There have been some significant changes to the SAT test that high school students and their parents need to be aware of. As of 2016, the test has a different format, different scoring, and even measures different skills. How will these changes affect your child’s preparation and testing experience? Should students take the new SAT test or plan to take the ACT instead? Join us for a look at the new test’s math section and a comparison between the new SAT and the ACT tests.
The new SAT
The biggest change relates to what the SAT tests for. Originally, the SAT was designed as a sort of aptitude test, grading students more on their ability to reason than on skills they learned in class. Filled with logic problems and analogies, it could seem more like an IQ test than a final exam. Now, the SAT is designed to only measure a student’s understanding of what they learned in high school.
What does this mean for the math section?
Math is now split between two sections, one where students are allowed to use calculators and one where they are not. All the questions for the no-calculator section are written with that in mind, so your kid doesn’t need to panic. Still, if it has been years since your child has done math without a computer, encourage them to do simpler calculations in their head, both in math class and during homework or other math enrichment.
As for content, the test makers ground their questions in both high school curriculums and the real world so that students will be more familiar with the content. Arcane logic problems have been replaced with geometry questions modeled off the core curriculum and algebra problems about Spotify royalties. This is good news: Now, more than ever, just doing schoolwork will prepare students for the test.
Finally, the SAT has gotten rid of the guessing penalty for all sections (math included) and this is huge. Past versions of the test would penalize wrong answers more harshly than blank ones, but that is no longer the case. Students can now tackle daunting problems without fear, and should fill in every answer on their test, even if they have to guess for the last few.
ACT vs. the new SAT? Play to your strengths
There was a time when students’ test choices were dictated by which test the schools they were applying to would accept. Now, all four-year institutions in the country accept both ACT and SAT scores for their admissions process. This means that your child can (and should!) focus on the test that best fits their strengths.
Here are a few other considerations for your student to keep in mind.
- How well do I handle time limits? The ACT gives you 60 minutes to answer 60 math questions. The SAT gives you 70 minutes to answer 58 questions. The ACT in general is much more limited with its time-per-question than the SAT, and students who thrive under the pressure of a ticking clock will have an advantage over their peers.
- Do long questions trip me up? The longer time limit for the SAT comes at a cost: Its questions are typically longer and more involved than the questions in the ACT.
- Do I keep forgetting formulas? The SAT includes a glossary of common formulas at the start of the test. The ACT wants you to have all that memorized to begin with.
- Can I work without a calculator? Every math question on the ACT allows for a calculator, so if doing your own calculations is a struggle, the ACT can be a better choice.
- What about the other sections? This article focuses on the math sections, but students have to consider the overall test. Do you enjoy the data-heavy passages in the ACT’s science section? Or do you handle the SAT’s higher reading level better? Which essay format do you prefer?
The SAT has undergone some major changes, but they’re largely to the student’s benefit. While choosing which test to focus on can be challenge, each format has pros and cons. Hopefully this explanation has helped clarify some of the major changes to the test and highlighted some of the key questions students should be asking themselves as they begin the test preparation process.
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