As students and schools across the country gear up for the new SAT, everyone is wondering what, exactly, to expect. For students, including those familiar with the old SAT or the ACT, the best way to begin preparing for the new-look SAT will be to read about the changes and then spend some time working through the practice tests that have been released. At this point, great information and analysis have been published by many sources. This three-part series is not designed to review or summarize all of the available content—much of which includes great detail and excellent insights—but rather to present some of the most basic advice that we feel can be helpful to almost all students. In each part, we will give an introduction to strategies for one of the three multiple-choice test sections, much as we would introduce a student to the section during a first in-person tutoring session. So without further ado:
Nowhere is the difference between the old SAT and the ACT more evident than in the Reading section. The old SAT Reading test was split between a clearly defined vocabulary section and a reading comprehension section, with a fair share of tricky questions. The ACT contained only passages and accompanying questions, with longer, more straightforward passages. The main challenge was less figuring out individual questions and more time management.
So, what about the new SAT? It’s somewhere in the middle. Gone are the out-of-context vocab questions, like with the ACT. Passages and questions are more advanced than those on the ACT, but it’s often more obvious where to find the evidence to support the correct answers than it was on the old SAT (in no small part due to the new two-for-one, find-the-evidence questions; see below for more on this).
Strategies for this section can be roughly divided into two groups: those dealing with reading and those dealing with answering questions. With the departure of the dedicated vocabulary section, students no longer need to worry about studying vocabulary by itself; the vocabulary-in-context questions are more about reading carefully and looking for context clues than they are about quickly recognizing difficult words.
More vocabulary-in-context questions: Knowing the words helps. Being good at reading carefully for context clues helps even more!
Data analysis: The new SAT is incorporating graphs, charts, and data analysis into each of the three sections. These can take some getting used to (as many students who have practiced for the ACT Science section can attest), but learning to recognize and hone in on important information quickly helps immensely.
Follow-up “find-the-evidence” questions: These questions will ask students to choose the quote that best supports their answer choice for the previous question. Always look for these question pairs and, when you find one, go straight to the second question and the evidence before answering the first question.
Strategies for reading:
Many students will find they have enough time to read passages fairly carefully before moving to the questions. However, a skimming strategy can still be helpful, even if it isn’t as necessary as it often seems to be on the ACT. The key to skimming is giving yourself permission to miss some details the first time through. Rather than focusing on the nuts and bolts of the author’s argument or narrative, effective skimming means creating a very basic roadmap of the passage before tackling the questions. What is the main point? What is the overall structure? What is each paragraph’s main topic?
Strategies for questions: Evidence, evidence, evidence! Often, the hardest questions on the test are ones that seem to involve subjective interpretation of the passage, when in fact, they refer to a very specific detail. To this end, the new follow-up questions asking you to find evidence for the previous question’s answer are helpful in that they make it very clear where to hunt in the passage. These and other line-reference questions, along with a good roadmap, help direct you around the passage while going through these questions.