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Is the New SAT Easier?  6 Helpful Changes to Know


Change is scary, and the SAT was already kind of scary in the first place, so you might be feeling apprehensive about the new test. Good news: It's possible that the new SAT will be easier for some (or even most!) students. In this article, I'll go through some predictions about which aspects of the new SAT have the potential to make it a less challenging test and which types of students are most likely to benefit.


Overview of Changes for the New SAT

First, I’ll just do a quick summary of the changes you can expect on the test in general. It's helpful to have some background information before I give you my predictions. You can also read this article for a more substantive description!


Changes to Overall Format:

  • The new SAT is out of 1600 points rather than 2400.
  • The Reading and Writing sections will be compressed into one section worth 800 points (Math will still have its own section). 
  • There will be four answer choices for each question instead of five.
  • The test will have just four large sections (Reading, Writing, Math with no calculator, and Math with a calculator) plus the essay.


Changes to Reading:

  • There will be no more sentence completion questions (all questions are passage-based).
  • Some questions will ask you to identify textual evidence for your answers to previous questions.
  • Data interpretation questions that ask you to read charts and graphs will show up alongside some passages.
  • Passages will always be in the same topic order (one passage dealing with US and World Literature, two passages dealing with History and Social Studies, and two passages dealing with Science).


Changes to Writing ("Writing and Language" on the New Test):

  • All questions will be based on longer passages rather than isolated sentences.
  • Writing style will be more important (structuring paragraphs and making logical reasoning flow appropriately).
  • Some data interpretation questions will show up here as well.


Changes to the Essay:


Changes to Math:

  • There will be basic trigonometry on the test.
  • Some problems will have more than one part.
  • Questions will deal with real-world scenarios more frequently and have less tricky wording.
  • There is a no-calculator section.


Why Might the New SAT Be Easier?

Here are a few reasons why the test might be easier, based on the changes I outlined in the previous section. 


You Won’t Have to Jump Back and Forth Between Subjects

One of the struggles that a lot of people had with the old SAT was that it required you to switch test-taking mentalities constantly through ten short sections. It was impossible to know ahead of time how the sections would be ordered. You might encounter a Math section, a Reading section, and then another Math section, which was disorienting to students who are better at focusing on a single subject for a longer period of time. With the longer sections on the new SAT that occur in the same order on every test, you’ll know exactly what to expect, and you'll get everything over with at once for each subject (similar to the ACT).


You Won’t Need to Know Obscure Vocabulary Words  

Sentence completion questions, the bane of many a student's existence, are no more on the new test. Vocabulary will be tested in context rather than in isolation. You’ll still be asked what words mean, but they will be embedded in passages, so there will be more context clues to help you determine their meanings. These will be challenging but commonly used words, which have more practical value to most students than many of the words that were tested on the old SAT.


You'll Be Able to Plan Better for the Reading Section

As I mentioned, the passages in the Reading section are now predictable in their basic subject matter. This means that you can come up with a strategy for which passages to read first before you even see the test. You can decide to skip straight to the science passages if you think they’ll be easiest for you. (I’d recommend starting with your strongest subject.)


body_benfranklin.jpgBen Franklin probably would have read the science passages first. Although he had many interests, so I can't say for sure. When he was 16, he trolled his own brother's newspaper with satirical letters to the editor that he wrote as a widow named "Silence Dogood."


The Essay Will Be Less Stressful

You don’t even have to write an essay on the new SAT if the colleges where you’re applying don’t require it. The mandatory essay was one of the aspects of the old SAT that students always feared. You had so little time to write, and the essay could heavily influence your overall Writing score. The new essay is scored completely separately from the rest of the test, so it won’t impact your Reading/Writing score. You also have 50 minutes for it rather than 25. If writing under pressure is difficult for you, this is good news!


Writing Will Be Less Nit-Picky and More Practical 

The Writing section on the old version of the SAT contained many questions that asked about tricky little grammar issues like illogical comparisons and subject-verb or pronoun agreement. The new Writing section will have fewer questions like this and more questions that ask about writing skills that will be familiar to you based on your high school coursework. For example, you might be asked where a sentence fits most logically in a paragraph.  


