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Lucas Fink

A Student’s Guide to the New SAT

The SAT is changing at the beginning of 2016, meaning that if you’re in the class of 2017, you’re going to take a very different test in your junior and senior year than what students are taking now. Eighth and ninth graders will see the new PSAT 8/9 as soon as this October, and tenth graders will experience the new PSAT 10 in February 2016.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the new SAT might be harder. Well, we just got some more news about the specifics of the New SAT vs. the Old SAT. And it is definitely a big change.

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But what do the changes mean for you?

Studying for the New SAT: Do’s

  • Read, and read a lot. The new SAT is going to remove sentence completions (fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions), so that means reading comprehension is more important than ever. Practicing your reading skills will also help for the essay, which will rely completely on how well you understand a text.  But I don’t just mean you should read The Hunger Games (although that’s better than nothing!). Reading more difficult, non-fiction material, like news sites and history books, will help the most. The new SAT will have only one reading passage from a novel or story, so experience with that type of language won’t be as useful as experience with more academic English.

  • Do math in your head. One section of the new SAT will be a math section that doesn’t allow a calculator. Don’t get too scared, though: you won’t have to do any long, boring calculations on paper. The value of 323 to the third power isn’t going to be on the test. But you will have to do some basic math and logical thinking with no calculator. The more you practice doing math in your head now, the better you’ll be prepared for the SAT. And it’s good practice for your schoolwork, too! Calculators are nice sometimes, but it’s pretty awesome to be able to do crazy math in your head, and that mostly just takes training.

  • Learn grammar rules. The writing section of the new SAT will continue to focus on standard English grammar rules; in fact, they’ll make up around half of the writing questions. They help a lot for your essay, as well as basically everything else you ever write, so even if you don’t study grammar in English class, take it on yourself. Know how to use your semi-colons!

  • Pay attention in trigonometry and advanced algebra classes. The new SAT will have some higher level math than the current test. You won’t be able to ace the test with basic algebra and geometry, unlike the today’s SAT. If you’re not on track to study trigonometry by junior year, do whatever it takes now to get on track.

  • Dive into graphs, charts, and data. “Real-world” math and data interpretation is going to be all over the new test, even in the reading comprehension and writing questions. Want some fun graphs, charts, tables, and diagrams? XKCD is your new best friend.

Studying for the New SAT: Don’ts

  • Don’t use the SAT blue book. The new SAT will be more similar to the ACT than it will be to today’s SAT. While some of the material in the blue book might help, a lot of it won’t. There will be official material for the new test to study from in the beginning of 2015, so wait until then. If you really, really want to study for the new SAT now (I don’t recommend it!), then instead use the official ACT guide.

  • Don’t study ridiculous vocabulary. At least, don’t worry about rare, difficult words like “abstruse”! Because the new SAT won’t have sentence completions, that type of vocab is less important. Instead, 20% of reading comprehensions questions are about words with more than one possible meaning. So you’ll need to know more than the dictionary definition of a word; you need to know what it means in the specific text. Think of the word “nail,” for example. If you “nailed” the test, does that mean you actually got out a hammer and drove a nail through it? Sure, that’s one dictionary definition of the word, but it’s not the meaning in the context. The new SAT will test vocabulary like that.

  • Don’t believe rumors. A change like this almost always causes a bunch of rumors, and they’re generally nonsense. If anybody you know starts doomsaying about how bad the new test is, and how you should rush to take the current test, take it with a grain of salt (at least). The new test won’t cause major problems for everybody who takes it. The SAT is a way of measuring students against other students, so that’s simply not possible. Somebody will always come out with higher scores. It’s possible that the new test will slightly help or hurt some students, but it won’t be an enormous effect. The biggest difference will be to what you study.

  • Don’t worry about it too much! If you’re a freshman or sophomore now, the best thing you can do to prepare for college is to do well in your classes. The 2016 SAT should be at the bottom of your list. If you get good grades, that looks fantastic on your college applications, and what you practice in class will help you with the test, too. When you start your junior year, then it’s time to start thinking about the SAT and/or ACT.

About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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