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Is the New 2016 SAT a Reaction to the Common Core?


You know the SAT was just revised. But were those changes driven by the Common Core? And why would that matter? Read on to find out—and to be prepared for the revised SAT!


The New 2016 SAT and Common Core

As you probably know, the SAT is underwent a pretty dramatic change in March 2016. You may be wondering: was this change caused by the new Common Core standards?

Although the College Board denies this connection, the signs point to yes.

For one thing, David Coleman, the current head of the College Board, was previously part of the English Language Arts committee of the Common Core. The media often refers to him as an “architect of the Common Core.” So it's not too surprising that he would bring the Common Core philosophy to the College Board, leading to an SAT overhaul.

In you're interested, you can read more about how David Coleman specifically drove the SAT changes, and how his work designing the Common Core was a big motivator.

However, College Board doesn’t explicitly tie the new SAT to Common Core since the Common Core is very controversial in some places. After all, the College Board still wants the SAT to be a universal college admissions test. This is why the College Board barely mentions the Common Core in their giant, 200-page document about the new SAT.

However, an Education Week analysis convincingly shows Common Core standards seem to have driven the new SAT changes. Check out a summary of that analysis below:


Concept Common Core-inspired Change
Citing Evidence Not tested on the old SAT. The new SAT has evidence-based reading and writing multiple choice questions, which lines up with Common Core goals of teaching students to cite specific textual evidence.
Reading Passage Sources The old SAT's Reading and Writing passages didn't represent a range of academic disciplines. Now the Reading and Writing passages come from a wide range of topics, including science, history, and social studies. This matches the Common Core's push for English classes to include more non-literary texts.
Vocabulary The old SAT tested obscure vocabulary that required students to be familiar with relatively rare words. The new SAT is focusing on more practical words, matching the Common Core's goal for students to be ready to use general academic and domain-specific words.
The Essay The old SAT allowed students to draw on their background and experiences as evidence. The new SAT essay measures your ability to analyze evidence and explain how an author builds an argument, reflecting the Common Core's goal to teach students to gather, evaluate, and properly cite evidence.
Range of Math Topics The old SAT drew from a wide range of high school math concepts. The new SAT draws from a smaller range of topics that College Board believes will best show student's readiness for college-level math, including a greater emphasis on Algebra and real-life applications.     This speaks to the Common Core's goal to cover fewer math topics in greater depth.
Calculators The old SAT allowed calculators on all math sections, leaving it up to students to decide when to use them. The new SAT has a "No Calculator" section. This may be to push students to only use tools when necessary, which is a Common Core goal.
Analyzing text and Data There was no data analysis on old SAT, which mean there were no graphs or tables in the Reading and Writing passages. The new SAT will include both text and data for analysis, which matches the Common Core goal for students to be able to understand scientific and technical texts.
Founding Documents The old SAT usually used texts students hadn’t encountered before, including obscure short stories and poems. The new SAT will include a passage drawn from a US founding document or historical text, like the Declaration of Independence or King’s “I Have a Dream" speech, which directly matches up with the grade 9-10 Common Core standard that calls for students to “analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance.”
Eliminating Puzzle-like Math Questions The old SAT included math questions that relied on students to use logic to solve them, rather than applying Algebra or Geometry. The new SAT will remove these logic-based, puzzle-like questions in favor of questions that specifically test Algebra, Geometry, and other math concepts. This speaks to the Common Core's call for math to have direct real-world applications.


Even if College Board doesn't say so explicitly, it seems pretty clear that many of the new SAT changes bring the test in line with Common Core. Let's take a look at what that means in action.


Examples of Common Core-Style SAT Questions

What do the Common Core-inspired SAT changes actually look like? We will walk through an SAT Reading and an SAT Math example to show you.

To begin with, the new SAT Reading has added questions that ask you to use evidence. The old SAT never asked you for evidence directly. See the example below:

body_oldsatreadingYou would definitely need to read and understand the passage to get this question right, but the old SAT wouldn't ask you how you know that, say, B is the right answer as opposed to E.