Math Questions Will Be More Straightforward  

Although some more challenging math concepts will be tested on the new SAT (trigonometry), the questions will be less puzzle-like. The steps you need to take to find the answer will be clearer, so you won’t have to use your reading comprehension skills as much on the math section. Here’s a sample grid-in question labeled as an “easy” problem on the new test:

If a2 + 14a = 51 and a > 0, what is the value of a + 7?

This question gets right to the point and is not worded confusingly. If you have the foundational math skills, you’ll be able to solve it without getting tripped up by phrasing. You can solve the equation with factoring, and the correct answer is 10! Now, here’s a sample multiple choice question labeled as a “hard” problem:

Which of the following is equal to sin(π/5)?
A. -cos(π/5)
B. -sin(π/5)
C. cos(3π/10)
D. sin(7π/10)

Notice that this question isn’t any more confusing or “tricky” than the easy question; it just requires more advanced math knowledge. In this case, you would need to know the trigonometric identity sin(x) = cos(π/2 - x). Plug in π/5 for x, and you get cos(3π/10), choice C.


body_triangles.jpgPizza can help you learn trigonometry. This slice is approximately 45 degrees of deliciousness (minus the olives).


Will the New SAT Be Easier for You?

Although there are some aspects of the new SAT that could potentially make it easier for all students, specific types of students may find the test to be significantly easier. If any of these descriptions apply to you, you might be in for a pleasant surprise on the new SAT. 


Math and Science Are Your Strong Suits

Math will make up a greater proportion of your score on the new SAT (half versus a third), so math geeks will have a bit more of an edge. The Math section will also test slightly more advanced concepts and will not require as much reading comprehension. The Reading section of the test even includes data interpretation, which should be a breath of fresh air for students who feel more comfortable with science than English.


Writing Is a Weaker Subject for You

The essay on the new SAT involves reading a passage and then writing an analysis of the author’s argument. If you had trouble with the old SAT’s opinion-based essay format, you might feel more comfortable with the more specific expectations of the new essay. The essay is also optional, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, so if you’re not confident in your writing skills, you may be able to avoid it altogether. Writing is combined with Reading in your final score, so it no longer makes up a separate score out of 800. It’s will be slightly less important to your overall score.


You’re Not Very Confident in Your Vocabulary Skills

Have you spent a lot of time dreading the SAT because of all the crazy words you need to know for sentence completion questions? You’ll be much better off on the new version of the test. Many students find the vocabulary to be one of the most intimidating aspects of the SAT; being tested on more practical words in the context of the passage should make it less intimidating. 


You Can Read Quickly

This would have been an advantage on the old SAT too, but it will play even better on the new test. Since all Reading and Writing questions are passage-based, there’s more reading overall on the test. If you’re a fast reader, you’ll be able to overcome what I think will be one of the toughest problems for students on the new SAT: time management.


body_cheetah-1.jpgBe a cheetah! Not to be confused with a cheater (although if you have a Boston accent it might be the same thing).


Conclusion: Is the New SAT Easier?

The changes that are coming to the SAT may make the test easier to handle for certain students. Changes that could make the new SAT less challenging overall include:
  • No sentence completion questions
  • Optional essay
  • Less confusing math questions
  • More predictable structure and content
You personally might like the new test a lot better if:
  • You’re more comfortable with Math/Science than Reading/Writing
  • Vocabulary is not your strong suit  
  • You’re a fast reader

The test will be significantly different, but don’t let it scare you too much. It’s highly possible that you’ll feel more confident on the new version of the SAT!


What's Next?

Are you still trying to decide whether you should take the new SAT or the ACT this year? Read this article for advice on which test will suit you better.

If you're planning on taking the new SAT, it might be difficult to settle on a goal score with the changes to the format. Learn more about how to calculate a reasonable target score for the updated version of the test.

You should also check out the SAT test dates for this year so you can plan ahead for the test!



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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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