The SAT Tutor: What Will the Essay on the New SAT Be Like?

Posted by Ann-Marie Elvin on 2/11/15 1:52 PM

crystalballYou don’t need a crystal ball to know what will be on the 2016 SAT 

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

The College Board’s officially released materials note that “the test specifications as well as the research foundation defining what is measured… will continue to be refined based on ongoing research.” In other words that are not passive-voiced gobbledegook, the College Board hasn’t entirely finished making the new SAT. But these sample materials provide an early indication of some of the shifts in the testing format. In this post, I examine changes to the SAT Essay section, which will assess students’ ability to perform evidence-based reading using the provided source materials.

The changes to the essay section are twofold: first, the SAT essay will be optional, leaving individual colleges to determine whether to require it as a component of the application process. Second, it will move away from subjective assessments of student opinions and examples, instead emphasizing their ability to understand how an author has structured his/her argument. Namely, the essay will gauge students’ evaluation of the following:

  • The use of evidence from primary source texts to support the author’s claims
  • The author’s style and rhetorical strategies in constructing his/her argument
  • The strength/weakness of ideas presented, as well as any logical fallacies, flaws, or reasoning errors in the author’s position

While these changes may appear disconcerting (especially to Cambridge Coaching’s SAT tutoring experts in Boston and New York City, who now have to learn a whole new test) , the shift in the SAT essay format seems to be a welcome one, for a myriad of reasons:

Rewards Student Work Throughout High School 

By focusing on students’ abilities to deconstruct an author’s position using evidence from the text, the revised SAT essay rewards strengths that students seek to develop during high school, while highlighting the interface between the fundamentals of strong writing and reading comprehension. 

Tests Skills Necessary for College Success

The attention given to close reading, analysis, and evidence-based evaluation better comports with the skills students will need in their college assignments.

A More Objective and Consistent Measure

In challenging students to devise an argument based on the same primary sources, the redesigned essay section purports to offer a more objective evaluation of their writing and critical reasoning, across individual test administrations. Whereas the essay section, in its current manifestation, asks students to respond to an open-ended question using examples from their reading, knowledge, and experience, the redesigned SAT emphasizes an assessment of an author’s argument –as opposed to students’ subjective opinions – using the evidence offered in support of that position. Although the source materials will vary by exam, the actual task is much more consistent, which should allow for more systematic evaluation by graders and more transparent expectations for students as they attempt to prepare for the test.

Greater Breadth in Student Responses 

The revised SAT essay is designed to allow a wide range of successful responses. Although students draw upon the same source text, individuals may decide to emphasize any of the following (among other possibilities): the author’s reasoning, argument structure, use of data in support of a claim, the role of specific paragraphs, etc. Then, while an evidence-based analysis provides clearer expectations of a student’s task, it simultaneously provides various angles for thorough analysis. 

The SAT overhaul has been a source of considerable concern since the College Board outlined its proposed changes in 2014. Although the definitive impact of the new test remains to be seen, students and parents alike can rest easy knowing that the revised essay will emphasize the skills students strive to develop throughout high school, namely, the ability to synthesize information, deconstruct evidence, and evaluate an author’s position on its merits.

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our SAT verbal tutors in Boston and New York: How to Hack the GRE/SAT Writing Sections, 4 Tips for Writing the SAT Essay, The Benefits of Working with a Private SAT Tutor. If you’re concerned and looking for more help, consider giving Cambridge Coaching a call. We offer SAT tutoring in NYC, Boston, and online. Our corps of MIT- and Harvard-educated private SAT tutors have the skills and experience to help you acclimate to this new test, and go forward confidently.

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Tags: SAT