Attention all seniors: whether you are loquacious or taciturn, punctilious or lackadaisical, you no longer need to know what those words mean. The College Board has deposed vocabulary as the chief gatekeeper to a good SAT score. That’s just one change in the new 2016 SAT which rolled out in March. Before you buckle down to study, read In-Home Tutors’ Guide to the New SAT, complete with practice questions and resources.

If you study best with someone to guide you, don’t hesitate to enlist one of our private SAT prep tutors. Give us a call at 877-715-5442.

To kick off our guide to the new SAT, let’s go over the biggest changes:

  • No More Guessing Penalty. The old SAT took off points for incorrect answers to discourage random guesses. Now, if you run out of time or don’t have a clue, you can go ahead and play connect-the-dots–or better yet, make educated guesses.
  • Optional Essay. Good with words? You can opt into the Essay portion, with 50 minutes allotted (twice as much time as before). Rather than factoring into your overall score, the essay is scored on its own
  • Fewer Choices on Multiple Choice Questions. The new SAT asks you to choose from 4 possible answers, not 5
  • Back to 1600. The Critical Reading and Writing sections now accounts for a combined 800 points. so your composite SAT score will now be a maximum 1,600 points instead of 2,400 — which is how it used to be before the Writing section was introduced in 2005.
  • No More Vocab! Throw away those flashcards with all those strange words you’ve never encountered outside of SAT practice tests. The new SAT tests your understanding of more commonly used words and phrases in context.
  • Take the SAT and the ACT: As you begin to take new SAT practice tests, you’ll probably notice that it’s a lot like the ACT. You can essentially study for both at the same time because they are so similar at this point.

Overview of the New SAT Test

 Time AllowedNumber of QuestionsPoints
- With Calculator5538
- No Calculator2520
Reading, Writing and Language800
Evidence-based Reading6552
Essay (optional)501Scored 2-8 on three categories


Guide to the New SAT Math Test

Here’s a high-level summary of the changes to the math section:no-calculator

“More algebra, less geometry. A new no-calculator section. And, for the first time, you have to interpret graphs and charts.”

There are two math portions, one that allows for the use of a calculator, and a smaller one that does not. This seems to be a piece of social engineering: the test designers have observed that some students reach for their calculator for even the easiest math operation, like 5 x 10. This no-calculator section is going to force teachers to spend time weaning their students off this dependency.

The math section – both calculator and no-calculator portions – presents problems drawn from four math “domains” (although to confuse you, your test result will provide subscores in just the first three). The domains are:

  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem solving and data analysis.
  • Passport to Advanced Math
  • Additional Topics in Math

Our guide to the new SAT will now break down these math sections in detail.

Heart of Algebra

The College Board has ramped up algebra in the new SAT to reflect its importance in college, the workplace, and real life. It also serves as the foundation for more complicated mathematical principles. You can expect all aspects of analyzing and solving equations, including linear and quadratic.

This “heart of algebra” portion is the most important, accounting for about 20 of the 58 math questions.

Click here for Kahn Academy’s video tutorials on SAT algebra.

khanGood to know: You can trust Kahn Academy because their new SAT practice modules have been devised in partnership with the College Board. You will find links throughout this guide that take you right to the exercises that correspond to the concept. Click the green “practice this concept” icon on each video to test your knowledge. Don’t know the answer? Click “I’d like a hint.”)

Problem-Solving and Data Analysis

In its attempt to prepare you for college and the workforce in the age of Big Data, the SAT now places greater emphasis on your ability to make sense of information presented in tables, graphs and text. Concepts new to the SAT include scatterplots, linear vs. exponential growth, conditional probability, and evaluating data collection methods.

There will be about 15 questions in this domain.

Click here for Khan Academy’s new SAT practice questions and tutorials.

Passport to Advanced Math

The Passport to Advanced Math raises the bar to touch on higher-level topics such as quadratic equations, polynomials and calculus. Students will need to understand the structure of expressions; they will also need to analyze, manipulate, and rewrite them.

There will be about 15 questions here too.

Here’s the College Board’s list of 14 math topics that fall in this domain.

Click here for Khan Academy’s new SAT practice and tutorials on Passport to Advanced Math.

