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Is the SAT really going to be changed, AGAIN?

Dear Mike,

I’ve heard that the SAT is going to be changed again.  Do you know how and when?

Thanks,  Brian


Dear Brian,

Yes, the SAT is changing!

Late in 2012, David Coleman, who had just taken over the reins at the College Board, spoke at the Brookings Institution about standardized testing and the (or, I should say, “his”) Common Core initiative.

In his talk, Coleman made some surprisingly critical remarks about the SAT, his own organization’s flagship standardized test– and cash cow. The two most notable statements he made concerned the SAT’s essay and its vocabulary (a few details on these items in a moment).

Just a few months after Coleman’s talk…TA-DA!…College Board announced they’d be revising the test. They didn’t say exactly when the test would change, although they have since stated that the revised test will first be administered in spring 2016 (so if you’re graduating in 2014, 2015, or 2016 you won’t be affected). Nor did they say exactly WHAT would change, but the revisions will surely revolve around the Common Core standards and Coleman’s conviction that “analyzing evidence” should be “the heart of the test.”

Indeed, information about the Common Core, Coleman’s comments, and a decade of experience with the test allows us to make a few predictions.


The most drastic change we’re likely to see on the CR will deal with vocabulary: it’ll probably get much easier. In fact, the more obscure, “SAT words” may go away altogether (say arrivederci to “halcyon,” “lugubrious,” and “calumny.”). This prediction comes directly from Coleman’s comments, which you can see on pages 15 and 16 of the Brookings transcript.


We may not see any major changes to the math. If we do, it will likely be the addition of trigonometry to more closely align the test with what most juniors are leaning in the classroom. Also, Coleman himself stated that a few concepts “matter disproportionately”; among them are proportional reasoning, linear equations, and linear functions. So, look for more questions on those topics. We will also likely see less “sneakiness” or “trickiness” built into the questions (e.g., a question will ask for x rather than x2, so that a student is not “tricked” into picking 3 when the answer is actually 9); such curveballs have long been a highly criticized aspect of the test, and are generally not reflective of most high school exams.


The essay will definitely change. Coleman has expressed disdain for the current state of the essay, saying (correctly) that test-takers are not rewarded for being factual; indeed, they can fabricate evidence with impunity. The essay on the revised test will eschew the current open-ended, answer-however-the-heck-you-want questions. Instead, students will likely need to read a document presenting some kind of argument or analysis, and then evaluate its merits using evidence directly from the document.

These kinds of changes can be nerve wracking for parents and students (and SAT tutors!). But don’t worry too much: there will always be ways to effectively prepare yourself for success on the SAT!

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