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SAT, ACT & AP Testing

The SAT I test that premiered in March 2005 increases the benefits of tutoring, practice and learning test strategies. 

The new content in the test, particularly the writing sample, is more easily coached than the SAT has ever been.  Even the College Board now sells test preparation materials!

Preparing for any standardized tests means developing the 'answer-selection' skills that only these tests demand.

Most of the need for standardized  test preparation is driven by unique aspects of the test design, not any skills you need in college.

The current SAT I test has:

  • Nine intense, separately-timed 25 minute sections, just like a long session in a complex video game environment (the advantage of a well-prepared student increases here);

  • Two sections devoted to testing writing skills, including:
    • 25 minutes to organize, compose and write a brief essay about a complex passage that the student will have to read critically and carefully to organize their reactions to a number of points.  The College Board has indicated to prospective test scorers that they will be able to read and score answers in about two minutes each. (The advantage of getting practice in organizing your thoughts in a hurry, and then clearly stating the central themes, will be invaluable and the time pressure for tester and scorer will provide a boost to good spellers);

    • 25 minutes of multiple-choice questions on grammar, usage and word choice;

  • Three hours, 35 minutes in total;
  • A Verbal section that is renamed and reoriented toward 'Critical Reading'; including paragraph-length passages about which students will have to answer complex questions (again, the advantage will be to the well-organized thinker); and
  • A new scoring system that will yield 3 sub-scores of 200 to 800 points each, for a total of 2400 possible points.

It's also important to bear in mind what has NOT changed:

  • The SAT tests continue to reward 'answer-selection skills', the abilities to guess quickly the test designers' intent, guess the answers that represent the limited number of possible almost-correct answers to any question and assess the risks that each answer represents. A growing number of colleges recognize that these tests are nearly useless in assessing the 'answer-creation skills'  that allow students to identify and create answers to the problems and conflicts they learn about in college coursework and in adult life.

  • Unlike the ACT tests, as students work through each section, the questions will become progressively harder. So, if you are confused by a question in the early part of a section, you may be the victim of a distraction put there on purpose.  Slow down, read the question again and eliminate obvious wrong answers.  If there's still two possible answers, check which one works better in the context of that question. Again, as in video gaming, be wary of obvious answers to questions posed late in each 25-minute section of the test.

  • The penalty for guessing is still 1/4 of the points for a right answer. So if you can eliminate two possible answers, guess away.

  • The test will be tightly timed, so there will be a big reward for those students who have practiced their test-management skills and are very comfortable with the format of the test's questions.  Therefore, the test will continue to have a built-in bias against:

    • students with almost any learning or processing disability;

    • non-native speakers of English; or

    • students whose curriculum didn't stress the use of Standard English or any of the adaptive shortcuts that help students work math problems faster. 

  • So, if there is any reason to think a student has a learning disability, get it diagnosed and documented right away.  With documentation of a learning disability, many students who are successful in classroom settings (and life generally) are eligible to get an extra time allowance of up to 100% to complete the test. There is no longer any annotation on test scores for those students indicating that they had any more time in taking the SAT tests.

  • The College Board has had practice in scoring and assessing essay tests in this format.  They and their subcontractors have scored this kind of essay in handling hundreds of thousands of SAT II Writing tests.

  • Colleges will now have back-up.  Copies of your essay will be transmitted to the colleges to which you have asked your scores to be sent.  This also adds a note of caution for some students.  Be very careful in how you have teachers or essay editors work on your application essays.  Admissions officers can now compare your SAT essay with your application essays.  Be sure you sound like you in your application essays!

  • Your raw test score will be assessed against all the other students who took that version of the test (minus the results of the experimental section where the College Board is testing new questions).  So, if you sweat a question, don't worry.  Your score is based in part on how well you did compared to everyone else and there's a 1-in-8 chance the question may be experimental.  If there's a subtle, confusing question in there, it'll impact everyone else, too.

SAT test prep
SAT test prep

The latest round of SAT scoring errors have sparked a new look at the role of high-stakes testing in college admissions.


Four separate sets of scoring errors in the October 2005 SAT I tests found late in the 2006 college admissions cycle has sparked a re-evaluation of high stakes testing in college admissions.

What are the Implications for You?

See our SAT Scoring Errors Page.