Additional Topics in Math

This is a catch-all category for anything that does not beat in the Heart of Algebra, is not Advanced, is not really Data Analysis, but is nonetheless important for you to know if you are to be considered college-ready. This is where you will find geometry and basic trigonometry.sad-geometry

If you’ve been doing the math, you’ll see there can only be 6-8 questions left on the test for Additional Topics, which is why we say that geometry has lost a lot of respect, accounting for about 10% of the math test, way down from its representation in the previous SAT.

Click here to study Khan Academy’s Additional Topics in Math.

Guide to the New SAT English Section

Our guide to the new SAT will now cover the English section. This will be broken up into Reading and Writing and Language. 

The Reading Test asks you to read several passages, then answer multiple choice questions about them, just as before. You have 65 minutes to answer 52 questions. There are a total of five sections; four cover one passage, and the fifth cover twos passages.

The test includes:

  • One passage on U.S. founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, plus another History or Social Studies passage/ pair of passages, including 20-22 questions and comprising 40% of the score.
  • One US and World Literature passage/pair of passages, including 10-11 questions and comprising 20% of the score.
  • Two Science passages/pair of passages, including 20-22 questions and comprising 40% of the score.

The Writing and Language portion consists of passages that are actually written for the SAT (as opposed to the Reading passages, which were previously published “in the real world.”) You are essentially being tested on your ability to edit and revise, as you are being asked to choose the best changes to the texts in order to improve their quality.

Each passage comes with 11 questions and comprise 25% of the score. You’ll see:

  • One passage in Careers (e.g. marketing, technology)
  • One passage in History/Social Studies (e.g. anthropology, economics)
  • One passage in Humanities (e.g. arts, letters)
  • One passage in Science (e.g. biology, chemistry).

Here are the major skills being tested within both the Reading and Writing and Language sections.

Relevant Words in Context

Regardless of what guide to the new SAT you read, you’ll notice a big emphasis on how much easier the vocabulary is. That’s because the College Board now tests your ability to understand how a simple word is being used. For example, upon reading a passage about how the “coming decade will likely see a more intense clustering of jobs,” you could be asked to determine whether “intense,” in this context, means “emotional,” “concentrated,” “brilliant,” or “determined.”

These questions may test your ability to understand an expression, such as in this practice passage in which the test-taker is asked to discern what Edith Wharton means by the phrase, “her light steps flying to keep time with his long stride.”

Command of Evidence

Some questions are phrased in some variation of this: “Which choice provides the best evidence to the answer to the previous question?” The answers will be similar to the image below. See also this Khan Academy practice video:


Informational Graphics

The new SAT practice resources are rich with informational graphics. This is because two passages will each contain one or two graphics. These graphics will be in the form of graphs, tables, charts, and the like. In one example, students must deduce from a passage and a corresponding graphic of bicoordinate magnetic maps whether baby turtles would swim Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, or Southeast if magnetic fields were manipulated a certain way.

If that example sounds like it could be part of the ACT Science section, you are right. In fact, although there is no science section as such in the new SAT, students receive a “cross-test” score called Analysis in Science which is drawn from the science-related questions throughout the test (both reading and math).

The Essay

Our guide to the new SAT will now cover the essay section. And there’s good news: it’s optional. Those students who opt to take the Essay portion of the test are asked to read a passage and then demonstrate how the author gathers evidence to present a persuasive argument. The passages will be previously published. Students are not asked whether they agree or disagree with the passage; rather, they need to show what the argument is, and how it is built.

A few points to make about the essay. It is optional but many colleges have already said they expect to see it. Unless you are a non-English speaker headed toward a pure math or science program in college, we would advise you to do the essay, to avoid raising a red flag with the admissions people about your ability to write clearly and logically.

You get 50 minutes for the essay, double the time allowed for the old-format SAT, and the scoring has been changed too. Instead of a single score out of 12, you will receive three scores each out of 8 (which you will presumably add up to get a composite score out of 24). Those scores reflect your performance on three dimensions: Reading (did you understand the passage); Analysis (how insightful is your commentary on the material); and Writing (which is the familiar criteria of how well you can structure your essay with a strong introductory paragraph, sophisticated sentence structure, and so on).

New SAT Practice Tests and Resources

Now that you’ve read our guide to the new SAT, prepare yourself by taking a practice version of the new SAT. Khan Academy and the College Board have prepared this new SAT practice test, along with a wealth of study materials, practice questions, and informative videos.

Also, familiarize yourself with these sample questions from the College Board. They cover Math (Calculator Permitted and Calculator Not Permitted); Reading; Writing and Language; and Essay sample questions.