What Do I Need to Know About the SAT?

Closeup of test form with TEST text in red

Earlier this year, the College Board decided to give the SAT exam one of its biggest overhauls ever. The goal was to create more of a “text-based test”. Elements of the revised exam include more challenging text in both the reading and math sections, a new scoring system, no guessing penalty and a different question structure. Simply put, it’s a big change to adjust to.

But there’s no reason to panic. The test now matches the education of today’s prospective college students more closely. This is good news: you should see more of what you’re learning in high school and less obscure vocabulary words you’ve never seen before.

College Board’s chief of assessment Cyndie Schmeiser said that the test has also been configured to eliminate potential advantages to any racial or income group.

The new release of the SAT consolidates the overall score to out of 1600, with 800 for math, and 800 for evidence-based reading and writing. Previously, the score was out of 2400. The essay is now optional, and students have the option to see specific sub scores as part of their score report. In addition, some questions in the math section must be completed without a calculator.

Since the essay is optional, the revised test is only three hours long, so it’s important for test-takers to pace themselves. Even though the number of answer choices has been reduced from five to four, the questions are now more complex and require higher-level reasoning and critical thinking skills.

Overall, the math section has an emphasis on problem solving, data analytics, and algebraic elements, while the reading and writing sections feature questions drawn from U.S. & world literature, social studies, science and history. The optional essay, scored separately, places an emphasis on facts and calls on students to use a document to explain how an argument was made.

Students seem to be responding positively to the test. Despite worries about the exam’s perceived difficulty, data released earlier in the year has shown an upward shift in average scores.

No matter what, like with any standardized test, preparation is key. Speed and accuracy are always important. Treat the revised version of the SAT like the old one. Use any resources you can find to prepare for the exam, and always study hard in your classes – they are the foundation for doing well on the SAT.