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A Look at the New SAT & ACT Changes

If you’re an aspiring college student, you’re probably familiar with the SAT or ACT test. While all colleges and universities accept either test when evaluating candidates for admission, there are significant differences between the two.

For instance, the SAT places a heavier emphasis on writing and vocabulary, while the ACT focuses more on advanced mathematical concepts. The ACT also seems to take more of a “big picture” testing approach. Admissions representatives will be more interested in your composite ACT score. With the SAT, they’ll take a closer look at how you did on each specific section.

Students can take either the SAT or ACT, but usually not both. This means that the providers of these tests are competing for the business of prospective college students. In recent years, the ACT has been taking more of the SAT’s market share. According to some experts, this has prompted the College Board — the organization that produces the SAT — to completely overhaul its test in an effort to retain its competitive advantage.

Changes to the SAT Starting in 2016

The revamped SAT will be offered to students beginning in the spring of 2016. The good news for students is that the new test is expected to take less time than the current 225 minutes. The only exception occurs when students elect to complete the essay portion, as the length would increase to 230 minutes. The bad news is that the upgraded version is more complex. Here’s an overview of the upcoming SAT changes:

  • Longer essay — Although the essay is now optional, it will take twice as long to complete. It will shift from 25 to 50 minutes. Instead of arguing a point, students will now be asked to provide an analysis of a particular passage.
  • Increased data analysis — Students will now be asked to read text, analyze, and interpret data instead of doing only one or the other.
  • Evidence-based reading and writing — Students will be required to cite evidence from a passage that supports their comprehension of the text.
  • More “advanced” thinking — In the revised reading section, students will be asked “laddered” questions. They will be expected to provide answers to questions that are based on the responses they gave to previous questions.
  • Analysis in science and history — Students must be able to apply their reading, writing, math, and language skills to answer questions involving science and history.
  • “Real-world” vocabulary — In response to criticism that words tested in the SAT’s vocabulary section were too obscure, the College Board has revised it to include more “relevant” words.
  • No more calculators — Students who rely on calculators to perform math functions could be in for a rude awakening. These devices will now only be permitted on certain portions of the math section.
  • More math emphasis — Math whizzes should find the new SAT more to their liking. Instead of comprising a third of the exam, math will now cover half. The new math topics will also be narrower. There will be more of an emphasis on concepts such as proportional reasoning and linear functions.
  • New scoring — The SAT will revert back to a possible top score of 1600, as it had been until changing to 2400 in 2005. The new system consists of a maximum score of 800 in math, and 800 in reading and writing. The essay, if taken, will be scored separately.
  • No more penalties for wrong answers — It used to be that students were penalized for giving a wrong answer. In the new format, no points will be taken away if an answer is incorrect — this is the same as on the ACT. Students can now feel free to guess if they’re not sure of their response.

For a closer look at the new SAT, click here.

ACT Changes

A new version of the ACT will be released sometime in 2015, but with fewer changes than with the SAT. The main difference with be the inclusion of “readiness” indicators. Students will be asked additional questions to help them assess their level of preparedness for their future academic and career endeavors. The ACT scoring system will remain the same.

What Isn’t Changing

One key testing aspect that is not expected to change is the College Board’s continued promotion of the use of “superscoring” — a practice that is discouraged by the ACT providers. Superscoring enables students to sit for the SAT multiple times. The universities then use only the best scores from each section of the exam when evaluating applicants.

It’s still unclear how these changes will affect the SAT and ACT landscape, but it’s important to consider the differences when determining which test to take.

CC Photo by Sem Otaku

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