Previous Sat Essays

If you took the SAT last year and are hoping to take it again soon, you may discover that the test you take starting in the 2014-2015 school year is very different than your previous attempts, but don’t worry! The SAT is being redesigned to make it a more effective and accurate reflection of what college and the “real world” will be like. This means that there will be both major and minor changes you should know about.

The biggest concern that students have is, “how long is the new SAT?” But, a close second is, “will I still get penalized for wrong answers?” We will answer those questions, and more, in this article. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about the SAT’s new format, and gain information on how to get a great score.

Differences Between the Current SAT and New SAT

The table below will outline some of the biggest changes on the 2016 SAT test as compared to the current SAT. It’s especially important to note that the scoring system is very different this time around. If you took the SAT in the fall of 2015 and got a 1600, even if you do better on the retest, you will most likely get a lower score on the new exam. But don’t panic! This doesn’t mean you did worse. It can actually mean you did better! Keeping reading to find out why this is!

“Old” SAT

New 2016 SAT

3 hours and 45 minutes long3 hours long (3 hours and 50 minutes if you write the optional essay.
Critical Reading
Writing (+ required essay)
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
Essay (Optional)
Focuses on:
Arbitrary strategy and reasoning
Focuses on:
Applied knowledge
Words in context
Purposeful reasoning (with an emphasis on college readiness)
Has a required 25-minute essay, which is given at the beginning of the test. The score is factored into the writing section.Has an optional 50-minute essay, which is given at the end of the test. The score is reported separately from the rest of the exam.
Multiple-choice questions have 5 answer choices.Multiple-choice questions have 4 answer choices.
Has 1 ¼point deduction for each wrong answer. This means that every 4 incorrect answers canceled out 1 correct one.Has no deduction for wrong answers (also known as a guessing penalty).
How the test is scored:
Total scores range from 600-2400
Section scores range from 200-800
How the test is scored:
Total scores range from 400-1600
Section scores range from 200-800
How are scores reported?
Paper Only
No subscores reported
How are scores reported?
Paper and digital formats available
Subscores reported

SAT Test Structure

Now that you understand the differences between the two tests, the first thing you should know about the 2016 SAT is it has a new and improved content structure. This means that your pacing and endurance strategies will have to be different than the old SAT, because the sections are set up differently.

Let’s look at it like this: 

“Old” SAT

New 2016 SAT

3 Critical Reading Sections
· 67 multiple-choice questions
· 70 minutes total
1 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section
· 65-minute Reading
· 35-minute Language and Writing
3 Math Sections
· 44 multiple-choice questions and 10 write in
· 70 minutes total
1 Math Section
· 55-minute section with calculator
· 25-minute section without calculator
3 Writing Sections
· 49 multiple-choice questions
· 1 25 minute Essay
· 60 minutes total
1 Essay Section (optional)
· 50 minutes total

A quick note before we move on: you’ll notice that the new SAT’s format is pretty similar to that of the ACT. This means that instead of throwing short sections of mixed up content as you like 25 minutes of math here, 35 minutes of writing there, the SAT is now giving you longer periods of time to work on a single subject. This will aid your pacing and endurance. Find out how below!

Now Let’s Dive Further Into Each of the New Sections and See How Different the New SAT Really is.

If you don’t write the optional essay (which you really should do, since it is scored separately, it can’t technically hurt your composite scores – but more on that later), the new SAT is actually 45 minutes shorter than the old one. Let’s take a quick look at the content that makes up that time.

SAT Math

If you, or maybe even an older sibling, have taken the old SAT, you probably remember that there were three different math sections that contain a total of 54 questions. The old SAT covers topics such as arithmetic, Algebra I, Geometry, and a little bit of Algebra II. You may also remember that you were allowed to use a calculator on all math sections.

The redesigned SAT, however, is quite different. Many of the questions will be application-based and have multiple steps. This means that the 2016 math sections require more critical thinking and reasoning (just like the real world!), as well as higher-level math, such as trigonometry. Not only will need to know how to apply formulas to real-life situations, you will also need to understand the theories behind certain mathematic principles.

Two new things for 2016 that are very different: There is one grid-in question that is worth 4 points. Grid-in questions are exactly as they sound: there are no answer choices to guide your process, so you must produce your own answer and bubble it in on your answer sheet. The second new feature is that there will be an entire section of math that you are not allowed to use your calculator on. But don’t let that stress too much,as the questions are mostly logic-based. Just be sure to know your multiplication tables!

Here’s a quick example:

If { a }^{ 2 }+14a=51 and a>0, what is the value of a+7?

No need to panic! Since A > 0, start running through numbers that add up to 51 when squared and added to 14 times the original number.

Your process might look like this:

2X2=4 and 14X2=28…Nope, that’s going to be big enough. Okay, let me try 3.

3X3=9 and 14X3=42. 42 + 9 = 51! Boom! So the answer to A+7 is 10!

Make sure you stay calm and keep thinking. It’s also helpful to jot some things down as you go, because while the new SAT gives you a little more time per section and more multiple-choice minutes, if you keep starting from the beginning when something goes wrong, you’ll eat it all up.

