Explaining the New SAT Mathematics Sections
The College Board, creators of the SAT, have decided to completely revamp the test for the Spring of 2016. This will affect current freshmen (class of 2017) who otherwise might have to go into a brand new test that few of us have seen and will be difficult to completely prepare for. Another option is for current freshmen to plan on taking the ACT during the spring of their junior year instead. For those who wish to stick with the SAT, here are the major changes to the SAT Math section.
1st Major Change: Structure and Questions
The current SAT features three math sections, detailed in the following table.
|# of Questions
|Long multiple choice
|Short multiple choice
|Multiple choice + Grid in
For the new SAT, these three sections will be condensed into two, only one of which will allow students to use calculators.
|# of Questions
|Multiple choice + Grid in
|30 MC + 7 Grids= 37
|Multiple choice +Grid in
|15 MC +5 Grid= 20
According to the College Board, new multi-part question types will present problems that require students to consider multiple applications within the same context. These “Extended Thinking” questions will involve real-world calculations like currency conversion, proportional thinking, and percentage-based reasoning. While there are sometimes (but rarely) two or three questions that pertain to a single scenario on the current SAT’s math section, the new SAT will feature a single multi-part question worth four points on each administration of the exam.
The “No-Calculator” math section is another major change, which many parents may remember as how they took the exam. The SAT in the early 1990s didn’t allow calculators at all. While students might think they know need to brush up on multiplication tables, in reality, it’s much more important to understand the basic nature of math, along with fractions, decimals, and operations.
2nd Major Change: Points and Penalties
The current SAT Math section has questions that range from easy, to medium, to difficult in each section. The multiple choice questions all have 5 options and wrong answers incur a .25 point penalty.
The new SAT section will have questions with differential point values. Grid-ins can be worth up to four times the value of multiple choice questions, so students are going to have to be more careful with timing and pace. Multiple choice questions will now only have four answer options and will eliminate the penalty for wrong answers.
3rd Major Change: Content
In efforts to make the SAT more relevant to college and workforce expectations, the College Board has drastically changed the makeup of the mathematics section content. While the current SAT features an approximately even mix of algebra, geometry, and number/operations questions and does not test concepts in trigonometry, the new SAT content will emphasize topics that, through research into post-secondary and career readiness, the College Board has recognized as having “great relevance and utility for college and career work.”
New SAT topics:
- The “Heart of Algebra” content area will constitute a little over one-third of the questions on the exam, reflecting the relative importance of manipulating expressions and equations and fluency in algebraic operations in equation- and graph-based contexts.
- About one-quarter of the questions will be “Problem Solving and Data Analysis” questions, which will require students to demonstrate their proficiency in graph and chart interpretation. A move toward this question type reflects the acknowledgment that today’s real-world content is presented in media-rich formats: the correct interpretation of everything from magazine articles to technical writings is predicated on one’s ability to understand qualitative and quantitative information presented in figures ranging from graphs to tables to pie charts.
- “Advanced” and “additional topics” will account for the remainder of the questions on the new SAT math sections. These categories include more specialized mathematics, including quadratic, cubic, and rational expressions, trigonometric functions, and geometric calculations. Some of these concepts are not tested on the current SAT, and the frequencies of the ones that are will be changing significantly. The reduction in the number of geometry questions is perhaps the most noticeable change––whereas the current SAT tests geometry very frequently, geometry-based questions will make up less than 10% of the new SAT’s math content. The geometry that does appear will be applied to real-world scenarios.
The mathematics section of the SAT is changing in big ways. Instead of the memorization of key procedures and formulas in the current SAT, the new SAT will push students to think. Instead of “plug and chug” math problems, the hope is that the new SAT math questions will include context-rich problems and solutions. In introducing meatier questions, the College Board seeks to stress understanding over procedure.
This will be good news for students who have a very solid understanding of the math they learn in school, and bad news for students who make it through their mathematics classes by learning to apply formulas on autopilot. On some of the new problems they’ll be seeing, students will need to understand the implications of the information they’re given, especially when some of that detail is unnecessary for answering smaller parts of larger questions.
Hopefully, these changes will not only help College Board and SAT be relevant in college admissions, but also help students better prepare for the college math work they will be doing and the math necessary in the workplace.