of the past) and it will not be considered in your composite score.

Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with a position, you are given a passage to read and asked to write an essay analyzing the author’s argument. The essay should address how the author frames an effective argument to convince readers. College Board does not want a personal opinion on the topic of the passage, only an impartial analysis of the technique. The essay is scored by two readers in the fields of Reading, Analysis, and Writing; a full rubric can be found at www.collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/scores/understanding-scores/essay.

Whether you need to take the essay depends on where you want to apply. Some schools require or recommend the SAT with essay, so if you want to apply to those schools, you should do the essay. Other schools, including all three state schools in Arizona, consider the essay to be completely optional. Generally, a school’s policy on the newly optional SAT essay will be the same as their policy on the ACT essay, but it’s worth checking with any particular schools you want to apply to.

The rest of the test

While the changes in these sections are slightly less drastic, they have received some upgrades. The biggest change is that the grammar portion of writing is now part of the same 200-800 scale score as the reading passages. Writing will be the same proofreading and revising problems as the previous test of the same name, but it no longer affects your essay grade.

Reading has done away with the vocabulary-based section—it now focuses on analyzing passages and informational graphics. Any vocabulary questions will be about words used in context. The test will always include one piece of US or world literature, one passage (or a pair of passages) from the US founding fathers or other documents from that time, one passage about a social science (e.g. economics or psychology), and two science passages. However, no prior knowledge about any of the topics will be tested, and all questions can be answered with only the information given within the passage.

The new math test contains both calculator and no-calculator sections, and there will still be the dreaded grid-ins. These problems are supposed to be more about multi-step problem solving and less about advanced concepts in geometry and algebra, so knowing the basics will be essential.

On college apps

The new SAT is intended to be more like the ACT, and so eventually this will result in a more accurate way to compare scores between the two tests. For now, however, the SAT is in a bit of a flux period. College Board won’t release analysis of the new test until after the May scores are out, and colleges won’t have a full understanding of what scores predict success until even later.

For sophomores and freshmen, this isn’t much of a problem. But juniors will have the option to apply for college with scores from the new or old SAT. This means it’s a good idea to study for and do well on the ACT, which will be more useful as a tool to determine if you have strong scores for a college you’re considering applying to. In addition, most schools will not superscore (consider only the strongest section scores) between the new and old SATs.


It’s important to remember that the SAT is changing to try to be a better test for high school students. The turmoil caused by redesigning the largest standardized test for undergraduate admissions is huge, but in the end, it will hopefully result in a SAT that more accurately represents the skills of test takers.

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