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Chris Lele

The Redesigned SAT

A little over a year ago, the College Board announced that the SAT would undergo its greatest change in 30 years. At the time, we were offered only high-level descriptions of the redesigned test and a few sample questions—speculation was rife.

Now, the new test has been revealed in its entirety, the College Board releasing both a new Study Guide and, more surprisingly, partnering up with education rock star Sal Khan to provide an electronic platform to deliver the content. That doesn’t necessarily mean speculation has died down. But what we do have is enough material to deliver a far more definitive judgment about the test.

(Don’t worry – the redesigned SAT won’t make its debut until March 2016. If you’re studying for the current version, you still have multiple opportunities to take it.)


Redesigned SAT:

1. The focus on “difficult vocabulary” (yes, it’s hard to quantify this) has shifted to a focus on evidence-based reading.

2. An understanding the passage will very likely yield the correct answer.

Old SAT:

1. Knowing how “difficult vocabulary” (ambivalent, didactic, etc.) function in context.

2. Understanding the passage does not mean you are immune to the many answer choice traps, traps that are avoided by applying a certain logic absent from the new exam.

I’ll admit it: I love words, I like solving puzzles and I enjoy reading highly stylistic/philosophical passages. I will miss the old SAT greatly.

For many of you, knowing that the answer choices aren’t meant to trap you and that the vocabulary*, albeit still tested indirectly (you’ll have to understand the passages), will help you sleep better at night. But before you treat the Redesign SAT passages as a cakewalk remember: the passages are going to be challenging—sometimes more challenging—than the current SAT. This is mainly because some passages are hundreds of years old and are pretty dry.

For instance, instead of reading a scholar’s take on the rhetorical strategies employed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, you’ll actually get Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s address at the 1869 Woman Suffrage Convention. Stanton, though using odd turns of phrase, will be manageable for most test takers. The old SAT would have had the scholarly article, full of vocabulary, nuanced qualifications, and general musing—topped off with deviously designed questions. Of course, this might be easier for some to digest for some than the cerebrations of you of an 18th century British philosopher. Even then: if you understand the passage, you’ll likely answer the question correctly.

*Vocabulary is explicitly tested in the writing section, falling under diction. You’ll be asked to tell the difference between vacate, evacuate, and depart (only depart can mean to diverge from the usual or expected course). That said, there are still vocabulary-in-context reading, though the words will be the kind you’d likely encounter on the nightly news (ambivalent, impetuous, and equivocal probably have never been uttered in the history of public broadcasting).


Redesigned SAT:

Do you understand how grammar and rhetoric functions in an essay?

Old SAT:

Are you able to identify how a handful of grammatical error types from the cosmos of grammatical errors are tested in short snippets?

While I lament the passing of the old reading section, I think that the current writing section is a significant improvement over the previous writing section. I’m basing much of this on students I’ve taught who scored near perfect in the multiple-choice part but who made the most elementary grammatical errors in their essays. It was as though their grammar brain would shut off completely when writing. Perhaps they struggled to think grammatically when generating sentences upon sentences, instead of analyzing little snippets of writing.

Whatever the case (and I’m sure the answer differed with each student), the essay format that the Redesigned SAT uses to test student’s grammar employs context and a big-picture understanding of the way grammar works. You’ll have to determine whether a certain paragraph fits into an essay. In other cases, you’ll have to read an entire paragraph just to have enough context to decide how to best deal with a specific clause.

These kinds of skills, I believe, are more germane to essay writing. Which kind of makes sense. The SAT has now made the essay optional. In doing so, it had to make the Writing section test some of the skills that it could no longer assess by making the essay optional. Who knows if any multiple-choice test is up to the task; were I part of an admissions board I’d require students to submit an SAT essay score (or I’d simply look at their ACT scores).


Redesigned SAT:

If you know the fundamentals behind the problem, you’ll most likely get it correct.

Old SAT:

The fundamentals aren’t too advanced; deciphering the problem and finding a “solution path” is paramount.

That description might actually require some deciphering: on the old SAT, when solving a math problem on the board, I’ll usually get a collective “a-ha” from those who missed the question. “Oh, I get it now. That’s makes sense” would be a common refrain.

With the Redesigned SAT, if a student misses a question he or she likely will say, after a teacher provides an explanation, “oh, I have to really read up on parabolas or imaginary numbers, etc.” There is no sudden moment of Eureka, but a series of sequential steps that you must follow in order to arrive at the answer. (With the previous SAT I could solve most of the questions without pen and paper; with the Redesigned SAT there are simply too many steps required that, san pen and paper, all but a memory savant would be confounded).

Put another way, to improve on the Redesigned SAT is a matter of learning the material rather than a study of tactics or an attempt to understand the test writer’s logic, so that you can see the “trick” and do relatively basic computation to get the answer.

ACT math vs. SAT math

If the above sounds like the very reason, a friend, family member, or even you, considered taking the ACT, you might be wondering if the math section on the Redesign SAT is indecipherable from that found on the ACT. Well, actually there are some differences. I’d argue that the math on the SAT is more difficult; the problems still have more complexity and require a little more “unpacking” (“decipher” would be a stretch) than the math questions found on the ACT.

There are of course other minor differences: the Resigned SAT has more algebra and coordinate geometry questions, while having fewer trigonometry and probability questions.

New SAT vs. Old SAT

So is the Redesigned SAT more difficult than the old SAT? Well, it depends on you. Did you get mostly ‘A’s in your math classes and do you not have a porous memory? Well, you’ll likely do very well on this new SAT. On the other hand, if you good at logic puzzles and spatial thinking (do you do well on IQ tests), I’d argue that the old SAT probably came naturally to you but, with a little work, you should do just fine. For those who are willing to put in the time, my prediction is that you’ll be able to improve more on the Redesigned SAT.


Do you (or your student) need to get a head start on New SAT Prep? Though the exam seems far off, once the holidays are over, it will approach very quickly! We recently released our very own online prep for the redesigned SAT, and are currently giving discounts to students who purchase subscriptions for more than one exam. Learn more at newsat.magoosh.com.


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About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 8 million views.

You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog!

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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