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.
“Please open your SAT test booklet to section 1”
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.
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.