A Primer on the Upcoming Changes to the SAT


LIVINGSTON, NJ – Last month, The College Board announced major changes to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) that has long been used by many colleges as a factor in offering admission to high school students. Various online sources including The New York Times and CNN have reported that the changes aim to reconnect the exam with the work students perform in classrooms, rather than on arcane terminology and test tricks.

The SAT will now consist of three sections, reported the New York Times: an evidence-based reading and writing section, which will no longer focus on arcane and obscure vocabulary; a math section, in which the focus will be on real-world problem solving and data analysis; and an optional essay section.

President of the College Board David Coleman stated that changes to the test have been made because the SAT had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools,” and had been criticized by classroom teachers.

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“With these new changes, some of the anxiety students feel about the test should be de-escalated,” said Director of Guidance for Livingston Public Schools Tina Renga, “because [the test] will resemble more of what students are doing in the classroom.”

According to Renga, preparing for the new SAT for the first few classes of students—current freshman and sophomores—will be extremely important. While “current sophomores can sit for the PSAT, there has been no information provided about whether it will also change [to match the SAT],” so utilizing any information “provided by the College Board, such as free practice tests, will be a great opportunity for students to see what the test will look like,” said Renga.

“It is also important for students to know as much as they can about the changes in scoring the exam, since points will no longer be deducted for wrong answers, and to try to prepare particularly for the math portion by focusing on linear equations, complex functions and other topics covered in class,” said Renga.

David Slater, a college planning expert at the Roseland-based College Benefits Research Group (CBRG) added that while the “first test will be on an equal playing field because of the limited ability to prepare, [certain basic] test taking strategies will still be important.” He also stated that students should still prepare to be able to sit and take a long test and handle being exhausted, and learn how to relax in a test-taking environment. Even with the changes, he said he feels that the exam “measures a person’s ability to take a test, and test preparation courses will continue to be a place for people to learn and practice [for the exam].”

Renga added that, “if [a student feels that] test preparation is needed, hopefully it focuses on closing the gaps in learning from the classroom, rather than on strategies for attacking the test, [because] we want to teach the life skills needed for the test and college and beyond, not just the test.”

“Ultimately, testing is a measurement and it is really grades that will get you into a college,” added Slater. “It’s not the test that will make the student successful, but the student that makes him or herself successful by hard work at a school,” that is a good fit for the student.

Major changes to the SAT include:

  • An evidence-based reading and writing section with passages from a variety of subjects including social studies, science, history and literature;
  • A math section focusing on algebra and advanced math concepts;
  • An optional essay section;
  • Calculators will no longer be permitted on all math sections;
  • No penalty for guessing or wrong answers;
  • Students can take the SAT in either print or digital format;
  • The test will take three hours, plus an additional 50 minutes for the essay section; and
  • A return to the former 1,600 point scale, with a top score of 800 each in math and verbal, with the essay having a separate score.

“As more information becomes available and the date for implementation of the new test draws nearer, the Livingston School District will educate and advise the community and students of the changes and resources to prepare for them,” stated Renga.

In the meantime, there are a variety of local area SAT prep programs available to Livingston and other local students including: C2 Education Livingston Center, which is located at 155 S. Livingston Avenue; Eye Level, which is located at 184 S. Livingston Avenue; and Chyten, which is located at 227 Millburn Avenue.

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