Countdown to College: What’s up with the new SAT?

Columnist Lee Bierer
Columnist Lee Bierer

Right around now, when seniors are finalizing their college plans, is when parents of sophomores and juniors start dipping their toes in the college admissions process pool.

They begin learning how colleges and families measure selectivity and understanding the college admissions timeline. And, within a very short time, they find themselves completely comfortable spouting college admissions lingo – “Duke University’s middle 50 is 680-790,” or “Stanford’s yield was 76 percent.”

A month ago they wouldn’t have had a clue what the “middle 50” meant, never mind being able to quote admissions stats by memory.

Many parents want to get a head start on test prep, and depending on the student and their level of motivation, it is usually a good idea. One family recently asked me if they should dedicate the entire summer between sophomore and junior year to prepping for the PSAT, SAT and ACT.

I quickly cautioned that I don’t think it’s smart to devote that much time to preparing for upcoming tests. As I always say: “Don’t turn your test prep into an extracurricular activity!”

The big change in testing is the new SAT, which will come on board in March 2016. Current juniors won’t need to deal with it because by next March they will have already applied and in most cases, been accepted to their colleges.

But sophomores and freshmen will need to be aware of the changes in the new SAT. Because of that, many college advisers are recommending that students go with the known entity, the ACT. They are taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the redesigned SAT. Prep methods for the ACT are proven, and there are lots of resources that can help students enhance their score.

Here are some of the big changes in the new SAT:

1. The essay will now be an optional last section of the test with a 50-minute limit. Currently, students are allowed 25 minutes to complete the required SAT essay, and it is the first section of the test. This is similar to the ACT. Many colleges are expected to require the SAT essay.

2. There will no longer be a writing section with a separate sub-score. The redesigned SAT will have two sections, math and reading. The reading section will include evidence-based reading and writing as well as questions testing reading, writing and language skills. The SAT’s current scale is 600-2400 (200-800 for each of three sections). The redesigned SAT’s scale will be 400-1600 (200-800 for each of two sections: math and reading/writing).

3. Students will not be penalized for wrong answers. On the current SAT students lose a quarter point for each incorrect response, but on the new SAT there will be no such deductions. This is also similar to the ACT.

The current SAT will be offered this year in June, October, November and December, and in January 2016.