The New SAT: Is it really that different?

Last winter the College Board announced a completely redesigned SAT, creating lots of questions and anxiety about the new format. In this series of blog posts I’d like to address the changes to the math sections of the test. All of the information I am citing is available on the College Board website, this is the snapshot version.

First of all, is this change really that significant? We’re all familiar with “new editions” which just rearrange the same content and add a new cover. That is not the case here. The College Board has not exaggerated, this is a dramatic change. They’ve reevaluated the goals of the test and tried to address many of its weaknesses. The math content has shifted and as well as the goal of the questions. Everything is based on research about the essential mathematical knowledge students need to succeed in college or in a post-secondary career.

There are now more multi-step problems and even scenarios attached to several different questions. The majority of the questions involve simpler mathematics, but they emphasize conceptual understanding. Rather than being disconnected from real-world applications, the scenarios are drawn from other academic disciplines. Additionally, there will be a 20 question non-calculator section.

Most importantly everything is aligned to rigorous high school mathematics; they’re dropping all the “tricky” problems that previously characterized the SAT. The easiest way for me to explain this is to give two examples from their website.

Here is an old SAT problem…

This question involves reasoning skills and logic, but it isn’t directly related to any math content. A very strong math student who has successfully mastered a rigorous math curriculum could easily get this problem wrong or not even know how to start it.

Here is a new SAT Problem…

If ,  $\frac{1}{2}x+\frac{1}{3}y=4$     what is the value of 3x+2y?

This problem comes straight from the Algebra 1 curriculum and should be familiar to high school students. Additionally, one of the best strategies for solving it quickly (multiplying the original equation by 6 to clear all of the fractions) is taught in most math courses.

Gone are the days of tricks, guessing “C”, and trying to beat the test as if it was some type of a game. Now the questions are just straightforward mathematics.

In my opinion, it is a change for the better.

All of this information was adapted from the College Board website http://www.collegeboard.com. For a more detailed explanation of the changes click here.