What Ninth Graders Need to Know

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 1.32.35 PMGuest Blogger: Sam Rosensohn

The New Evidence-Based SAT: Easier on the Reading, Harder on the Math

After trekking through the 211-page Test Specifications of the Redesigned SAT by the College Board, our English and Math departments concluded that in comparison to the current test, the upcoming math appears to be more difficult, and the critical reading appears to be easier.

Reasons why The College Board revamped the exam aside – to create a diagnostic that will help colleges form a better picture of each applicant or because it’s losing market share to the ACT – below are some tips for current freshman (Class of 2017, who will be the first to take the test.)  This will help you prepare at a nice easy pace for the new test. Most of what we suggest can be done during regular homework time.

But before we review the revised SAT, take a quick look at the diagram to see how the current SAT compares to the revised test.


                                             Current SAT                                            

Redesigned SAT


Time Allotted (minutes)

Number of Questions/Tasks


Time Allotted (minutes)

Number of Questions/Tasks

Critical Reading









Writing and Language






Essay (optional)














(230 with Essay)


(154 with Essay)


You’ve noted that the Essay, which used to be 25 minutes, is now 50 minutes and optional.  The test will be scored on a 400- to 1600-point scale. The Evidence Based Reading and Writing section will be scored on a 200- to 800-point scale. The Math section will also be score on 200- to 800-point scale, bringing us to the new combined top score of 1600. Scores for the essay will be reported separately just as the ACT does. There will no longer be a penalty for wrong answers, again very similar to the ACT.

The Critical Reading Section

We think the critical reading portion is going to be easier than it currently is because it has been decided that rarely spoken vocabulary has had its day, and the text should not be as impenetrable.  Based on the text the College Board has released, it’s clear to us that much of the text is easier to decipher, making it more akin to ACT text.  There will now be “informational text” on the test that focuses on science, history and social studies.

The makers say that the new SAT is going to be an evidence-based test, which we already know it to be. Evidence-based simply means the correct answer reflects what was stated in the text, not what the student thought the text was saying. Correct answers will also be based on data represented graphically in diagrams, tables and charts; this is a new addition to the exam. Below are some tips to prepare for the critical reading portion of the exam:

  • Read slowly and try to memorize. Each night while doing homework pick one subject (Language Arts, History, Science) and do not read that portion of your homework as you normally do – to finish it so you can rush on to the next assignment. Read the paragraph more slowly and try to put as much of it to memory as you can.
  • Reiterate orally or in writing as much of what the author stated as you can. Then reread that paragraph to note how much you were able to retain and how closely what you stated reflected what the author said.
  • Focus on what the text actually says, not what you think it says. This is the heart of evidence based-testing: the right answer will always reflect what the text stated. It’s never what you, the reader, think the text is stating, it’s what the text actually states.
  • Parroting back what author says more important for SAT than student analysis. Students have little practice doing this in school because teaches are more often interested in student analysis. (Not sure how this correlates with the Common Core, but that’s a topic for another day!)
  • Look for articles using graphs or charts to represent data for practice. Parents can help out by presenting articles they come across that use graphs or charts that represent data.

The Writing and Language Portion of the SAT (35 minutes, 44 questions) will consist of a range of texts in a variety of content areas, academic and career related. Students will be asked to revise the passages based on development, organization, use of language, and standard written grammar, the College Board noted. This format is more similar to how the ACT sets up this portion of the test than how it’s currently presented. Some of the passages and questions may be accompanied by tables, charts or graphs.

The grammar portion of the writing exam has always been the easiest portion of the test, because “SAT grammar” is so mechanical, limited and predictable. The new writing examples we previewed on the College Board’s site, while limited in scope, appeared to be very manageable. This is another reason why we think the new combined Evidence Based Reading and Writing section is going to be easier than the current Critical Reading section. Not only is the arcane vocabulary gone, some of the text softer, but 50 percent of the score is based on grammar, the easiest part of the current exam.

The Math Section

The 80-minute, 57-problem math section will be considerably more challenging than its predecessor. Here are some of the changes for the Math section for students to be aware of in advance.

No-Calculator section will lower the scores of those who are not proficient in arithmetic. We recommend that students complete as much of their in-school homework as is possible without the use of a calculator. College Board is now going to reward those who do not depend on a calculator; the no-calculator section constitutes one-third of the math exam.  Solving math with pencil and paper is foreign to many students, another reason to start this new practice now.

Rumor that redesigned SAT  requires stronger command of fewer, but more important math topics misleading Based on what we gleaned from the test specifications, we’ve found this statement to be a bit misleading.  While some topics (such as series, sequences, combinations and permutations) appear to be disappearing from the scope of the examination,  the College Board is adding considerably more new topics,  including but not limited to the equation of a circle, complex numbers, and trigonometry.

The new test is placing considerably more emphasis on functions and relationships between variables rather than Geometry.  The new test will dedicate less than 10% to Geometry vs. 28% in old test.  Stronger emphasis on-linear relationships (such as quadratics and exponential functions) that most students do not feel as comfortable with. No longer will the exam be about “pure” mathematics, but instead, the test will become context heavy – many more real-world applications and consequently fewer questions asked in the abstract. Questions can range from converting currency when traveling abroad to understanding that population growth and decay is exponential and not linear – and then creating a function to approximate future population sizes.

Another fact that should not go unnoticed is that the reading and writing exams have been reduced to 400 points each, and math will now make up one-half of the overall final score – much like it did before the College Board’s most recent change ten years ago. The emphasis is back on math, a lot of which will be covered in traditional Algebra II classes. This, however, does not mean students should wait to prepare for this exam until they have finished Algebra II.

Khan Academy provides a strong platform for students to practice arithmetic topics – some of which they haven’t seen in years – anytime they wish. We recommend students do the following to prepare:

  • Get in the habit of practicing arithmetic on Khan Academy 60 minutes a week without a calculator.
  • Bring more focus to math class, and to ask efficient questions so that they can understand not only how to do the work at hand, but its real world applications.

The new PSAT/NMSQT will be offered for the first time in October 2015.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder and owner of College Planning Partnerships, a Connecticut test prep company that provides live online SAT and ACT prep. Sam can be reached at sam@satprepct.com or by phone at 860-664-9857. Visit them at www.satprepct.com.

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