The Biggest Changes To The SAT Have Nothing To Do With Optional Essays Or Penalty-Free Answers

Students Classroom Test

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The biggest shift in the new SAT is not that the test will no longer require an essay or penalize students for wrong answers - it's that the entire focus of the exam will change, to the benefit of student test-takers.

While the first two changes are definitely worth any accompanying excitement, the core of the test appears to be universally shifting towards more practical questions and analysis. Put more simply, the SAT is no longer trying to find out how well you can memorize a set of flashcards or use a calculator.

Some of these changes may be viewed as a response to the increasingly popular ACT test, which is considered more "practical" and recently overtook the SAT as the most popular college entrance exam. College Board, which runs the SAT, said that the changes are in part meant to emphasize what students are already learning in school.Advertisement

"It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming, but the challenging learning students do each day," College Board president David Coleman said in his announcement Wednesday.

While no questions have been released off the new test, these are definitely major changes that will ideally make the SAT a more practical test that's likely easier to prepare for. Using this helpful breakdown of the new SAT from The Washington Post as a reference, here's why these changes are more impactful than they may seem:


The SAT math section will narrow its focus on a few core topics, rather than question students from a broad range of high-school level math fields. According to the Associated Press, "the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward."

Additionally, while calculators were previously allowed throughout the entire math portion of the SAT, students can now only use them in certain sections. This will likely force the format of these questions - as well as the numbers used - to be simpler and more manageable, as test-takers will no longer have the help of an automated number cruncher. Reading:Advertisement

The reading portion - currently known as "critical reading" - will combine with multiple-choice writing questions to form a new "evidence-based reading and writing" section. There will no longer be "sentence completion" questions, among other changes.

There will also be a significant shift in the types of words used for vocabulary questions. The test plans to move away from so called "SAT words" - notorious for popping up in questions even though they're very rarely used outside of the test - and will now favor "words that are widely used in college and career," The Washington Post reports.

One example of this could be "synthesis," which while potentially tricky to define, is not as obscure as a word such as "phlegmatic."Advertisement

Another way the new SAT will employ "real world" applicability will be in its choice of reading analysis passages, which will now be opened up to include potential examples from science, history, and social studies, according to The Washington Post. Questions will also ask test-takers to identify the specific part of a passage that supports their answer.

This practicality will also be demonstrated in a shift away from unrecognizable reading analysis passages, and towards documents that more student would be familiar with, such as the Declaration of Independence.


While the biggest change in the SAT's newest section - the essay - is that it is now optional, students who choose to complete it will also be graded different than in years past.

Since the essay was introduced in 2005, SAT graders focused more on structure of the essay and argument rather than what evidence was actually being cited. Theoretically, a student could fabricate all of their supporting examples and not be penalized.

That is no longer the case. Now, students who choose to submit an SAT essay will be explicitly evaluated on the concrete examples they use and how they're employed and analyzed as evidence.Advertisement