Next spring, the SAT will unveil its first major redesign since 2005. College Board, which develops and administers the SAT, has stated that the changes are designed to better reflect a student's readiness for college by testing students on the concepts and skills that research shows have the biggest impact on a student's likelihood of succeeding in college.

To help prepare our students for the changes, my advisors and I have been tracking all the news we can find about the new format. Thankfully, College Board is doing a good job of releasing information.

There are already sample test questions on their site,

And for the first time, students can log on to take free sample tests through a partnership with College Board and the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing online learning. (Take the sample tests at

I also like to remind students that the new format is being phased in slowly. The new SAT test debuts in March, so seniors applying to college this year will still take the format they've grown accustomed to taking. (The PSAT, however, will switch to its new format this fall.)

But for everybody else, it's time to start learning about the new format and planning to work on the areas that may pose a personal challenge.

Some of the key changes in the new SAT, as summarized by A-List Education, an educational services company that prepares the curriculum used by Capstone's SAT prep instructors, include:

n Reading and writing will be combined into one section called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. This will include questions that require students to interpret data, such as tables and graphs.

n Scores will go back to the old 400 to 1600 scale that is probably familiar to many parents, reverting from the 600 to 2400 scale that has been in use for the past decade.

n The essay, which will now be optional, will be its own section.

n In the math test, one portion will not allow students to use calculators. (The other, longer section will still allow their use.)

n The math test will have some higher-level questions and will be heavily weighted toward algebra and statistics. Geometry and trigonometry questions will only make up about 10 percent of the test. In general, the math questions should align better to what students actually have been studying in school.

n The sentence-completion questions, which were heavily dependent on vocabulary, will no longer be included.

n The reading portion will contain five reading passages with 10 to 11 questions about each.

n There will be no penalty for guessing.

I've helped students prepare for standardized testing for years, so my suspicion is that these changes will get a mixed reception: some students will prefer the new format, some will wish it hadn't changed and most will adapt. But for those students who are stressing, I have a few pieces of advice:

n Consider the ACT. Virtually all colleges that accept SAT scores for admission also accept the ACT. Other than adding an optional essay in 2005, the ACT has not changed its format since 1989, so it's a well-known commodity.

n Take the SAT in the fall, even if you're only a junior, just to hedge your bets. If you end up doing well, you're ahead of the game. If you don't? You'll still have plenty of time to prepare for the new format and retake the test.

n Start your prep early. Tutors, prep classes, and online resources are already available for the new SAT format. Formal prep can help you sharpen your skills and identify the areas where you'd better study harder. It can also help you relax and feel confident about the test — and confidence is a key factor in performing well on any assessment.


Donna Spann is the CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 12 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through the career and the college application process.


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