IvyWise Resources

Everything You Need to Know About the New SAT: Part II

Last month, we brought you part one of our two-part “Everything You Need to Know About the New SAT” series, focusing on formatting, timing, and more mechanical changes coming to the test in March of 2016. This month, we’re going more in-depth to bring you insight into the major content changes coming to the test, and how students can prepare for them.

Information on the actual content of the new test sections has been slow to come out since the College Board announced in 2014 that the test would be changing. Now that practice tests are available, we’re able to better see the changes and how they will affect student’s test prep.

Here’s a breakdown of the new sections, content changes, and how students can begin to prepare should they decide to tackle the new SAT next spring.

Current SAT


Current ACT


Math, Critical Reading, Writing, Required Essay

Math, Reading, Writing, Optional Essay (Science passages embedded in all sections.)

Math, Reading, English, Science, Optional Essay


Two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section; 44 multiple-choice questions and 10 grid-ins; Calculator allowed on all sections

Two sections: One calculator allowed, one no calculator; 80 minutes; Less geometry, more algebra, pre-calculus & trigonometry added

One 60-question, 60-minute section; Tests pre-algebra through trigonometry; Calculator allowed entire time


Three different sections of varying length comprised of vocabulary sentence completion and 7 short and long reading passages.

One, 65-minute section comprised of 5 passages, 2 with charts/diagrams, and 1 historic document.

Four long passages with questions that require students to recall what they read; Questions in random order


Essay, two grammar sections; 60 minutes total

Four passages and 44 multiple-choice questions; 35 minutes

Essay and 45-minute English section; 75 questions covering punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.


One prompt and one quote; 25 minutes; Students are required to complete the essay.

One prompt and one full passage; 50 minutes; the essay is now optional

One topic and three perspectives; students evaluate and provide their own perspective with evidence; 40 minutes; essay is optional

Perhaps one of the most concerning changes on the math section to students is the elimination of the calculator during one of the sections on the new SAT. Previously, a calculator was allowed on all three sections. Now, there will be one calculator section that’s 55 minutes in length with 30 multiple-choice questions and eight grid-ins, and one no-calculator section that’s 25 minutes in length with 15 multiple-choice questions and five grid-ins. These two math sections will also see an increase in the difficulty of the level of math. While the current SAT math covers geometry, statistics, arithmetic, and algebra, the new exam will de-emphasize geometry and include more algebra, data analysis, and introduce pre-calculus and trigonometry to the test. The new math section is more focused on depth than breadth, so though it’s fewer topics to worry about, you’ll need to know more in-depth, difficult math concepts. The math section will also include charts and graphs as part of the science evaluation.

How to prepare: Preparing for the new SAT math portion will require equal emphasis on skill and test-taking strategy. It’s important to master the new math content – pre-calculus, trigonometry, and advanced algebra. While practicing a test-taking strategy and timing is important, so is getting comfortable with solving math problems without a calculator.

In terms of timing and endurance, this is probably one of the most difficult changes coming to the SAT in 2016. Previously, the reading portion was divided into three 20-or-25-minute sections. Now, the reading portion will be one much longer section, with students reading and answering questions about five passages in just 65 minutes. Two of the passages will include charts and diagrams. Students will be asked to evaluate the data or content of the graphs and how it relates to the passage as part of the science evaluation. The reading section will also include one historic document, which is known as the Global Conversation or Founding Document Passage. These documents could be from either US history or another significant global event.

Additionally, the reading section will include questions asking students to compare two of the reading selections. This could apply to any of the passages in the section, including the historic document.

Also, while there are no more arcane vocabulary words or sentence completion questions, the reading section still tests vocabulary, by asking students to select the definition of a certain word in a passage. This will make up about 13% of the section, or 6-8 questions.

How to prepare: The new reading section will be very dense, so practicing timing and reading techniques will be important. Also if students have limited experience with charts and graphs, they’ll need to devote at least a little bit of prep time for those as well. Since the vocabulary portion is changing significantly, students won’t need to spend a significant amount of time memorizing strange words. The main skills students will need to hone are reading critically, reading efficiently, examining passages, and interpreting graphs and charts.

While the current SAT writing is based on the essay and stand-alone grammar questions, the new test will intermingle the reading and writing portions, allowing students to answer grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and other sentence structure questions in the context of provided passages. Like the ACT, the new SAT asks students to revise and edit a piece by asking questions on grammar usage, punctuation, logic, and effective wording. This section, like the other sections, also has a heavier emphasis than the current SAT on analyzing charts and graphs.

How to prepare: Again, reading skills are important. Students should practice with basic grammar and punctuation practice questions, as well as hone critical reading and analyzing skills. The vocabulary will not be as difficult, so context of the passage should be enough to help students answer. Students will need to focus most of their preparation on timing and pacing.

One of the changes many students will look forward to is the elimination of the required essay. While the new SAT will include an essay section, it’s now optional. However, this isn’t the only change coming to the essay section. Currently, students have 25 minutes to write about their personal opinion on a given topic. There is a prompt and quotation provided, but students don’t necessarily have to address them directly. On the new exam, the essay section will be 50 minutes in length, and students will have to analyze a provided passage, including how the author develops his or her argument and how the author uses evidence. No longer will students be communicating their own views on a certain topic. Now, they’ll have to critically analyze a provided passage and directly address the provided prompt.

How to prepare: Much like with the new reading section, students will need to practice their critical reading and analyzing skills. While the section is longer, students will need the extra time to formulate a comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the passage and prompt. This is where practice makes perfect – students should practice this essay along with their regular test prep, under timed conditions.

Currently, many students are preparing to take the SAT before the changes take effect or switch to the ACT. If you’re not sure which test is right for you,contact us today for more information on our ACT and SAT tutoring services.


Get the IvyWise Newsletter

 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code