The SAT Redesign (first test in March, 2016)

Last Updated: May 16, 2014 1:52:00 PM

The New SAT will require similar skills, and test similar content to that of the ACT and the current SAT. Many of the changes to the new SAT’s format will make it look something like the ACT, but the SAT will remain at heart a reasoning test. Among the biggest changes to the SAT are the sharper focus on critical thinking and real-world problems, a new scoring system, and a major change to the essay. In the end, the new test will emphasize problem-solving and understanding context. Compared to the SAT, the ACT will remain more of an achievement test, where broad knowledge of many concepts, testing speed, and endurance will rule the day.

The redesigned SAT is organized into four components: 

  1. Reading Test
  2. Writing and Language Test
  3. Math Test
  4. Essay (direct-writing task), which is optional

High-level Design Changes

Multiple-choice questions will have four alternative responses, not the five found in the current SAT.
The penalty for an incorrect answer that is part of the current SAT scoring will not be assessed in the redesigned test. Under the new “rights-only” scoring method, each correct answer will receive one point (with the exception of one Math question worth four points), and each incorrect answer will receive no points. 

The Reading Test

It will be an assessment of comprehension and reasoning skills with an unmistakable focus on careful reading of appropriately difficult passages in a wide array of subject areas.

Here are four distinctive features of the new SAT Reading Test: 

  • Emphasis on words in context 
  • Emphasis on command of evidence 
  • Inclusion of informational graphics (2 passages)
  • Specified range of text complexity (grade 9 through college freshman)

The last bullet above refers to a range of complexities to better determine whether students are ready for the reading challenge posed by college courses and workforce training programs. Additionally, one passage will be drawn from a U.S. founding document (such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights) or a text that is part of what the College Board calls the Great Global Conversation (such as one by Lincoln or King, or by an author from outside the United States writing on a topic such as freedom, justice, or liberty).

Some texts will contain informational graphics, which students must interpret and/or relate to passage content. Additionally, students must show a command of textual evidence, in part by identifying the portion of a text that serves as the best evidence for the answer to another question.

Vocabulary will be tested through questions about the meaning of words and phrases in the context of extended prose passages that demonstrate how word choice shapes meaning, tone, and impact. These words and phrases are neither highly obscure nor overly specific; instead, they are widely applicable across disciplines, and their meaning is derived in large part through the context – as these are familiar words, but with meaning that can shift depending on context.

Paired passages, an important element of the current SAT’s Critical Reading section, will remain a consistent part of the redesigned SAT’s Reading Test.

It appears that the reading passages will be far more complex than they currently are –and that the correct answer to a reading question may depend on the correct answer to an earlier question. Essentially, the second question asks test-takers to determine which part of the reading passage provides the best evidence for the answer to the first question, thereby demonstrating their command of evidence.

The Writing and Language Test 

This test will assess a student’s ability to revise and edit a range of texts in a variety of subject areas — both academic and career-related — for expression of ideas and for conformity to important conventions of standard written English grammar, usage, and punctuation. Passages are written specifically for the test so that errors (rhetorical or mechanical) can be introduced into them for students to recognize and correct. This test shares with the Reading Test an emphasis on informational graphics (which students must consider as they decide how or whether to revise or edit a text), command of evidence (which students must demonstrate by retaining, adding, revising, or deleting information and ideas in a text), and word meanings and rhetorical word choice. Like the Reading test, this test includes passages across a range of text complexities. The format will closely resemble that of the current ACT English test that contains both questions on mechanics and usage and questions about rhetoric.

The Essay

Passages about which students will write their essay are texts selected from published sources and generally represent portions of arguments written for a broad audience — texts that examine ideas, debates, trends, and the like in the arts, the sciences, and civic, cultural, and political life. Students must produce a clear and cogent written analysis in which they explain how the author of a text builds an argument to persuade an audience through the use of evidence, reasoning, stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or other features the students themselves identify. Students are not asked to offer their own opinion on the topic of the passage, but are instead expected to analyze how the author constructs an argument. Responses will be evaluated on the skill they demonstrate in three areas: reading, analysis, and writing.

The Math Test

The Math Test focuses on algebra with particular attention to the heart of the subject: students’ ability to analyze, fluently solve, and create linear equations and inequalities. Problems within the Heart of Algebra category may also call for an understanding of solving a problem through the process of reasoning.

The redesigned SAT will require a stronger command of fewer, more important topics. The redesigned Math Test has four content areas: 

  • Heart of Algebra 
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis 
  • Passport to Advanced Math
  • Additional Topics in Math

Questions in each content area span the full range of difficulty.

The Test includes a significant focus on problem solving and data analysis, requiring significant reasoning about ratios, rates, and proportional relationships, interpreting and synthesizing data, and applying core concepts and methods of statistics in science, social studies, and career-related contexts. Thus, the Test reflects the practical application of concepts learned in high school math courses.

It will also include topics central to students progressing to more advanced mathematics: an understanding of the structure of expressions and the ability to analyze, manipulate, and rewrite more complex expressions. 

Additional topics: geometry questions on congruence, similarity, right triangles, and the Pythagorean Theorem, as well as questions about complex numbers and trigonometric functions.

The Math Test contains two sections: a calculator section and a no-calculator section. The no-calculator section includes conceptual questions for which a calculator is not needed. The calculator section gives insight into students’ capacity for strategic use of the tool to address problems efficiently.

