Update on the New SAT

The College Board announced in March that a new, improved SAT was on its way.

Today, we got our first look at a draft of the new SAT’s format, methodology, and possible content. To summarize the differences between the current SAT and the new one (which is still in the works), the College Board published this helpful chart:

You can also visit our previous post on the changes for an overview. Since the new SAT won’t be administered until the spring of 2016, only students currently in 9th grade or lower will be taking it.

The information released today sheds important light on many aspects of the new test. This post will give you an overview of changes in timing, scoring, and content emphasis. Stay tuned to our blog for more detailed posts focused solely on the reading, writing, and math segments of the test.


The College Board has announced that it wants to achieve three goals with the redesign and has revised the test’s content and format in order to do so. The new SAT should:

  1. Give a better picture of college-readiness and provide a better prediction of college success.
  2. Be more focused on skills needed for college success.
  3. Better reflect what is taught in the best high school classes.

Having read the 211-page Test Specifications booklet, I can tell you that the changes to the SAT constitute more of a refocus than a revision. There are a few new topics being tested, but the majority of the changes come in format, not content. Another way of putting this is to say that what the SAT is testing isn’t going to change much; what will change is how the SAT tests it.

For example, what today’s newspapers are touting as a “new” way of testing vocabulary is actually a question type—the vocabulary-in-context question—that has always been a part of the SAT’s passage-based reading section. What’s different is that the new SAT will scrap the sentence completions that currently test esoteric vocabulary words. So, in the end, the SAT is just refocusing its reading section on context-based reasoning, which is already part of the current test.

Let’s talk specifics.


The redesigned SAT will give students more time per question, across all sections, than the current SAT.

                          Current SAT                                Redesigned SAT

Section Questions Minutes Minutes per Question Question Minutes Minutes per Question
Math 54 70 1.30 57 80 1.40
Reading 67 70 1.04 52 65 1.25
Writing 49 35 0.71 44 35 0.80


The redesigned SAT will score students’ test performance across several dimensions. Each student will receive a score out of 1600, composed of an Evidence-based Reading and Writing (which I’ll refer to in this post as Verbal) score and a Math score, each out of 800. The new SAT offers something truly new and potentially very useful to college admissions committees: subscores. The SAT will report a number of these subscores, some confined to scores from a single test segment (just reading or writing/language, for example) and some deriving from cross-test performance (a student’s answers for social science passages in reading, writing, and even math will combine to give a student’s cross-test social science subscore). These subscores, ideally, will reflect a student’s ability to grapple with the types of texts, graphs, and tools used in different disciplines and may indicate a student’s comfort level with those subjects.


The new SAT will introduce a few new question types to its current mix. Of particular note is the integration of data analysis across all sections; reading, writing, and math questions will now include the interpretation of charts and graphs. There will also be an extended math question set which will have multiple parts, each of which will involve several steps and types of math. This extended set will be worth more points than regular math questions and will NOT be multiple choice.

On the whole, the new SAT seeks to reward quality, long-term study and engagement rather than shallow memorization divorced from real learning.

This means a few things for the verbal, math, and essay sections of the new SAT.


  • Obscure vocabulary words are out and context-based reasoning is in.
  • Reading comprehension will focus on slightly more sophisticated reading passages, taken from a variety of disciplines and may include graphs or charts.
  • Grammatical concepts will be tested in the context of longer passages, which will come from a variety of disciplines and may include graphs or charts.


  • The new test will focus more on algebra and data analysis than on any other math content area.
  • The test will now include new topics in statistics, geometry, and trigonometry.
  • Questions will present math in real-world situations (today’s sample material had exchange rates, sales tax, and voting statistics).
  • There will be one section of the math portion during which students will NOT be allowed to use a calculator.


  • The essay will ask students to read a passage and analyze its argument.
  • The prompt will be relatively stable, but the essay will change from test to test.
  • The essay will be scored on three aspects: reading (demonstrating an understanding of the source passage), analysis (evaluating the passage’s argument and its evidence), and writing (mechanics and rhetoric).

On the whole, the redesigned SAT looks very similar to the current ACT, both in format and score reporting. There are still significant differences between the tests, of course, and students should carefully consider which one to prepare for and take.

Be sure to read our detailed commentary on changes to the reading, writing, and math sections of the SAT, coming soon!

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Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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