The New (More Difficult) SAT and PSAT

The College Board is redesigning the SAT (for release in March 2016) and the PSAT (for October 2015). Read more to find out about what these changes mean for you.

A PSAT for 8/9th graders and a separate exam for 10th graders are also in the works. This new collection of tests is called the SAT Suite of Assessments. Though this isn’t the first time the SAT has changed, it is a major overhaul of the exam, spurred by the fact that, beginning in 2012, more students were opting to take the ACT than the SAT.

The College Board recently released full-length New SAT and PSAT sample tests, which students may use for practice here.

Here’s what you need to know about the new exams:

The New PSAT

The New PSAT Reading and Writing sections have become more like the ACT exam. In the Reading section, there is less emphasis on vocabulary and more emphasis on locating details and evidence (like the ACT.) The Writing section is laid out almost identically to the ACT.

The Math sections of the New PSAT are more difficult than the old test, requiring many multiple-step solutions. The content has broadened as well; the New PSAT has more  Advanced Algebra and Algebra 2. It focuses heavily on systems of questions and quadratics. In addition, it includes a math section that does not permit calculators. The shortened time limit on the no-calculator section may seem daunting for many students, who are used to relying on calculators.

Here’s some good news: there is no guessing penalty on the new tests, so students should fill in every answer choice, even if they didn’t get to some questions. Further, multiple choice questions have only four answer choices (instead of five), making guessing the correct answer more likely.

Test-taking tricks and strategies can help students through the harder math questions. Plugging in answers, for example, has become a more efficient and critical strategy, since only four answer choices exist now.

Since the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship-qualifying exam, it is imperative that students prepare for the new test.

The New PSAT is broken down as follows:

Reading

Breakdown: 47 questions (4 long passages, 1 paired passage)

Length: 60 minutes

Changes from the Old PSAT:

  • Longer Reading Passages
  • Charts and Graphs included
  • Less focus on obscure Vocabulary
  • Finding Evidence questions (paired questions)
  • Founding Document/Global Conversation passage
Writing and Language

Breakdown: 44 questions (4 passages)

Length: 35 minutes

Changes from the Old PSAT:

  • More emphasis on Punctuation errors
  • Questions are in the context of a passage
  • Charts and Graphs included
Math – No Calculator Section

Breakdown: 17 questions (13 multiple choice, 4 grid-ins)

Length: 25 minutes

Changes from the Old PSAT:

  • Multiple-Part questions
  • More Algebra and Data Analysis
  • Advanced Math, including Trigonometry
Math – Calculator Permitted

Breakdown: 31 questions (27 multiple choice, 4 grid-ins)

Length: 45 minutes

Changes from the Old PSAT:

  • Multiple-Part questions
  • More Emphasis on Algebra and Data Analysis
  • Advanced Math, including Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus

The New PSAT is 35 minutes longer than the Old PSAT.

The New SAT

The PSAT changes mentioned above are also applicable to the New SAT. Please note that if you plan to take the SAT (for the final time) before March 2016, you will be taking the Old SAT.

Students’ scores on the New SAT will be out of a composite 1600 scale. There will be separate scores broken down for each section (Reading, Writing & Language, Math, and Essay). Learn more about scoring here.

Math – No Calculator Section

Breakdown: 15 multiple choice; 5 grid ins

Length: 25 minutes

 Math – Calculator Permitted

Breakdown: 30 multiple choice; 8 grid-ins

Length: 55 minutes

There are more questions involving real-world situations and multi-part grid-ins. There is a much stronger emphasis on Algebra and Data Analysis. Pre-calculus and Trigonometry questions are also tested. There is significantly less emphasis on Geometry than the old SAT.

Reading

Breakdown: 4 Long passages, 1 Paired passage; 52 Multiple Choice questions

Length: 65 minutes

Changes from the Old SAT:

  • Less obscure vocabulary, more Vocabulary-in-Context questions
  • Charts and Graphs to be analyzed in relation to the text
  • 10 Finding Evidence questions (paired questions)
  • Founding Documents/Global Conversation passage
  • Sentence Completions have been removed
Writing and Language

Breakdown: 4 passages, 44 multiple choice

Length: 35 minutes

Changes from the Old SAT:

  • Questions offered in the context of a passage (much like the ACT)
  • Questions on Charts included
  • More emphasis on Ordering, Inserting or Deleting sentences
  • Vocabulary-in-Context questions
Essay

Breakdown: One prompt in relation to one full reading passage

Length: 50 minutes

Changes from the Old SAT:

  • Essay is optional and scored separately
  • Given at the end of the exam
  • Students must address the provided passage and analyze how the author uses evidence and develops an argument.
The changes in the New SAT and PSAT may seem intimidating to students, but with adequate and early preparation, they can learn to excel at the test!

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