Test Comparison

  Current SAT New SAT (March 2016) ACT
Format & Length 10 relatively short sections:
  • 3 Reading
  • 3 Math
  • 2 Writing
  • 1 Essay
  • 1 Equating (unscored)
  • 5 answer choices for multiple choice questions
  • Total time: 3 hrs 45 mins
5 sections:
  • 1 Reading 
  • 1 Language & Writing 
  • 2 Math 
  • 1 Essay (optional)
  • 4 answer choices for multiple choice questions
  • Total time: 3 hrs w/o essay; 
  • 3 hrs 50 mins w/essay 
5 long sections:
  • 1 English
  • 1 Math
  • 1 Reading
  • 1 Science
  • 1 Essay (optional)
  • 5 answer choices for multiple-choice math; 4 for other sections
  • Total time: 3 hrs 25 mins  
Scoring Combined score: 600-2400
  • 3 scores each on 200-800 scale: Reading, Math, Writing
  • Essay score on 2-12 scale
  • Writing score includes essay + multiple choice questions 
  • All questions worth 1 point
  • ¼ point penalty for wrong multiple-choice answer
Combined score: 400-1600
  • Evidence-based reading and writing: 200-800; Math: 200-800
  • Essay score
  • “Cross-Test Scores” for performance on Science and History/Social Studies across entire test (see summary below)
  • No penalty for wrong answers 
Composite score: 1-36 (average of four scores: English, Math, Reading, and Science) 
  • Essay score not factored into composite
  • English/Essay score on 1-36 scale
  • No penalty for wrong answers 
Writing/English Identify & correct errors in stand-alone sentences and in a writing selection:
  • Grammar & usage
  • Some punctuation

About 12-14 distinct grammar topics are tested every time

Revise and edit writing selections for logical structure and effective rhetoric:
  • Grammar and usage
  • Punctuation
  • Logical structure
  • Effective rhetoric
  • Includes informational graphics
Revise and edit writing selections for logical structure and effective rhetoric:
  • Grammar and usage
  • Punctuation
  • Logical structure
  • Effective rhetoric
  • Commonly confused words
Math Primarily Algebra 1&2, Geometry:
  • Apply core math skills to solve mostly “reasoning” problems
  • Many math formulas are printed at the start of each math section

From the total of 54 questions, ten are not multiple choice, but grid-in

Pre-algebra thru basic trigonometry
  • Strong emphasis on algebra
  • One section allows calculator use, one does not
  • 12 grid-in questions
  • 1 Extended Thinking question worth 4 points
Pre-algebra thru basic trigonometry
  • Math tested in a direct manner
  • Extensive range of concepts
  • Emphasis on word problems
  • Math formulas not provided
  • One math section only (60 mins)
Reading Two types of Reading questions:
  • 19 sentence completion questions (vocabulary)
  • Short and long reading passages (48 questions)

Writing (grammar, syntax, usage) questions are contained in their own test sections

Reading & Writing grouped together for scoring (Evidenced-Based Reading and Writing), but in two distinct sections:
  • No sentence completion questions
  • Tests understanding of passages from U.S. history, world literature, history/social studies, humanities, and science
  • Includes informational graphics
40 questions, ten each for passages from: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science, always in that order.
  • Required.
  • 25 minutes to respond 
  • Focused on grasp of English language rather than quality of reasoning or veracity of facts
  • Fairly universal topic
  • Optional
  • 50 minutes to respond
  • Students analyze a 650-750 word source document and explain how the author builds an argument
  • Facts matter
  • Optional
  • 30 minutes to respond 
  • Focused on grasp of English and presentation of an argument
  • Topic is teenager/student oriented
Science N/A N/A
  • 40 Questions divided among 7 passages 
  • Topics from biology, physics, chemistry, earth science, etc
  • Tests reasoning, not knowledge, and the ability to interpret tables, graphs, and charts

Here is the battery of scores that the College Board says will be reported for the redesigned SAT:


  • The sum of two area scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math
  • Reported on a scale ranging from 400 to 1600
  • Essay scores reported separately and not factored into the composite score

AREA SCORES (2 scores)

  • Two area (domain) scores reported on a scale ranging from 200 to 800: 
    1. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 
    2. Math 
  • Essay scores reported separately and not factored into the area scores

TEST SCORES (3 scores + essay score)

  • Three scores reported on a scale ranging from 10 to 40: 
    1. Reading Test score
    2. Writing and Language Test score
    3. Math Test score
  • Essay reported separately. Current plans call for the Essay component to report three scores, a decision that will be reassessed pending the outcome of further research. 


  • Two cross-test scores reported, each ranging from 10 to 40
    1. Analysis in History/Social Studies 
    2. Analysis in Science 
  • Scores based on selected questions in the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Tests and reflect the application of reading, writing, language, and math skills in history/social studies and science contexts

SUBSCORES (7 scores)

  • Seven scores reported on a scale ranging from 1 to 15
  • Reading and Writing and Language Tests – two subscores: 
    1. Command of Evidence 
    2. Relevant Words in Context. 
  • Writing and Language – two subscores: 
    1. Expression of Ideas 
    2. Standard English Conventions 
  • Math – three subscores: 
    1. Heart of Algebra
    2. Problem Solving and Data Analysis
    3. Passport to Advanced Math

The College Board will provide a concordance between the scores on the current SAT and the redesigned SAT that shows how to relate the scores of one test to the scores of the other.

Topics: SAT Test Test Scores Test-Prep


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