SAT Reading Stamina

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I just posted a blog about the release of new SAT practice tests that you can find here. As I started to work through the tests, I expected to be struck by one of the many changes that the test has undergone, but the first thing I noticed was on the very first page:

Reading Test

65 Minutes, 52 Questions

While several components of the reading section have been excised, rather than three shorter sections the test now contains one massive reading question. The version I looked at spanned 15 pages. This is going to be a serious test of stamina.

Allow me to sound like an old man for a minute. When I heard about this change from my wife, my response was “Good. That’s what college is. You have to sit down and focus intently for an hour, and then you have to do it again.” Back in my day we had attention spans longer than 140 characters. We communicated in full sentences, not text messages. (Okay, I’ve probably pushed the old man bit too far now. For the sake of accuracy, we did have text messaging when I was in college, but it cost $0.10 per text so we didn’t use it that much.)

But seriously, I really do think this reading section is going to be a massive test of attention spans. In an era where two paragraph-long posts need a TL;DR summary at the bottom (Too Long; Didn’t Read) we aren’t used to having our focus tested like the SAT is doing.

There is, however, a solution. Sit down and read. Make it a habit to set a timer for 65 minutes (or more), turn off and put out of reach your phone, TV, radio or anything else that might distract and just read. The silence can be jarring at times in our world of multi-tasking (or more accurately multi-distracting) but if you make this a habit you’re not only going to improve your focus and chances on the SAT, you’re probably going to find that it’s your most productive time of the day. Make good habits and build your reading stamina because the new SAT is coming.

TL;DR- You better make the time to read because the SAT reading section is a long longer than this blog post

 New SAT Tests Available

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The College Board recently released four full-length sample tests for the new SAT that will be debuting Spring 2016. You can access the tests here. If you’re currently a senior in high school, don’t worry this new version of the test won’t apply to you, but if you’re a sophomore or junior you should definitely take a look.

One nice resource that the College Board has provided is that there are explanations for the answers in these tests. Beyond learning what you needed to know in order to get the question correct, these explanations can often offer insight into how the test maker would like you to think about the problems, and what skills the test wants to make sure you have. I would budget just as much time to review the test as you do to take it. It can be extremely helpful to read the explanations both for the problems you got wrong AND for the problems you got correct. When you review a problem that you got correct you often come across a more efficient way to attack similar problems in the future. Alternately, a proposed solution may simply offer a different way to look at things that you hadn’t thought about before that you can add to your toolkit. Finally, reviewing the answer for a problem you got correct may serve to validate that you approached the problem exactly the right way. That it certainly worth the time it takes to review as it solidifies good habits!

When you go into these practice tests I’d encourage you to keep an open mind. I’m sure you’ve heard quite a few things about what this new SAT will be. Some are probably true, some are certainly exaggerated, and some are just wrong. Just like you’re better off forming your opinions on a new person based on facts and personal experience, you’re better off getting familiar with this new SAT before you judge her.

Feel free to give your feedback. Now that you’ve seen what it will look like, what do you think of the new SAT?

 

 The New PSAT: Math Quick Thoughts

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I recently had an opportunity to take a sample test for the new PSAT, and I have to say I was surprised. For all the bluster about a new SAT I didn’t expect a whole lot of difference. I will say, it’s different. Here are some of my high-level thoughts about the math section. I’ll be digging into more details of the test and more specifics in coming weeks.

1. The new non-calculator section is going to be a major time crunch: I’m traditionally a fast worker, I’m extremely comfortable doing mental math and I still only finished with about a minute and a half left.

2. Finishing on time is going to require either exceptional math skills or exceptional strategy: And to be honest, a combination is probably the best path to a great score. One problem I saw involved some fairly complicated geometry. However, a quick estimate told me that only one of the answers could have been correct and saved me quite a bit of time. Mindlessly plugging ahead is a sure way to get in time trouble on this test.

3. The combination of time pressure and some tough problem should make perfection tougher to achieve: If you’re not an 800-level math student, that shouldn’t cause you to panic because the scoring will still curve out approximately the same. My guess is that the need for a little more speed may do a better job separately the truly exceptional from the very very good. The current test often makes silly mistakes the dividing line between perfect and near perfect.

I’m still digesting what these changes mean, but I’ll keep updating you over the coming weeks!

 Is the SAT Changing Already?

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You may have heard that the re-designed SAT is coming Spring 2016, however you may see hints of the new test showing up this year.

A few notes for those of you planning on taking the SAT in 2015:

1. If you see a section that looks very different from what you’ve practiced, it’s probably experimental. Some students have reported seeing these sections as the test makers try to calibrate the difficulty for the roll-out of the new test. If the section is experimental it won’t count on your score. The key is not to worry. Just relax and do your best.

2. The form of questions in non-experimental sections may be slightly different. It’s really just rumors we’re hearing at this point, but it seems like the new question styles may be seeping in so that the transition to the new format will be a little more dramatic. I don’t think that demands a bit shift in strategy, but for the sake of “just in case” it might be a good idea to spend half an hour looking at some of the new SAT sample questions at collegeboard.org.

3. Some SAT essay prompts are starting to look very ACT-ish. That’s a sentence that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to someone who isn’t immersed in the college prep world, so let me explain. ACT essay prompts typically present some kind of problem and ask you to find a solution that produces the most social good. Traditionally, SAT prompts have posed a more abstract question like “Is honesty always the best policy?” and asked you to argue a side. It’s not a huge change, but it is a change and if I were planning on taking the SAT in 2015, I’d make sure to write a couple practice ACT essays to fill out my prep.

As you can see, there’s nothing to worry about, but being aware of the ways the test may shift over the next year can be helpful to anyone who plans to take the SAT during this transition period!