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The New SAT: A Look at the Sample Questions

This is our second post about the upcoming changes to the SAT. To read the first post, click here.

Last week the College Board released sample questions for the new SAT. (If you didn’t get the memo, you might want to start checking our Facebook page.)

Here’s what we’ve learned:

The math is tough! There are trig functions, radians, imaginary numbers, and other high-level math concepts not found on the current SAT. Some of the problems require more steps than we’re used to as well. Consider this geometry problem, for example, which is considerably more complex than any geometry problem in the Official SAT Guide. And take a look at this multi-paragraph word problem. These problems look like what you’d see on an SAT Math Subject test.

As for the Critical Reading, it doesn’t seem drastically more difficult than the current test, but with only 24 questions over five passages, it’s hard to say. We already knew there would be no fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, and the three vocabulary-in-context questions are easy. There are also three questions of the form “which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?” They’re all easy—as long as you got the previous question right.

As expected, some of the reading passages come with graphs and illustrations, but the questions about them are pretty easy. There are no “founding documents,” as the College Board’s earlier press releases had led us to expect, but there is a speech by Barbara Jordan (1974) and an excerpt from an Edith Wharton novel (1911). The other passages are from science and social science contexts and are all from 2010 or later.

The Writing portion looks very much like an ACT English section, with questions going beyond mere grammar, asking things like “should this sentence be kept or deleted?” I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily harder than the current Writing Skills section, just different.

The essay asks you to analyze how an author builds a persuasive argument. This task is more difficult than answering a general question like “can knowledge be a burden?” or “is money a more powerful motivator than conscience?” The responses are graded on three different criteria: reading, analysis, and writing. So, to get a good score in each area, you have to understand what the author is saying, recognize the author’s use of persuasive rhetorical devices, and demonstrate this knowledge in coherent, eloquent prose. Piece of cake, right?

If you’re ready to start preparing for the 2016 SAT (or the 2015 PSAT), these sample questions are a great place to start. The College Board is planning to release more material in March, and when they do, we’ll let you know.