Goodbye Old SAT, Hello New SAT, Pt. 2 - Writing


Last Saturday was the final testing date for the old SAT, and for many students, it was the final time they would ever take a college entrance exam. Excitement filled the air as they crossed the finish line, now one step closer to getting into their dream schools.

For others, last Saturday only meant the transition from old SAT to new SAT. The race may have been finished, but now they have to train for a new course.

For all those students who plan on taking the new SAT, we have begun a series of posts that focuses on changes and tips for individual subjects. Last week, I talked about the new SAT Critical Reading section. This week’s topic is the new SAT Writing section.

Here are the key changes and considerations:

1. Structure: All questions are in just one section, instead of two. You have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions.

Just like the SAT Critical Reading, the SAT Writing is now just one section of the test. And instead of including Sentence Correction, Error Identification, and Paragraph Revision problems, the Writing section now has four passages, each with 11 questions. Students must read the passages and answer grammar and writing problems related to the passages.

This format is a huge change from the old SAT. Students are now forced to understand how sentences work together, not simply identify errors in isolation, so reading becomes an important part of the Writing section. Also, the possible errors are much more wide-ranging now that College Board wants students to essentially copy edit articles.

There is one silver lining, however. If you have done any preparation for ACT English, then you have a pretty good shot at doing well on the new SAT Writing. These two subjects are shockingly similar.

2. Question types: Grammar returns. Punctuation, Content, Organization, Style, and Graphics are new questions.

As stated above, the SAT Writing section still tests the grammar rules from its previous iteration, but it also tests punctuation, content, organization, style, and graphics knowledge. Students must understand commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, dashes, quotations, and parentheses--just to name the punctuation. They also must understand how to insert new information into a text. Not only that, they will need to identify words that are inappropriate within the larger context of an article.

These new question types pose new challenges for students, especially those who have trouble knowing, for example, the difference in function between a semicolon and a colon. So prepare to study a lot more rules. Also, you should practice organizing information in body paragraphs and even essays as a whole.

3. Strategies: Read the passages like you are a copy editor. Don’t jump from question to question.

The best way to tackle the new SAT Writing section is to act like you are someone tasked to edit articles. That means you should read the article like normal, and once a question appears, go ahead and answer it. It may seem like you’re wasting time doing it this way, but you are actually making it easier on yourself, and more likely that you are correct.

See, these questions will trick you if you only answer question by question. For example, a sentence on its own may be using present tense correctly, but if all the other sentences are in past tense, then you will need to change the present-tense sentence into past tense. Also, a handful of questions require that you know what the entire article talks about, so if you don’t read it the first time, then you are forced to waste precious minutes skimming.

4. Essay: The essay is NOT 30% of the Writing score anymore. It is entirely optional.

What ever happened to the essay? Well, the essay is no longer part of the Writing section. It is the final part of the test, and it is optional. Of course, most students will be required to complete the essay because most universities will want the score. But at least it is nice knowing that it won’t hurt a perfect Writing section score--another silver lining.

Overall, the new SAT Writing section will present new obstacles, but by eliminating the dreaded Error Identification section, it will most likely be easier in the long run. If I were to rank the difficulty of new and old, I’d say that the older one is a little harder, especially because the Essay score contributed to the Writing score. Also, even with the reading passages and graphics, the new format is not necessarily more challenging, it is just different. Once students get used to it, I think they will have more success raising their scores.

With all of these changes, there is one important thing to keep in mind: don’t go into the new test thinking it will be similar to the old one. Practice and preparation are key, and at B2A we have a spring semester course and a March cram course to help prepare students for the new SAT spring tests. Let us help you uncover the secrets and master the next stage in SAT testing.

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