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Articles / Preparing for College / The New SAT: What Test Takers Think

The New SAT: What Test Takers Think

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | March 8, 2016

This past Saturday was the first official administration of the the College Board's "new" SAT. If you are planning on taking the revised test but were hesitant to jump in without some kind of yardstick to measure its new nature, you may be interested to see what those who were intrepid enough to sit for it have to say.

Kaplan Test Prep's Russell Schaffer was kind enough to send me the results of a Kaplan e-survey that queried the reactions of hundreds who filled in their bubbles Saturday. Here's what the survey said, according to the Kaplan release:

Students' First Reactions to New SAT®: Majority Say the Questions Were Straightforward, but the Section Lengths Were Tiring

New SAT Experience Prompts Some Students Who Hadn't Planned on Taking the ACT® to Reconsider

New York, NY (March 7, 2016) — A Kaplan Test Prep survey of over 500 teens who took the first administration of the new SAT on March 5 found that most students (59%) generally gave the exam solid marks for having questions that were straightforward and easy to follow, though most (58%) also said they found the length of the sections tiring. And despite the change in the essay becoming optional, 85% of students opted to complete it.

The survey also found that 56% of new SAT takers had either already taken the ACT, the other major college admissions exam, as well, or were planning to do so -- but an additional 17% of test takers who were not previously planning to take the ACT said taking the new SAT prompted them to consider changing plans.

“An ongoing trend we've seen throughout the past few admissions cycles is the shift towards a two-test landscape, and what's interesting is that even as some of the changes to the SAT make it more ACT-like, more students are taking both tests or considering the ACT option," said Lee Weiss, vice president of college admissions programs, Kaplan Test Prep. “Students have been recognizing that they have more than one test option, and the shakeup caused by the SAT redesign has furthered this recognition."

Overall, SAT takers felt that the difficulty level of the new test fell in line with their expectations: 48% said the test was about what they expected; 30% felt the test was more difficult; and 22% felt the test was less difficult than expected. However, despite the fact that a higher percentage (41%) found the Math section more difficult than expected, the new limitation on calculator use did not seem to faze a majority of SAT takers; 56% said they felt comfortable doing math without a calculator.

When asked whether the new SAT reflected what they have learned in high school, 16% responded “Very much so," while 56% responded “Somewhat." Twenty-three percent responded “Not too much" and 5% responded “Not at all."


In another story covering student reactions, we find generally favorable reviews:

Early takers: New SAT wasn't so bad, not so tricky

Not so tricky. More straightforward. Guessing allowed. The newly redesigned SAT college entrance exam that debuts nationally Saturday is getting good reviews from some of the students who took it early this week.

The new exam focuses less on arcane vocabulary words and more on real-world learning and analysis by students. Students no longer will be penalized for guessing. And the essay has been made optional.

The College Board says more than 463,000 test-takers signed up to take the new SAT in March.

Because the exam is new, the College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the SAT, has restricted the exam on Saturday to those applying to college or for scholarships, financial aid or other programs requiring a college test score. People who don't fall into these categories have been rescheduled to take the May test, which will be released at a point afterward. The College Board said it took the action because of concerns about possible theft.

Brian Keyes, a junior at Woodrow Wilson High School in the nation's capital, says he really didn't mind the new SAT.

“There aren't as many questions where it's trying to trick you … It was much more straightforward," he said

For math, he said, “the new version was a lot more like basic concepts, so it wouldn't be very obscure formulas that you have to remember. If you had the basics of algebra down, even if the problem was difficult, you could work your way through it."

Said classmate Isabel Suarez: “I liked it better than the old one. I thought that it was way more applicable to what we've been learning in school."

Isabel, a junior, said the math was a little harder. “It was more algebra based, but I think I was able to perform a lot better on it than the old one because it was stuff that I actually learned in school."

In fact, Suarez, who likes to write, said she enjoyed the reading section. “My AP English class definitely really prepared me for it. I honestly enjoyed the grammar part because I like to pick out problems in writing."

The exam was administered Wednesday at Wilson and other District of Columbia high schools and at schools in more than a dozen states.


Turning now to College Confidential's discussion forum, where you always get the full spectrum of opinions from students, parents, and others from around the world, let's see a few comments from a thread I posted regarding the "wasn't so bad" news item above:

- Of course because the test is much easier.

- Our own CC students are already talking about the questions from the March SAT (apparently given on Wednesday in some states) on this site and they are saying its easier, too.

- [^^^] Wow, that's just unconscionable. Thumbs down to those students, but shame on the College Board, if it's true.

- I agree ... f they use the same test - shame on them, but it would be par for the course... However, I do think they may have two versions of the test because they will need future tests that they can recycle overseas in the next few months, or they can use as a Sunday test, a make-up exam, or a school day test. Also, since scores won't be out until May, we have no idea what the scores will be like. It may be easier, but then the curve will be harsher and the scores lower . The reality is that we have no idea what a good score will be. And based on the inflated PSAT percentiles, it may be more of the same.

- My daughter took the test today and told me that she thought they made it too easy. Her friend (who hasn't performed particularly well on these tests in the past) also thought the test was pretty simple.

- I greatly doubt that the SAT School Day and non-school day tests will be the same test. In fact, I also would not be surprised if the School Day test is easier than the Saturday test, because that would be one effective way to "narrow the gap". Are any adults going to be allowed to see the School Day SAT's to check? Or are we going to just trust College Board's infallible equating procedures?

- No way adults will be able to see the test. And that would really not be fair if the school day test was easier...

- [Our daughter] just got out of the test and thought it went pretty well. I don't know any more in terms of specifics.

- [Our son] thought it was about the same level of difficulty as the PSAT. I worry that the percentile scores will be hard to interpret, much like the PSAT, leaving us to wonder where he stands relative to other students.

- ... My friend took both the school day test and the Saturday test and he said that the reading sections were both really simple but the Saturday test was a bit more straight forward then school day. But the math (no calc) one made him "think" more on the Saturday test and the grid ins were defiantly [sic] harder.


As with many overviews of opinions about issues as varied as movies, music, TV shows, art, etc., you can see the divergence of thoughts about the revised SAT. However, my unscientific opinion is that there's a trend to view it as somewhat easier.

Of course, if one is a cynic, one could view this as an anti-ACT move by the College Board. If a consensus emerges that the SAT is now "easier" than the ACT, that may draw more students to sign up and pay for the SAT and -- for SAT marketers -- hopefully diminish (to whatever extent) the ACT's currently increasing drawing power as an international standardized college admissions instrument.

Adding my sometimes annoying two cents, I see an increasing number of test-optional colleges where applicants are judged in an overall "holistic" sense, one that is not dominated by standardized test scores. That's just my opinion, though. As they say, your mileage may vary.

Speaking of automotive metaphors, maybe it's time for you to take the new SAT for a test drive and make up your own mind about whether it's a tame Prius or an outrageous Corvette.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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