8 Changes You Need to Know About the New SAT

The College Board has outlined eight major changes for the new SAT. These changes will be implemented to better test the skills and knowledge deemed most important in determining students’ readiness for and likelihood of success in college.

1. Vocabulary Words - One major criticism of the current version of the SAT is the choice of obscure and arcane vocabulary words. The SAT is known for testing difficult vocabulary and it is not uncommon to find students with a collection of hundreds of vocabulary flashcards. The new SAT will leave behind obscure terminology, replacing it with more useful vocabulary that students can expect to use throughout their lives. In addition, vocabulary words will be tested in passage context, which will require close attention when reading in order to determine the correct meaning.

2. Interpretation and Use of Evidence - An important theme throughout the new SAT exam will be “evidence-based reasoning.” In the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, students will be tested on their ability to understand and combine multiple sources of evidence to answer questions. Evidence may be provided in a range of forms, including both passages and graphics. This added diversity is intended to mimic real life information interpretation, which requires the ability to decipher and collect data from multiple sources.

3. Big Changes to the Essay - The essay in the new SAT will be different from the current essay section in multiple areas.

  • The essay will be optional, but will likely be required by some colleges
  • The essay prompt will remain constant through multiple test dates and will be available in advance of the writing date
  • The essay will be based on a provided text, from which the student must draw evidence to support their thesis

The shift to an expository style essay is intended to more closely resemble writing assignments common in college curricula and career writing. The new essay will focus on analyzing multiple arguments, a stark contrast to the current essay, which requires no factual supporting evidence.

4. Three Primary Math Topics - The new SAT match sections will focus heavily on the following concepts:

  • “Problem Solving and Data Analysis:” Quantitative understanding in problem solving in multiple contexts and data analysis, including use of ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning
  • “The Heart of Algebra:” The use of linear equations and systems to aid in the interpretation of more abstract concepts and problems
  • “Passport to Advanced Math:” The use and manipulation of more complex equations

These areas are believed to be key indicators when determining college and career success.

It is also important to note that for the new version of the SAT, calculator use will only be permitted on one of the two Math sections.

5. Real World Scenarios - Questions on the new SAT will use real world scenarios. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section will include charts, graphs, and a broader range of passages related to common college majors and occupations, in addition to more traditional literature and literary nonfiction. Questions will ask students to correct errors, as well as edit and revise text.

6. Science and Social Studies - In all sections of the new SAT, students will see questions that apply to a number of subjects, including science, history, and social studies. Students will use texts and informational graphics relating to a range of subjects in both the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section.

7. "Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation"- The new SAT will use text from at least one of the United States founding documents (e.g., the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights) or text related to what the College Board describes as the “Great Global Conversation about freedom, justice, and human dignity.” The College Board aims to include these documents to promote their understanding and importance both in the United States and globally.

8. No More Penalties - Students receive a quarter point deduction for incorrect answers provided on the current version of the SAT and no penalty for questions left unanswered. However, the new version of the SAT will exclude this policy, and students will not be penalized for incorrect or unanswered questions. This will drastically alter test-taking strategies, encouraging students to provide an answer for every single question—even if it’s a complete guess—without the concern of point deductions.

See College Board's new test specifications in detail.