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What Is the New SAT Like? Student Reactions to the Test


The newly redesigned 2016 SAT debuted on March 5th. If you haven't taken it yet, you may be wondering what to expect: What is the New SAT like? What did students think of the exam? Was it easier or harder than the old SAT? How did it compare to the ACT?

In this article, I’ll discuss the reactions to the new SAT and talk about what it means for you. 


How Is the New SAT Different?

If you’re already familiar with what changes were made to the SAT, feel free to skip this section. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the changes, I highly recommend reading our full in-depth analysis of the changes before continuing this article.

I’ll describe the new major changes in brief. The new SAT has a 400-1600 scoring scale, instead of the 800-2400 scale. There are two sections (graded from 200-800) instead of three: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The Essay is now optional and no longer counts towards your over 400-1600 score but instead receives its own score. There is no longer a penalty for guessing which means answering a question incorrectly or skipping the question will result in the same score.

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section is composed of two parts: the Writing Test and the Reading test. Also, the Reading no longer has vocabulary sentence-completion questions and instead consists of five passages: one passage in US and World Literature, two passages in History/Social Studies, and two passages in Science. The Writing test no longer asks individual sentence questions but instead asks questions related to 4 passages. In the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section, you’ll need to be able to read graphs, tables, and other scientific data to answer certain questions.

The Math Section is divided into two parts: non-calculator test and calculator test. There has also been a content shift: focus on algebra, decreased focus on geometry, the addition of a few trigonometry and imaginary number questions.


What Is the New SAT Like? Survey Results 

The College Board conducted a survey of 8,089 students who sat for the March 5th new SAT. However, the College Board didn't publish the results of the entire survey. They simply chose the data they wanted to publish on their site. Therefore, I’d recommend you view the findings cautiously since the College Board has a lot to gain by saying the new exam is better than the old.

According to the College Board’s survey,

  • 71% of students said the new SAT reflected what they’re learning in high school.
  • By a 6 to 1 margin, students said they preferred the new SAT over the old SAT.
  • 75% of students said the Reading Test was the same as or easier than they expected.
  • 59% of students said the Math section tests the skills and knowledge needed for success in college and career.

From the survey results, we can see that students heavily prefer the new SAT to old SAT, which makes me think this new test is a lot easier than the old test. The majority of students seem to have thought the Reading Test was easy, which aligns with the student reactions (which I'll discuss below).

For the Math section, the College Board didn’t say how students felt about it, but rather shared that 59% of students felt the Math section tested important skills (which is not very helpful for us to know). The absence of a statistic about how students felt about the Math section makes me wonder if students thought the math was extremely difficult.

If the Math section is more difficult, that would align with the student reactions (which I show below) and would be bad for the College Board since their goal in creating the new test was to create a test that more accurately reflected what students learned in school and matched up to that difficulty but did not exceed it.

Kaplan also conducted a survey; however, they only surveyed 521 students who sat for the March 5th new SAT, so it was a much smaller sample size than that of the College Board (8,089). Like the College Board, Kaplan didn't publish the results of the entire survey. Instead, they chose the data they wanted to publish on their site. I’d recommend you view the findings of this survey cautiously since Kaplan has a lot to gain by saying the new exam is challenging to draw more students to their prep program.

According to Kaplan's survey,

  • 16% of students responded that the new SAT “very much” reflected what they’re learning in high school while 56% responded “somewhat,” 23% responded “not too much,” and 5% responded “not at all.” 
  • 59% of students said the questions were straightforward and easy to follow though 58% also said they found the length of the sections tiring.
  • 48% of students said the test was about as difficult as they expected, 30% thought it was more difficult than expected, and 22% thought it was less difficult than expected.
  • 41% of students found the Math section more difficult than expected. 56% of students said they felt comfortable doing math without a calculator.

If you group the "very much" and "somewhat" responses, about 72% of students felt the test reflected what they're learning in school, which matches up with the 71% of students in the College Board survey. 

Otherwise, the Kaplan results vary from the College Board results because the questions students were asked in each survey was different. The results of Kaplan's survey seem pretty non-conclusive. Most of the percents are around 40-50% which means about half of students felt the opposite: 59% of students found the test straightforward, but that means 41% didn't find the test straightforward. 58% of students found the length of the sections tiring, but that means 42% didn't find the length tiring. 

For the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, Kaplan didn't provide any survey results. The absence of a statistic about how students felt about this section makes me wonder if students thought the section was relatively easy. 

If the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section is not very difficult, that would align with the student reactions (which I show below) and wouldn't be great for Kaplan to advertise since they want students to buy their SAT prep materials. 


body_question-13.jpgWhat did the students really think?


Student Reactions to the New SAT

For those who took the first session of the new SAT on March 5th, how did they feel? Here are some reactions from students on Twitter and the College Board survey:

Math Section Reactions


Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section Reactions

“I felt like I had a good amount of time to completely read through the passages and select my answers as well as review some of the ones that were difficult for me.” –Elizabeth, 17, WA


Overall New SAT Reactions


What Does This Mean for You?

I’m going to base my advice here off of both student reactions and the College Board & Kaplan survey results. However, my advice is more heavily swayed by the student reactions since I think their reactions are more honest and insightful than the survey results.


Math Section: Practice Practice Practice

Students felt the Math section was very challenging (if not impossible) to finish. Some thought it was more challenging than the ACT Math section which is notoriously hard to finish. 

This means you must must must drill the pacing of the SAT Math section. Take advantage of every free new SAT Math question available, and practice each one with the accurate timing

Obey the rules of the new SAT Math sections: only use your calculator on the calculator section. Many students struggled on the no calculator Math section. You need to drill your mental math. It’s likely a skill you don’t often use since most high school math classes allow you to use your calculator. Work your mental math muscles. Practice multiplication and finding square roots without a calculator. These are two of the biggest mental math struggles for students.

Make sure you know every single concept that is tested on the new SAT Math sectionReview the math topics in depth. Practice the hardest SAT math questions.



You don't want any confusion on test day!


Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: Still Practice

In general, students seemed to think the Reading and Writing tests were easier. However, we don't have any data on how students actually did yet -- just because the reading/writing felt easier doesn't mean it actually was. Students commented that the new SAT passages were more interesting than the often very boring old SAT reading passages. Also, students felt they had enough time to answer all questions related to the passages. 

While the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section may have seemed easier to students, you still need to prepare for it. You’ll definitely want to get in practice tests while keeping accurate timing to make sure you'll be able to finish the sections. 

If you're not reaching your target score for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section on your practice tests, you should check out some of our in-depth strategy guides for the SAT Reading test and the SAT Writing test


Overall New SAT Study Advice

Based on the student reactions and survey results, I’d recommend you spend 60% of your SAT study prep on Math and 40% of your SAT study prep on the Reading and Writing tests.

On the new SAT, your math score counts for 50% of your composite score (when it used to only be ⅓ of your composite). Since the Math is so challenging, you need to put greater emphasis on it. You want to know every concept and be able to answer as many questions as possible in the time allotted.

Reading and Writing combined count for 50% of your composite score (when each individually used to count for ⅔ of your composite). You still want to do well on these sections since they count for 50% of your composite score. Take all the practice tests currently available. Read our study tips, but prioritize Math!


What’s Next?

Need help with your college application? Learn about how to write a personal statement, how to write about your extracurriculars, and what great letters of recommendation look like.

Interested in attending a top college? Learn about how to get into Harvard and how to get into Stanford.

Still prepping for the SAT? Here is the ultimate SAT study guide. If you’re taking the SAT soon, I’d recommend you check out our guide to cramming for the SAT.


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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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.

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