Many of you may be curious about the newly redesigned SAT. There are plenty of blogs and resources out there which go over all of the changes announced by the College Board. These are all very useful, but nothing quite beats seeing the actual test itself and experiencing it firsthand. In order to better understand the intricacies of the new SAT, like any good test prep tutor, I registered and completed a full SAT so I could share my impressions with you.

Allow me to outline some of the major changes on the new SAT. One of the biggest factors that differentiated the SAT from the ACT was how the sections were broken up. The old SAT was broken up into 10 short sections, 25 minutes or less in length, whereas the ACT is made up of 4 longer sections ranging from 35 minutes to 60 minutes in length. The College Board has decided to make the new SAT similar to the ACT and now the SAT is broken up into 4 sections plus an optional essay. The sections are now 65, 35, 25, and 55 minutes long and the essay is 50 minutes long. What does this boil down to? The old SAT used to favor students with shorter attention spans and those who need more frequent breaks between sections, but that’s no longer the case.

Another major change is the fact that there are only 4 answer choices instead of 5. I honestly was half expecting the answers to be even more “tricky” to make up for having fewer answer choices, but found that overall, the test difficulty was lower! The College Board has claimed that the new SAT focuses more on the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, and not on memorizing definitions and obscure grammar rules. I found this to be absolutely true. There was less of a focus on understanding subtle differences between similar answers like the pre-March 2016 SATs. This meant that while the College Board still had ample opportunities to throw in nearly identical answer choices where one was only slightly better than the other, they chose not do so, choosing instead to test more on content as they claim.

Now onto some useful specifics about each of the three major sections…

The Reading section…

was definitely more straightforward than the old SAT. However, one thing I noticed right away was a new type of question that the College Board refers to as Command of Evidence. This type of question asks you to find evidence in a passage that best supports the answer to the question immediately preceding it. What this means is that if you get the preceding question wrong, you’ll most likely get the evidence question wrong as well. While you may dispute the fairness of this line of questioning, there are strategies that I quickly realized would help in solving these questions. I found that typically there was only one pair of answers that matched between both questions while satisfying a condition stated in the first question. In other words, if you paired the answers first and then answered both questions at once, you can more easily see which pair of answers were correct!

The Writing section…

is also considerably easier than the old SAT. Gone are the references to arcane grammar rules; instead, you’re tested on constructing sentences with clarity and succinctness. The newest addition to the types of questions I encountered in the Writing section were the placement questions. Readers are asked to move a sentence to a different position within the text to help with the clarity of the passage. This requires the reader to understand the author’s intentions and tests the reader’s ability to organize the content to make the most logical sense. This is a prime example of how the new SAT tests reasoning rather than memorization.

On a side note, one quirk I noticed was that there were definitely more “NO CHANGE” answers that I selected as the correct answer choice. The old SAT typically used the “NO ERROR” choice as a trick. Any veteran test prep tutors will tell you that if you have to guess, “NO ERROR” is almost never the right choice. However, with the new SAT, I found that the “NO CHANGE” occurred pretty often – enough for me to second-guess myself and triple check my answers.

The Math section…

was the only section where I felt that some of the content was more difficult. This was, however, limited to the calculator permitted section. The Math section now tests your ability to set up equations rather than solve them. In other words, students must read a word problem and then set up equations or a system of equations that accurately describe the written relationships. This tends to be more difficult for students and makes it harder to teach shortcuts and strategies to eliminate answer choices. Other types of questions simply tested your overall understanding of general concepts. Here’s an example of a type of question in Math where the student’s understanding of how surveys work and what their results mean is tested:

A survey was conducted among 100 randomly chosen U.S. citizens and the results showed that 38 people liked kittens. Which of the following statements is true.
A) 38% of all U.S. citizens like cats
B) If another 100 randomly chosen U.S. citizens are chosen, 38 will like kittens.
C) 38% of all U.S. citizens under the age of 50 like cats
D) If another 100 randomly chosen U.S. citizens are chosen, we don’t know how many will like kittens.

Hold your mouse over this text to see the answer. Did you get it right?

Another new addition the Math section is the inclusion of trigonometry. However, there were only 1-2 questions of this type on the entire test, so for most test takers, this won’t affect your score very much. In fact, you could conceivably get a near perfect score without knowing any trigonometry at all.

In the Math section, one other thing that I noticed was that the grid-in section questions were actually much easier than the multiple choice! In the old SAT, the grid-in questions tended to be more difficult than the multiple choice, but it seems as though the roles have been reversed. Maybe the College Board felt bad after making the multiple choice questions harder so they decided to give students a little break on the grid-ins. Who knows? At the end of the day, this is useful to know when it comes to testing strategy since you should always try to get the easier questions out of the way first (especially if you’re a test taker who struggles with timing).

The Essay…

was one of the biggest changes to the SAT. Students are asked to analyze a pre-written passage by considering how the author uses evidence to support claims, how the author uses reasoning to develop his/her ideas, and how the author uses stylistic elements like word choice to add power to the ideas expressed. Since this requires a lot more thought and analysis, students are given double the amount of time they had before. This also means that you can no longer plan for the essay by analyzing a popular literary work with common themes such as Romeo & Juliet. Persuasive skill is not as important anymore; the skills needed in the new essay are more akin to those used in debate. You’re not expected to agree or disagree with the point, but rather explain how the author builds his/her argument. The College Board definitely accomplishes its goal of testing a more useful skill in college when it comes to this section of the redesigned SAT. This means that the essay section not only tests a student’s writing ability but also his/her comprehension of the passage.


the College Board has made a lot of changes to the SAT. If I had to summarize, the new SAT is, overall, less difficult than its predecessor. My findings are corroborated by the new concordance table provided by the College Board. All that being said, there is still one big question that remains – how will universities use the new SAT when it comes to admissions? That remains to be seen.

Eric Kim

Author Eric Kim

Eric is the Program Director at LA Tutors and has over twenty years experience as a private tutor. He has served as an academic counselor, college counselor to hundreds of students and now uses his experience across all areas of academia to help develop new curricula and programs designed to help students achieve their individual goals.

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