In March 2016, the College Board switched to the infamous new SAT. In 2016, we invested hundreds of hours in analyzing the new test and adapting our curricula and program to its challenges. In Summer 2016, we began teaching the new SAT, and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
How does the new SAT differ from the old SAT?
In many respects, the new SAT is quite different from the old test. Vocabulary is no longer taught explicitly. In lieu of the old test’s nine sections (plus one experimental section, for a total of ten), the new test now has four sections: one extended reading comprehension section, one extended writing/composition/grammar section, and two math sections – one with a calculator and one without. Like the old test, the new test has an essay – but this time it’s optional. Finally, the new test is scored out of 1600 points, while the old SAT is scored out of 2400 points.
The ACT vs. the new SAT?
In terms of deciding between the ACT and the new SAT: we believe that the new SAT is, if anything, more competitive with the ACT. In the past, students might select the ACT because it had no vocabulary questions: now, neither test has such questions. Students also often felt that the ACT more closely resembled what they were learning in school; now, the SAT looks a bit more like the ACT and, increasingly, is being designed to more closely reflect how students are learning material in their high schools. As such, we believe the new SAT remains a solid choice for students and parents on the fence, and we’re happy to offer consultations and talk through the differences in the two tests and why a specific test may be a solid fit for a specific student.
Section-by-section rundown: An apples-to-apples comparison
ACT English <-> SAT Writing
- ACT English and SAT writing are now similar enough to be a wash.
- ACT math tests concepts which are significantly more advanced than those on new SAT math: If you've spent time studying the ACT, you know how you approach those questions over #40 - and where you stop being able to do them. On the SAT math, I remember the first time I was going through the tests, I said to myself as I neared the end of the math section (remember problems get harder as the section continues), "Where are all the hard problems?" Then I flipped to the next page and found I had finished the section. I said, "Is it possible? Are there NO HARD PROBLEMS on the new SAT math?" Sure, some of the problems are tricky, and they're definitely multi-step, but the new SAT math section is way way easier than both the old SAT math section and the current ACT math section.
- ACT reading has gotten significantly harder since about 2009 - almost exponentially harder: If you look at a test from 2009 and one from 2013, for instance, you will see a marked difference in those questions we call "fetch" - ones where you have to "fetch" the answer from the passage, as they have asked for harder and more obtuse details. A lot of the ACT reading seems only like a check to see if you can find the tiny detail we are asking for, not "Did you understand this passage?" The SAT is asking a lot more broadly, "Why does paragraph 3 focus on birds?" because the author is trying to make a point and birds is his chosen analogy. As a person who reads a lot, it's a lot more comforting to know that, as I prep my students, I'm making them better readers - I'm not making them crazy over finding really small details which, in the end, aren't important to the passage. Also, the ACT reading has always been a BEAR in terms of timing - even students who are great readers struggle to break the 28/29 barrier because they simply can't read fast enough to get to all the questions in time. The SAT is nothing like that; timing is much more realistic for the majority of students.
- ACT science is always a block for students. It's less that the questions are hard; instead, a lot of people feel just plain overwhelmed by the skills necessitated to break down the graphs and answer the questions. And truth be told, just as the ACT reading has gotten harder over time, so has the ACT science - I'm specifically referencing the kinds of graphs they give you and the types of questions they ask and the conclusions they expect you to draw; the difficulty has increased exponentially since about 2009. I'm so overjoyed to not have to teach science on the SAT!!
SAT is just easier!
So if you stack it up: SAT math is easier, SAT reading doesn't come with that terrifying timing problem, SAT writing = ACT English, and THERE'S NO SCIENCE SECTION. So for SSA, choosing the SAT was a really solid choice. Not that we didn't spend about three months considering which choice was the right one - because we did; we would have been foolish not to truly weigh both sides and investigate everything we knew - both what used to be true and what is now true as well as what we know about students' aptitudes and where they traditionally have difficulties - about both tests.