The (Early) Verdict Is In: No Need to Fear the New SAT
As a tutor and college admissions coach, I’ve had the chance now to start working with several students starting their junior year of high school and practicing for the October PSAT – the first to be administered in the College Board’s new digital, adaptive format. After highly successful pilot programs around the world in 2022 and earlier this year, the digital SAT is rolling out to all test-takers starting in March 2024. This year’s juniors took a PSAT that mirrors the new format, and across the board it looks like this incarnation of the SAT is going to be a much better fit for almost all students.
When rising juniors see the new materials, especially as it relates to the English side of the test, the reactions are almost all positive. When their older siblings, many of whom I worked with for their own tests, see it, there’s more than a little envy. Shorter reading passages, less confusing math problems, no pencil required, and a shorter test overall – there’s a lot to like in the new SAT, all of it pointing to less stress and a better experience for the kids taking it.
Reading and Writing: the “old” Reading and Writing & Language sections are now rolled into a single module that combines single-paragraph reading selections with easier questions. Gone are the “find the evidence” paired questions that often stumped students in the past, and most passages only have one question to be answered. On the new PSAT students will have 32 minutes to answer 27 questions, all of which are labelled “standard difficulty” by the College Board.
How a student performs on the first module will determine whether their second module (also 27 minutes) contains easier questions or more challenging ones. The more challenging questions will be worth more on the scale, which is a major change from the previous SATs – where every question carried the same weight regardless of difficulty.
Math: the biggest change here? Students will have access to a calculator on their device for all the Math, whereas the old SAT (which was given for the last time at the beginning of December) has a non-calculator section as well. Also differing slightly are the presentation of the open-ended “grid-in” questions. These used to be at the end of each Math section; now they’ll be integrated throughout. The same progression of “easy to hard” within the section still generally holds true, and the same subjects are emphasized – algebra 1 & 2, geometry, and arithmetic. The “old” strategies of plugging in numbers, working backwards from answer choices, and elimination before guessing are still as useful here as they’ve always been.
Like the Reading and Writing portion of the test, the second module will be either easier or more challenging, based on the first module performance. Each module is 22 questions in 35 minutes – meaning for the whole PSAT, there’s a little more than 2 hours of testing time involved.
How about the ACT? The ACT, administered and managed by a completely different organization, will remain the same for the foreseeable future. The new SAT format, though, definitely complicates the equation of “which test is better” when students are getting ready to plan out their college applications. Or maybe it doesn’t – the new SAT is so much more straightforward (and frankly “easier” in a lot of ways) that students may actually prefer it in the long run!