By Dr. Christian Seberino

On March 5, 2016, students all over the country took the new Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for the first time. As this test significantly affects college admissions and scholarship opportunities, there is a widespread desire in the home schooling community to learn how best to master the new SAT.

The focus of the subject matter has dramatically changed. The intention is to more closely align the SAT with the prevalent college math topics. There is an increased emphasis on linear equations, linear inequalities and data analysis, while geometry is de-emphasized. There is also a de-emphasis on the memorization of formulas and an emphasis on real word problems. Some advanced topics will be fair game for the first time including basic trigonometry and complex numbers. See the College Board web site for a more detailed description of the topics covered.

In short, the material home school students study now will have to be modified. There is no penalty for wrong answers. It makes sense, on the current SAT, to guess only when one can eliminate at least one choice on the multiple choice questions. This is true even though it will probably lead to more wrong answers because of the odd way the SAT has been scored. Now, it makes sense to guess on all the questions even if that means picking random answers rather than leaving some answers blank.

In the new SAT, there are only two math sections. A calculator section is 55 minutes long with 38 questions, and a no calculator section is 25 minutes long with 20 questions. The problems still get progressively harder. In total there are 45 multiple choice questions and 13 non-­multiple choice questions. Furthermore, all multiple choice questions now only have four answer choices.

The new SAT does not eliminate some problems I often see as an SAT math workshop teacher. Suppose you had to calculate 5284 + 1978 + 3628 + 9114 + 35870. If you were not conscious of the time, you might choose to slowly do the sum and check your answer a few times. If you were time conscious, you might instead choose to try to find the answer as fast as possible. Neither choice is ideal for the SAT! If you take too much time per question, you will not finish the test. If you rush, you will make silly mistakes. This is still true on the new SAT. One of the strategies I teach in my SAT math workshops is to learn to make good approximations. Suppose instead of finding the exact answer to the above sum you found 5000 + 2000 + 4000 + 9000 + 36000 = 56000. Notice this can be done in your head in a few seconds and is immune to many silly mistakes someone desperately pushing buttons on a calculator is prone to make. Home schoolers are typically taught to be careful and methodical when doing math problems. I often half seriously tell students that they need to learn some “bad habits” and unlearn some of the good ones—just for the SAT. This is still true for the new version!

In summary, there are lots of changes to the 2016 SAT. The subject matter students should reinforce in their study is different. Guessing is more important than ever. About the only that hasn’t changed is that the SAT test is an odd experience requiring careful preparation tuned to the nuances of this exam.

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Dr. Christian Seberino is a college professor and a long time home schooler. He serves the home school community by providing free and paid online math and physics classes year around at PhilFour.com. He also provides affordable used microscopes to home schoolers at HomeSchoolScopes.com. Email him at cs@philfour.com.

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