The New SAT and What You Can Do to Prepare


January 2005, By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman, MA

More young adults than ever are now going to four-year colleges. While having good grades and recommendations, participating in extra-curricular activities, and volunteering are important, the SAT is the one objective factor for colleges to compare students from a wide diversity of high schools.

Most high school students nationwide now know that the SAT as we knew it is no more. Many 11th graders are anxious about being the first students to take the new SAT, which will be administered beginning in March, 2005. The SAT, which used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test”, has been the subject of controversy regarding the correlation between scores and success in college. As a result, the College Board changed the SAT to stand for “Scholastic Achievement Test,” meant to measure the academic skills students have learned in grades K-12, skills that they will continue to use in college. As always, familiarity and practice are the keys to gaining confidence and mastering the new SAT. The best news is that the new SAT is more teachable than the old. Here are the nuts and bolts:

Vocabulary: No more memorizing isolated vocabulary words! The analogy section is going out the window. However, vocabulary is still important. Sentence completion, with one word or two, and vocabulary in reading passages remain. The best ways to prepare are to read as much as possible (with a dictionary or highlighter handy) and learn common roots, prefixes and suffixes.

Writing/Grammar: The College Board came to the conclusion that good writing is a key component of college success. The writing/grammar section will be added as a double whammy, in two multiple choice grammar sections and an essay section. This section combines the old SAT II with the new SAT, adding 45 minutes to the test and increasing the top overall score from 1600 to 2400. In the multiple choice sections, it is crucial to become familiar with the types of questions asked and learn the common pitfalls, such as subject/verb agreement and the use of pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. The essay has many specific rules, such as choosing an argument and sticking with it, and using sophisticated examples. Students must become familiar with what is expected and practice writing essays from the review books. While writing practice essays, it is beneficial to ask a tutor or adult with excellent grammatical skills to proofread the essays for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The time limit for the essay is only 25 minutes, including planning and proofreading. Graders are expected to spend 50-60 seconds grading each essay, so it must be clear, cohesive, and neat.

Critical Reading: This section will be expanded, primarily by adding more reading passages, many of them shorter than the current ones. It is imperative that students become familiar with the types of questions asked and become adept at answering them. Some common questions are various ways to ask about the main idea, author’s tone and point of view, and deciphering vocabulary in context. With the expanded reading comprehension sections, it is even more important for students of all ages to read for pleasure on a regular basis, and read a variety of genres.

Math: The quantitative comparison section will be replaced by more difficult math problems, most from algebra 2. It is helpful for students to practice problems in the review books and study the answers. Taking timed practice tests is crucial. Students must learn shortcut strategies, process of elimination, and which problems to leave undone based on the scores they expect to achieve.

I think the new SAT is a better measure of achievement and a better predictor of college success than the current one. The revised critical reading section and new writing section will emphasize reading, grammar, and persuasive writing skills, which are absolutely what students need to triumph in college and in the workforce beyond. The more difficult math problems measure logic and reasoning skills, even for students who do not continue with math.

In the Washington metro area, many students take SAT classes or work with private tutors. Because the SAT is trainable, these students have an edge over those who take the test cold. At minimum, it is critical that every serious student use a review book and take the time to do many practice problems and tests. Just knowing what to expect can boost confidence and scores.