The SAT Tutor: How Will the SAT Math Section Change in 2016?

Posted by Ann-Marie Elvin on 3/23/15, 11:00 AM

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This is the third in a series of blog posts highlighting specific changes to the redesigned SAT, which will be unveiled with the Fall 2015 PSAT administration. 

Given its importance to college admissions, it’s unsurprising that the SAT can be a source of anxiety for students and parents alike. As a  private SAT tutor in Boston, I’ve received countless inquiries following the College Board’s decision to overhaul the SAT as we know it : What will the changes look like? How will the redesigned exam and the return to a 1600-point scoring scale be interpreted by colleges? And most frequently, with a dearth of available practice materials, how can I/my student prepare?

The math section of the exam seems to present particular concern for parents and students, although it is arguably the most consistent – with questions of similar topics and difficulty fairly replicable across individual test administrations. Fortunately, revisions to the SAT format seem to continue this pattern, as students will be pleased to find a math section that is both transparent and narrower in focus.

What’s Changing

In officially released materials for the Redesigned SAT, the College Board outlines these important changes, which are intended to gauge student “fluency with, understanding of, and ability to apply the mathematical concepts, skills, and practices that are most strongly prerequisite and central to their ability to progress through a range of college courses, career training, and career opportunities.”

Put simply, the test format has been revised to better align with the core proficiencies that students need to be successful in college. On the new SAT, math questions will be divided into one of four content areas:

  • Heart of Algebra, which assesses the ability to devise, understand, and solve algebraic expressions, as well as to represent them graphically;
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis, which challenges students to solve problems by interpreting data, applying their understanding of statistics, and identifying appropriate measures/units; 
  • Passport to Advanced Math, which extends the reach of the SAT to emphasize the quantitative skills that students will need to progress in a college setting (by tasking them, for example, to create quadratic or exponential functions, to manipulate and solve rational and radical equations, or to determine the relationship between multiple variables in a system); and
  • Additional Topics in Math, which gauges student understanding of topics – such as the Pythagorean Theorem and trigonometric functions – that are integral to problem solving in various domains. While the vast majority of problems will fall into the three preceding categories, the “Additional Topics” section will integrate problem solving and analysis in topics central to postsecondary education and work.

In conscious efforts to balance students’ conceptual understanding and fluency, the College Board has thus narrowed its emphasis to those topics that are most important in demonstrating college and career readiness. Though fewer topics will be emphasized, students will be expected to understand them in greater depth, as the revised test format will likewise include multi-step problems and a no-calculator section. Whereas the current SAT has been criticized for abstract reasoning questions that seem detached from high school curricula, changes to the math section signal a welcome push to reconnect the skills being tested to what students are expected to learn in the classroom.

Why It Matters

Admittedly, much remains to be seen. Until the test is officially demystified this fall, students and parents will continue to express concerns, as the redesigned SAT seems not only daunting but wholly unfamiliar. But though the results of changes to the testing format are as of yet, unproven, they are encouraging. Indeed, by emphasizing the core concepts that students will need to succeed in college and beyond, the College Board has taken the test and seemingly, injected it with renewed purpose. And Cambridge Coaching has the expertise in SAT tutoring to help students in NYC, Boston, and online prepare for the new test, whatever it may bring.

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our private SAT tutorsHow to Use Rubrics on the SAT Essay, The Art of Flashcards, and The Secret Weapon for Learning Vocab. 

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Tags: SAT