What you need to know about the new SAT exam

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The newly redesigned SAT exam will be rolled out with its first takers Saturday morning, revealing new features and reverting to a previous scoring system.

The SAT is now also offered in print and online formats. Students are still reminded to bring with them their photo ID and registration, No. 2 pencils, an approved calculator, water and a snack.

At Hoosac Valley Middle & High School in Cheshire, Mass., the guidance department has been sharing articles from the College Board, the agency that produces the assessments under the SAT umbrella, and other agencies to offer students and families perspectives on the changes.

"The biggest difference we've been telling students about is the time and scoring," said guidance counselor Jordan Carlotto.

The allotted time for the previous SAT, last given Jan. 23, was 3 hours and 45 minutes. From Saturday on, students will have three hours to complete the required sections, plus 50 minutes to complete an optional essay. Students who have documented learning challenges can still apply for an extended time waiver.

The SAT sections and scoring have also been revamped.

The previous sections were titled "critical reading," "writing," "math" and the mandated essay, which was scored within the writing section. The minimum score was 600 and the maximum was 2400.

"Now, students are only testing on what they call "evidence-based reading and writing" and math," said Carlotto. "And while the essay is optional, we strongly encourage students to do essay portion especially if the colleges they're applying for are asking for it."

In terms of scoring, the new SAT returns to the 400-1600 range, much like the one used for the PSAT exam and the SAT version used before the 2005 revamp. Because it's optional, the essay is now scored separately.

Last year, around this time, College Board President David Coleman announced that the SAT would be redesigned, citing input regarding college and career readiness, as collected from College Board members in the K–12 and higher education communities, as well as students and parents. The changes reflect the need for students to demonstrate critical thinking and analytical skills, an approach that's also being taken by states as they revise their standardized assessments systems for public school students.

Previous SAT takers were often faced with archaic and advanced vocabulary words and tested about their knowledge of the meaning. No more will high schoolers be vexed by words like "adumbrate," or "pellucid," or "mawkish." Instead, they can expect to find more everyday language, and will be asked to define a word based on how it is being used in context in a written sample.

Another thing gone is the penalty system that could deter guessing. Previously, wrong answers resulted in takers being docked a quarter-point. Now, students can guess without penalty.

Another notable change is in the math section. Instead of taking three 20- to 25-minute sections with the permitted use of calculators, students now face one math test with a 55-minute section with calculators, and a 25-minute section (20 questions) where calculators won't be allowed for use. Instead, the new SAT design includes more graphs and grids for students to use when solving problems.

In the evidence-based reading and writing section, students will be tasked with reading passages from U.S. and U.S. world literature, and texts relating to history, social studies and science, and be asked to cite evidence from these passages when responding to questions about them. No more fill-in-the-blank sentence completions.

Carlotto said she thinks students will be able to adapt to the changes. "There might be some possible glitches [in administration] at first, but the new test will still be able to measure a student's knowledge and what they've learned," she said. "I think the evidence-based reading and writing will be actually better represent what students can do."

To help students prepare for the new exam and its changes, the College Board teamed up with the online education and instruction resource, Khan Academy, to provide free test preparation materials — including video, interactive quizzes and exercises, and written guides — as alternative to the various paid SAT test preparation courses and programs that are out there.

To keep with the times, Kaplan, one of the biggest test prep centers, has also offered free events, like its "SAT Prepathon," broadcasts, which are still available online for reply for free.

Lee Weiss, Kaplan's vice president of college admissions programs, advised students to practice early and often. He said, "What you really want to do is build up your confidence in getting comfortable with this content and strategies so that you go in on test day and sit down and you say yes, I've taken practice like this before. I'm going to ace this exam."


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