Prepare for the New SAT Exam: Four Study Tips for Students

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

The SAT® exam is undergoing a significant redesign. Its authors, the College Board, state the changes will make the test better reflect what students are learning in the era of the Common Core and what competencies colleges want to see out of their prospects. The new SAT exam will take effect on March 5, 2016 and will look much more similar to the ACT® test. Here is a quick guide to helping students prepare for the updated test.

1. Don’t worry (too much) about vocabulary

The new SAT exam will no longer include vocabulary questions that ask about specific words without providing context. This is good news for many vocab-averse students—the change means the end of analogy questions. Students taking the exam should no longer feel a need to study long lists of general vocabulary words in preparation for the test; however, a solid grasp of vocabulary surrounding other topics on the test will still be important.

With the changes, a much bigger concern for preparation should now be how to discern the meaning of words from the context in which they are presented. If students don’t know the meaning of a word offhand, can they figure it out based on how it is being used with the words that appear around it? In line with Common Core and new state standards, that’s the important skill now.

2. Hone data-analysis skills

There will be a larger emphasis on data analysis in the new SAT exam. Expect the test to ask a lot of questions focused on interpreting tables and graphs. For test takers who struggle with this skill, the ACT test actually has a dedicated science section that works in largely the same way. Preparation materials designed for that assessment can be a useful tool to get ready for the new SAT.

3. Practice evidence-based writing

When the new SAT exam was announced, the big attention grabber was that now, the essay portion is optional. However, making the essay optional doesn’t mean that colleges don’t want to see it.

The exam’s new essay portion is longer in terms of timing—50 minutes rather than 25. This means that test examiners will expect students to present a better-designed explanation with more supporting evidence for the prompt. The prompts will focus on examining a persuasive argument that has already been written by an author rather than students’ own thoughts or knowledge on the topic.

4. Brush up on advanced math

Students should expect more multistep problems and slightly more advanced concepts in the SAT exam’s new math section. Test takers should expect to see more data, graphs, and tables to analyze and deconstruct. Materials designed for the old test will still be useful preparation tools, particularly to help isolate students’ areas of weakness, but more advanced topics, going at least as far as basic trigonometry, should definitely be reviewed.

Want to learn more about what students should expect from the redesigned SAT exam? Check out the College Board’s Meet the New SAT webpage. Looking for online tools to help your students prepare? Take a look at Edmentum’s College and Career Readiness Solutions!


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