Preparing for the New SAT

With the announced SAT changes, many college bound students, parents, and counselors are understandably more angst-ridden than usual about the test and how to effectively prep for it. This, unfortunately, means that some less-than-scrupulous test prep companies will seek to take advantage of that concern to turn a quick profit. These companies are rushing to market with “the first prep guide for the 2016 SAT” that is “guaranteed to boost your score.” Hopefully we’ll be able to dispel some of the myth, rumor, and panic surrounding the new tests with a few reminders. So here is your quick guide to preparing for the new SAT:

Seniors and Juniors (class of 2015 and 2016) should ignore the new SAT
The new SAT will first be administered as a PSAT in October of 2015, which means the classes of 2015 and 2016 will not take the new SAT. So if you’re in these groups, enjoy the fact that the current form of the SAT is known, has many official and unofficial practice tests available, and can be prepared for reliably.

Sophomores (class of 2017) should strongly consider the ACT
Given all the unknowns about the new SAT and the College Board’s history of continuing to tinker with test redesigns until the very last minute, it only makes sense to avoid being a guinea pig for the first round of the New SAT. Students in the Class of 2017 would be smart to seriously consider preparing for and taking the ACT. The ACT is accepted by all colleges and, since it’s not undergoing significant changes in the next 2 years, there will be lots of practice material and prep programs available to help you get your best score.

Freshmen should chill out and focus on school
Each year we get many calls from parents of 9th graders looking to begin preparing for the SAT early. This is always a questionable prospect, since much of the content of the SAT (e.g. geometry) hasn’t even been covered in school yet. Freshmen should focus on completing their schoolwork, reading, building a strong vocabulary, and developing their career and life interests. By increasing reading ability and language fluency, a student will improve their test scores. This year more than others, there is little gain for a freshman to focus on SAT prep directly, since by the time the class of 2018 is ready to take the SAT, it will be a whole new test with all new strategies.

The New SAT
The new SAT is still a largely unknown entity. No one (probably not even the College Board) knows exactly what that test will look like.  While College Board has released some descriptions about the test, we’ve yet to see a full test and its supporting data. There have been some sample questions released that comprise about a third of the exam, and the new SAT is projected to have 153 questions. With so few questions released, there is no reliable way to develop testing strategies or know what content to become familiar with (no school has a “Heart of Algebra” or “Founding Documents” class).  The College Board says a full length PSAT (nope not SAT) will be released in March 2015, which means any prep products that are released before March 2015 will be largely based on extrapolation, guesswork, and assumption.

As for those prep companies trying to sell you materials, courses, and tutoring for the new SAT, you should keep in mind that they are effectively offering to sell you a wedding dress before you’ve even gotten engaged. The new SAT is still a largely unknown thing. Buying something now to prepare for it is probably no more effective than just going to school and doing well in math and English classes.

  • mark Novak

    When will other tests be given? Will the new SAT test follow the old SAT schedule and have some more PSATs in May or June of 2015?

  • BellCurves

    The most currently available information is that the new PSAT will be administered first in October of 2015 and then the first New SAT will be first administered in March 2016. It’s unlikely that will change. It’s also unlikely that the dates of the SAT will change. The SAT has been given for years in Jan, Mar/April, May, Jun, Oct, Nov, and Dec in most states.

  • mark Novak

    Another question—-how close is the PSAT to the SAT? And can one use the PSAT questions to help generate questions for the SAT?

  • BellCurves

    The PSAT is a practice SAT (in the past when both were actually acronyms PSAT stood for Preliminary SAT). So the questions on the PSAT are all questions that could appear on the SAT.

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