Did you hear? The old SAT was given for the final time on January 23rd, 2016. What does that mean for students still studying for the SAT? We'll discuss the implications of the old SAT sunset and what you need to do for new SAT prep!
The Transition Timeline
In 2014, the makers of the SAT announced that they were going to change the format of the SAT to be much closer to that of the ACT. The transition date of March 2016 was given. This made January 2016 the final official time the old SAT would be given. Now that this date has passed, what should you do?
We have two scenarios below, based on whether you've taken the SAT before or not. Find the one that fits your circumstances, and read its guidelines.
What If You've Never Taken Any SAT Before?
Are you in the class of 2017 or later, and you've never taken the SAT before? The good news it that the choice will be easier for you -- because you can only register for the new SAT at this point! You don't need to calculate how to best navigate taking the old SAT vs. the new SAT. We do want to emphasize a few points, some of which is good advice all around.
Take the New SAT Earlier, Rather than Later
Because the SAT is coming, you might be afraid to take it. You might feel that there's not enough known about the test, or you don't want to be a guinea pig. Thus, you might be tempted to wait a bit before taking the New SAT - maybe take the June exam, or even the September exam.
This is the wrong approach. You want to get the most exposure to the test as early as possible. With the uncertainty that comes with the new version of the test, the best way to gain more information about it is to take the new SAT as soon as you can. Firsthand experience gives you data that no tutor and no book can provide. You also know exactly how you will react to the new SAT. No more listening to Tim talk about how new SAT Math questions were hard for him or Susan talk about how new SAT Reading questions were confusing for her -- you'll see exactly how you react. Taking the new SAT sooner rather than later lets you reduce uncertainty quickly and early.
While any dry-run will give you information, it is probably best that you prep at least a little bit before your first new SAT. If you don't prep, your testing experience and score will not reflect your best effort and final performance. You get a lot less useful information from a "no study at all" dry run. Also, in the chance this test is your best score, you want that best score to be as high as possible!
Another reason to take the new SAT earlier is that you'll get multiple bites at the apple. Since the new SAT is so new, it is likely that minor details in the format, scale, or other areas will change between the first few administrations. (Conversely, the 10-year-old previous version of the SAT probably didn't change very much in the last few years.) If one of these administrations is especially easy or suitable for you, then that's great news because, with superscoring and score choice, only your best score matters. Remember that, with superscoring and score choice, it's better to have more variation in your score, and you'll likely get more variation with the first few tests.
Finally, taking the SAT early also lets you retake it in the fall in case you don't like your score. This means you'll have more options for the future.
Some might argue there are strategic reasons to take the new SAT later. One is that there will be more prep material out. This is true if you're willing to wait until September, but for those in the class of 2017, that's not a great choice. You have to study during the summer instead of preparing college applications. Also, in case you don't do well, you'll face time pressure for a re-test.
If you're truly afraid of the uncertainty of the new SAT, doing ACT prep is a good idea (see below). However, I believe trying to strategically delay is penny wise, pound foolish. Taking it earlier, studying more, and putting more resources into the new SAT are surefire ways to score higher.
Consider the ACT
Some of you may still be afraid of the new SAT. What if you're a guinea pig while the SAT is trying to figure things out? What if they mess up somehow? What if colleges don't know what to do with the scores? While these are not major concerns, there is one serious option you should consider if you're just uneasy -- taking the ACT.
The ACT has had a proven reputation in its current format for many years now. The ACT is also very close in format to the new SAT -- so there should not be a major loss in preparing for the ACT format. For those worried about change or the lack of new SAT material, ACT prep can be the way to go. My only advice would be to get started early on this too, so you have the most information as soon as possible.
Sometimes changing the test you take can be good.
What If You've Taken the SAT Before, But It Was the Old SAT?
If you're totally satisfied with your score, then great -- you don't need to do anything else. However, if you want a better SAT score, read on!
You're actually in a better position if you've taken the old SAT before. This is because you're getting two bites at the apple now. If you take the new SAT and find it fits your style better, then you should keep your new SAT score via superscoring. Likewise, if you take the new SAT and find out you don't do as well, then submit just your old SAT score via superscoring. Because superscoring takes your best test score, having more tests is good, and having different tests is good. The biggest piece of advice is to indeed take the new SAT. (In fact, the new SAT was officially designed to target everyone in the Class of 2017 and later.)
Again, the same advice of taking the new SAT early applies to you. By taking it early, you get more information, more bites at the apple (especially when the test is changing the fastest), and you'll maximize your chance of getting the score you want while leaving summer for applications.
Which Test Dates? March, May, June or October?
One factor you should definitely note is that it will take a long time for the test makers to grade the new SAT. Usually, the test makers take less than three weeks to grade the test. For March, the grading time will be more than two months, and for May/June, more than six weeks! This matters for you because you'll have less time to re-test in case of a low score.
March scores are predicted to be out early enough that you can register for the June date. You'll likely have about three weeks between the March score release (around May 17th, 2016) and the June 4th test. Thus, March has some advantage in that you can squeeze in one more test before the fall, but it will be a tight squeeze.
Conversely, if you take the May or June test, you will not know your score in time to retake it before the fall. Also, keep in mind that, in our data, taking the SAT earlier is correlated with being more determined about the SAT and performing better. It's easy for distracted students and busy parents to turn "I'll study later" to "Oops I guess we didn't have enough time to study!"
All three choices, March, May, and June, are substantially superior to October. If you do well before summer, then you're better off because you can spend the summer doing college applications. Putting in enough time on apps is a huge predictor of acceptance chances. If you do poorly, it's still good you took the SAT early: you know what trips you up on the test, and your studying during the summer will be more focused and effective.
The old SAT is over, and so preppers need to transition to a new study regime. Students who haven't taken the SAT ever before have it easy: they can just pretend there is no transition. For these students, there are advantages to taking it early and before summer.
Students who have taken the old SAT should definitely take the new SAT, if possible, to take advantage of the "best of multiple scores" advantage.
Read about how to improve your score on your own or try our program:
Want to get started on your SAT studying? Check out our guide to the best new SAT prep books.
Interested in learning more about the new SAT? We have a complete guide to the new SAT that includes everything you need to know about the newly revised exam!
Want to take some practice tests to get a feel for the new SAT? We have free and official practice SAT exams you can take right now!
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Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.