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4 Important Takeaways from the New SAT

Learn about the changes in the SAT design and how they should impact your SAT study routine.

Tiffany Sorensen, Varsity Tutors' Contributor

April 06, 2016

4 Important Takeaways from the New SAT
The SAT has been redesigned to address common complaints and to improve the college readiness of students. Since the new SAT differs from the old SAT in a considerable number of ways, it is necessary to discuss these changes and what they imply for test-takers. Check out some of the most notable changes below:

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1. More relevant vocabulary

For years, it was said that the SAT vocabulary was obscure and irrelevant. Students would spend hours memorizing hundreds of words they probably would not encounter again after the test. In response to this qualm, the College Board has made the SAT vocabulary more reflective of the words people are likely to see in the real world. The new SAT is rid of those arcane terms and instead focuses on understanding medium-difficulty vocabulary words in certain contexts that are more likely to be used in everyday life. Sentence completions have been completely removed from the new SAT. The redesigned test requires students to use context clues to deduce the meanings of words. On previous sentence completion questions, students had to know definitions because context was limited. Now, students can rely on the passages to help them figure out definitions.

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Also, the new SAT prompts students to know multiple definitions for the same word, such as “admit,” which can mean “to accept as true” or “to let pass through.”

2. No penalty for wrong answers

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For many high school students, this is the most celebrated change of the new SAT. Rather than losing a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer, students’ scores are unaffected by incorrect answers. Scores can only increase with correct answers, but they cannot be docked. This change in the scoring policy encourages students to take more chances with their responses on the SAT, which can potentially increase their scores. At the very least, this change relieves some pressure on students who no longer have to think twice about guessing.

3. Fewer answer choices

Each multiple-choice question on the revised SAT has four answer choices (instead of five, as per the previous system). This may also be good news for high school students, as it implies a slightly stronger probability of getting questions right. Now, students must eliminate three choices, not four, and each choice has a 25% chance of being correct, rather than a 20% chance. Nonetheless, SAT test-takers should bear in mind that the numerical difference is not that staggering. Psychologically speaking, four choices may be easier to look at than five, but at the end of the day, the test-taker still must prepare and aim to have the knowledge necessary to critically assess each question at hand.

4. A non-calculator portion

The new SAT contains a portion of the math section on which calculators cannot be used. Previously, you could use your calculator on the entire SAT math section; now, you may only use a calculator on one portion of it—but this change should not be too much cause for concern. The non-calculator section involves simple math problems that you typically should not need a calculator to perform. It is easy and comfortable to become dependent on calculators, but you must learn to rely on your own knowledge when it comes to basic math skills for the new SAT. Brush up on your multiplication tables, system of equations procedures, and exponent rules. You probably know more than you think! Although getting adjusted to the new SAT may seem scary, you may end up preferring the redesigned test to the old one! Once you become accustomed to the handful of modifications the College Board has made, the transition will likely get easier. Relax, practice, and try your best to view the new SAT in a positive light.

Tiffany Sorensen is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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