Back in 2016, the College Board decided to change the SAT again. When considering the new SAT vs. the old SAT, the differences are so dramatic that old study guides are now obsolete. Understanding these changes will help you ace the new SAT test.
Almost every aspect of the new SAT is different than the old version. Even the perfect SAT score has changed. On the previous version of the SAT, 2400 was the perfect score, but now the perfect SAT score has returned to its original identity as 1600.
The fact is that most of the new changes work out in your favor as a test taker. There are fewer questions on the newer version, and you’ll no longer be penalized for guessing. Other changes are more than skin deep.
The New SAT vs. the Old SAT: An Overview
The last time that the College Board updated the SAT was in 2005, when they created the version of the SAT that lasted until 2016. This new update brings many changes that largely reflect the needs of students and teachers by better aligning the test with the standard high school curriculum. The structure of the test has changed as well.
On the old SAT, test takers would have 3 hours and 45 minutes to answer a total of 171 questions, but on the new SAT test, you’ll have 3 hours to answer 154 questions plus 50 minutes if you choose to take the optional essay portion of the test. Even the sections are different, with two former sections – Critical Reading and Writing – being consolidated into one section called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The other sections on the new SAT test are math and the optional essay, with math being weighted more heavily than it was before, accounting for half of your score instead of one third of it.
The biggest change in your favor as a test taker is the SAT’s new policy to not penalize wrong answers. Previous versions of the test would deduct a quarter of a point for every incorrect answer, but on the new SAT, you won’t lose any points for incorrect answers. This new policy means that you should answer all of the questions on the test, even if you have to guess on some of them.
The New SAT vs. the Old SAT: Reading
On the newly formed Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT, your reading and rhetoric skills will be put to the test. The first part of the section is the Reading section, which is comprised of five reading passages. Unlike the old SAT format, this new version of the SAT separates the passages by topic. The topics from which the readings are drawn include history and the social sciences, world literature and science.
Questions in this section will emphasize reading comprehension in terms of rhetoric and logic. To score well on this section, you will have to understand vocabulary words in context and be well-versed in identifying the parts of a cogent argument. What you won’t have to do is memorize esoteric vocabulary words or complete analogies. Those are components of the old SATs that are best left in the past where they belong.
This new version of the SAT also adds two new kinds of questions to the Reading section. The first of these are evidence support questions, which will ask you where in the text you found the answer to the question that came before it. You will also have to interpret graphs and charts in this section as well as the Math section.
The New SAT vs. the Old SAT: Writing
Like the reading portion, the writing portion of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section is quite different from the old version of the SAT. One of the biggest changes is that while the old version asked you to correct the grammar and style of sentences out of context, the new version of the Writing section asks test takers to read passages and correct sentences from them. In some ways, this makes the questions in the Writing section less tricky than in previous versions of the SAT.
Gone are the days of flash cards and memorization. Now, if you’re reaching for that perfect SAT score, you’ll have to be able to recognize great writing when you see it. By the time you reach the SAT, you should know that effective writing relies on logic and rhetoric as well as punctuation and grammar.
To practice for this portion of the SAT, get into the habit of reading quality writing from publications like The New York Times, literary journals and bestselling nonfiction books. You should also take a few practice SAT tests to see which areas you need to improve. Create your own study schedule, including brushing up on your grammar skills, or join a study group to prepare for this important test.
The New SAT vs. the Old SAT: Math
Unlike the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, the SAT Math section only has a few changes that make it different from the old version of the SAT. Because the Reading and Writing sections were combined into one section, the Math section now carries more weight on the test. So, make sure you study well, especially if math isn’t your strong suit.
One of the main changes to the SAT Math section is the addition of multistep problems. Be careful with these because if you mess up on one of the earlier steps, you could end up getting multiple questions wrong. Other additions to the Math section include:
- A subsection where you can’t use your calculator
- More trigonometry
- More questions that require you to interpret graphs and figures
- More questions that rely on realistic scenarios you might see in your daily life
On the other hand, you will end up seeing less geometry and fewer questions that seem to have no real-life applications. To prepare for this version of the SAT, take a practice test and make sure you work out each question by hand. Ask your math teacher or find a tutor if you see that you're consistently getting the same kinds of questions incorrect.
Advice on Studying for the New SAT
When you start studying for the SAT, you’ll probably notice that there isn’t as much material available on the new SAT, and much of the material you find may be obsolete. You have a few options for studying. You can purchase a study guide, join a study group, find a tutor, ask your teachers for supplemental materials or use free materials from the College Board’s website.
However, keep in mind that the SAT isn’t your only option_._ If not being able to find a lot of study material makes you nervous, consider taking the ACT instead of the SAT. The ACT has gone largely unchanged for many years, so myriad study materials exist – both free and paid – to help you cover the content on the ACT.
Believe it or not, if you’d like to stick to the SAT, you can actually use some ACT materials to practice concepts that will be tested on the SAT as well. Ask your teachers and guidance counselor if you’re unsure which is best for you.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.