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The redesigned SAT: What parents & students should know

The new SAT, which will be introduced this coming March, aims to more accurately assess what students should be learning before college.
The new SAT, which will be introduced this coming March, aims to more accurately assess what students should be learning before college. Getty Images/iStockphoto

In March of 2014, College Board president, David Coleman, announced plans for a major SAT overhaul. The new SAT, which will be introduced this coming March, aims to realign with the “work of our high schools” and more accurately assess what students should be learning before college.

Much of the commentary around the new SAT has focused on how changes to the exam will impact colleges, high schools, and test prep providers. But what does a revised SAT mean for students, and how can they plan accordingly? If you’re college-bound and have yet to take the SAT, here’s what you need to know.

Lose the flashcards and pick up a book.

The College Board has finally decided to eliminate abstruse and outdated language from the SAT and instead feature words that students are more likely to encounter in college and the work place. Many words will look familiar, but their meaning will depend on context, and answering items correctly will often require strong skills in reading comprehension and interpretation.

Give yourself “APUSH.”

The new SAT will be littered with passages from the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and other Founding Documents, so advanced coursework in U.S. history could result in a better looking transcript and standardized test score. Enrolling in an honors or AP U.S. History (i.e., APUSH) course may also help students negotiate the exam’s new writing section, which will require that students analyze a passage and explain how its author uses evidence and reason to build an argument. The new essay will prove difficult for most test takers, but APUSH students should have a leg up, given their course of study.

Take a statistics course.

The redesigned math section will place primary emphasis on quantitative reasoning and real world applications. Test takers will be asked to analyze rates, interpret graphs, synthesize mathematical information, and make sense of patterns within a particular dataset—all of these skills are essential in today’s “big data” environment, regardless of profession, and should be acquired/developed during a statistics course.

Sample free test-prep, but still consider fee-based options.

In addition to redesigning the SAT, the College Board has also partnered with Khan Academy, a leading online learning platform, to provide free test preparation services. With an excellent reputation, significant financial backing and access to actual test questions, Khan Academy has provided a very sophisticated test prep program that benefits students of all backgrounds. However, many may still yield advantages from the structure and individualized feedback that fee-based test-prep companies provide.

Prepare for the March SAT (and beyond) and consider the ACT too.

The redesigned SAT will be administered beginning this March, so prepare accordingly. However, it’s also important that you consider taking the ACT as well. All four-year colleges accept either the SAT or ACT, so it’s in your best interest to determine which test gives you the best chance to earn admission into your top choice schools. Ideally, students will take both the SAT and ACT at least once and then devote the remainder of their test preparation to the exam on which they performed better, taking that test 1-2 additional times if possible. If you wish to see how your SAT and ACT scores stack up against one another, you can view an SAT-ACT concordance table published by either of the testing companies.

For more information on the SAT redesign, please visit the College Board’s website.

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website—www.collegetransitions.com—to learn more.

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