But on the new SAT, there are follow-up questions that ask for evidence, reflecting the Common Core goal to have students use direct evidence from their reading. Check out an example:




Not only do you have to figure out "the reason Jordan draws a distinction between two types of 'parties,'" but you need to know exactly which part of the passage explains why the answer you pick is correct. This is a Common Core-inspired change!

We can see evidence of the Common Core affecting SAT Reading. But what about SAT Math?  The old SAT included math questions that relied on students to use logic to solve them, rather than applying Algebra or Geometry, like this question below:


This question doesn't explicitly test algebra or geometry. Rather, it tests a student's logic skills. You could solve it by sketching a calendar and assigning certain families certain dates, working until you figure out the date that only one family stayed at the hotel. It probably looks quite different than the problems you normally see in math class. (Incidentally, the LSAT, the test you have to take to apply to law school, has a whole section with questions like these. Future lawyers take note!)

The new SAT will remove these logic-based, puzzle-like questions in favor of questions that specifically test Algebra, Geometry, and other math concepts. The revised SAT includes more problems that model real-world situations using Algebra, Geometry, and the like. This speaks to the Common Core's call for math to have direct real-world applications. Check out the example below:


This problem models a real world situation: counts of Florida manatees. But it also tests a statistics concept: a scatterplot graph with a line of best fit. To get this question right, you have to be familiar with statistics (and be able to read a graph) and understand the context of the problem and how it affects the graph.

This example reflects how the SAT is changing to reflect the Common Core goals for math: not only including more real-world applications but also refocusing on core math concepts.


The PSAT is Changing Too

It’s also worth noting that the practice SAT (a.k.a. the PSAT) has been redesigned as well, so it will be fairly similar to the new SAT. In other words, the PSAT changes also seem to be affected by the Common Core.

In addition to changing the PSAT, College Board has created more tests – the PSAT 10 and the PSAT 8/9 – to bring SAT-style testing to younger students. PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 also have similar question types and goals to the new SAT, though they're less difficult.

The creation of more tests for more age levels reflects a Common Core goal to measure progress more often. And the fact that College Board has made these tests shows they hope that schools choosing among the different tests for Common Core will choose College Board and the PSAT (as opposed to ACT Aspire, PARCC, or Smarter Balanced).

If you will be taking the PSAT this year, and want an idea of what's like, you can get a PSAT practice test here. But you shouldn't stress over the PSAT. Even if your school is implementing the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10, these tests are just for practice ("practice" is right there in the test name!). Unless you have your heart set on a National Merit Scholarship, save your energy for the real SAT.


So How Should I Prepare for the New SAT?

You may be wondering how to prepare for the new SAT, since given the analysis above, it seems to be changing a lot to reflect the Common Core!

First of all, if your school has implemented Common Core, what you’re learning in school will be more relevant to the SAT than it was in the past. The SAT used to test things including obscure vocabulary and logic-based math puzzles that were pretty far away from what you learned in school. With the new SAT, it’s more likely that what you learn in school will actually help you prepare.


body_commoncorestatesIf you live in one of the green states, that means your state has adopted Common Core, which should help you study for the new SAT.


But rather than worrying about how the Common Core is changing the SAT, we suggest you just focus on studying for the revised SAT itself.

Even though the SAT has changed the way it asks certain questions and trying to be more modern, at the end of the day, it’s still a multiple-choice test. You can improve your score if you put in some serious study hours and make sure you're prepared.

Furthermore, the new SAT isn't a radically different test like ACT’s Aspire testing or the PARCC/Smarter Balanced Common Core Tests. Those tests include short answer questions, performance tasks, and sorting questions, to name just a few changes).

We have written a complete guide about how to study for the new SAT, and have more specific advice on studying for new SAT vocabulary. But most important is our complete guide to the New SAT in 2016 – if you can understand the test, regardless of what caused it to change, you can do well.


What’s Next?

While the ACT is undergoing some changes to reflect Common Core, they’re not as dramatic. Find out if you should consider taking the ACT instead of the new 2016 SAT.

If you decide to take the ACT, learn about the best prep books and get access to free online practice tests.

If you decide to take the new SAT, get a preliminary guide to studying for it.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points


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Halle Edwards
About the Author

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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