## Notes from the May 7, 2016 New SAT

While you can find a lot of accounts of the May 7th SAT from students on College Confidential, I wanted to make sure you get the real scoop, so three weeks ago I signed up to take the new SAT myself.

Of course being a seasoned SAT tutor means being a lot older than the average high school student—all of which became evident as I sat down in a room of gawky strangers. One girl introduced herself and said nice to meet you. I shook her hand and said hello, but didn’t answer what was probably on everyone’s mind: Just who was I? I remained mum until a student asked the test proctor whether guessing is penalized. The proctor was unsure.

It was my turn to speak: Actually, I’m an SAT tutor and I can tell you with 100% certainty that guessing on the New SAT is not penalized. The class let out a sigh of relief—though whether this was because there wasn’t a guessing penalty or because I wasn’t just some creepy old guy was unclear.

## The time lag College Board doesn’t talk about

But I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about the SAT. Though we sat down in the class at 8:00, it wasn’t until 8:45 that the test began. For 45 minutes, the proctor slowly read the instructions for how to fill in a form as students painstakingly bubbled in information on their scantron. I’d woken up at 4:30 in the morning and was already exhausted, and I didn’t have much patience for all the bubbling in.

What didn’t seem to drag on for eternity were the breaks. At five and ten minutes apiece, I barely had enough time to wolf down my granola bars and slurp desperately from an anemic water fountain.

So what about the actual test itself? Well, there were a couple of surprises but I think it might be a stretch to call them momentous. First off, I was shocked at the lack of higher-level math on the test. There was no trigonometry, no imaginary numbers; no higher-degree polynomials. There was lots of algebra but it was more of the solve-for-two-variables kind. What I also found was surprising is how effective plugging in was. This is a method that worked very well for the old test but was one I hadn’t seen many prep books promoting for the new test. For me it made difficult problems relatively easy.

Another surprise was the reading section. I felt the passages had slightly more twists than I remember seeing in the tests in the official SAT study guide College Board puts out. I can’t elaborate beyond that (you have to write out a Non-Disclosure Agreement). I can say that the distractors seemed slightly subtler, and thus “trickier”, than I’d seen in the SAT study guide (Though this might have been on account of how tired I was and the fact that the reading section comes first, my brain still in some stage of REM when it saw the first passage.) My takeaway as a tutor, a blogger, and the content creator for SAT Magoosh is to focus more on how to choose the right answer when you are faced with a real tempting wrong answer.

## The new SAT vs. the ACT

Many, myself included, have said that the new SAT is basically the ACT in terms of content and format. I don’t think that’s true, however. Sure, the new SAT looks a lot more like the ACT, but it is significantly more difficult .The ACT really wants to test what you know; the SAT, to an extent, still aims to trick you. Yet it tricks you in a way that seems a litter fairer. Instead of difficulty vocabulary, indecipherable math questions, and fiendishly constructed grammar puzzles, the new test relies more on lots of text, whether it be a 100-line reading passage, a 12-line word problem, or an essay in which you have to carefully analyze a paragraph to figure out the best place for a sentence. Yes, in many cases you are being set up to pick the wrong answer. Now you just have a fairer shot of picking the right one.

## Final thoughts

Ultimately, the SAT is about endurance and the ability—and will—to focus. Even if I hadn’t taken the test on a few hours sleep, I am certain I would have been tired at the end. My advice to students: take a few full-length practice tests in which you do not have access to a phone or any other kinds of distractions. Also, try taking the test first thing in the morning. And I promise—you won’t have to spend 45 minutes bubbling stuff in.