Some other key topics you’ll need to understand for the new SAT include:

1. Ratios and percentages

2. Linear equations

3. Complex equation manipulation

Will the 2016 Math section be harder?

No, not really. Just make sure you prepare for the new format and focus on what’s going to be tested. Just remember that the current test focuses on computational skills, while the 2016 SAT will focus more on real-world problem solving.

SAT Reading and Writing

The old SAT had sections that cover your Critical Reading and Writing Skills. The Critical Reading section had a variety of questions such as sentence completion, which tests your vocabulary and multiple-choice questions based on both long and short passages, which you have to read within a certain time limit. The Writing Skills section consisted of an essay, sentence correction questions, and multiple-choice paragraph reorganization. Each section was divided into multiple parts and sprinkled throughout the test in approximately 30-minute increments. This made the test seem longer and harder, because your brain was always jumping around between subjects.

The new SAT, however, is very different! As we mentioned, this tests are now all compartmentalized by subject. So you can focus your brain into “reading mode” and get to work. While the timing is only a little bit short on the new SAT, it feels longer because for most students, it’s easier to focus on one thing at a time.

What will the questions on the New SAT be like?

First, there will be no sentence completion questions, meaning you won’t really have to study those notoriously difficult SAT vocabulary words. Instead, you will have to understand the meanings of words in context. For example, “custom” can mean specially made like “a custom fitted gown” or a particular way of doing this as in “it is our custom to hug three times upon meeting.” Your job would be to read the surrounding sentences for clues, and then pick the answer that best describes how it works in that context.

The 2016 test will focus on evidence-based reading, meaning you have to interpret passages based on US and World Literature, History, and Science. You may be see graphs, charts, and images in the reading and writing sections. If you’ve taken the ACT, you might recognize those kinds of questions from the Science section.

For example, you might be shown something similar to the following chart:

Image Source: The College Board

And be asked to interpret the data on it. No big deal, right?

The SAT Writing Section will also have quite a few straightforward questions that require you to check the grammar and punctuation of passages.

All in all, the new SAT focuses on understanding words, sentences, and grammar in context, as opposed to testing your rote memorization skills.

The SAT Essay

Now here is a pretty big change! The new SAT Essay creates the biggest time change between the two tests. The old test comes with a required, 25-minute timed essay question required you to respond to a short prompt about social, moral, or political issues. You had to create your own unique point of view and sustain your argument by providing supporting evidence, such as personal experiences and outside quotes.

The 2016 SAT, however, does not require you to write an essay. The essay will be redesigned to be entirely optional, with a score that is separate from the rest of the test. If you choose to write an essay, it’s important to know that you will have 50 minutes to read a passage (600-700 words) and write an essay that analyzes the author’s persuasion techniques. You will need a deep understanding of how authors build their arguments and be able to write an insightful essay based on the passage.

While adding 50 minutes to the end of an already long test might seem like too much work, it’s really not. Even when it is used wisely, the time will fly by. It might be encouraging for you to hear that the passages featured so far have been engaging. Also, while the College Board might consider the new essay optional, many colleges do not. It’s always a better idea to have taken the essay and not need it, then need it and not have taken it –especially if you are taking the test as a junior and are still undecided about the kinds of colleges you want to attend.

SAT Scores

Now that we’ve gone over the changes in timing and content of individual sections, let’s take a look at the new and improved scoring system. You’ll probably be excited to know that there will be absolutely no deductions for wrong answers. Gone are the days of being arbitrarily strategic about guessing. You can feel completely free to make educated guesses without fear of losing points!

You may also recall that the current SAT has a composite scoring range of 600-2400. The individual Critical Reading, Math, and Writing sections are scored on a 200-800 scale. However, the 2016 SAT will be very different. First, the scale will be from 400-1600. The maximum score you can get on each section of the new SAT, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Mathematics, will be 800 each. When you take the 2016 SAT test, you will receive these scores:

2 section scores (200–800)

·   Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

·   Math

3 test scores (10–40) Plus Essay score

·   Reading

·   Writing and Language

·   Math

7 Subscores (1–15)

·  Words in Context

·  Command of Evidence

·  Expression of Ideas

·  Standard English Conventions

·  Heart of Algebra

·  Passport to Advanced Mathematics

·   Problem Solving and Data Analysis

2 Cross-test scores

·   Analysis in Science

·   Analysis in History/Social Studies

Essay score

·   Two raters will grade your essay on a 1-4 scale based on each of these criteria: Reading (they have to make sure you actually thoroughly read the prompt) Analysis (they want to make sure you understand the author’s argument and how its being presented) and Writing (how well you get your point across). The combined score of the two raters will be your final score.

·   The highest score you can get on your Essay is 24.

You should not be too concerned about the changes to the 2016 SAT. Remember that the test creators at the College Board have redesigned the test to benefit you, and not to make it harder.

A Quick Review:

·   A new version of the SAT made its debut in March 2016

·   The time varies: If you complete the optional essay, the test is exactly 4 hours long, including breaks.

·   If you don’t write the essay, the test is approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes long, including breaks.

With this knowledge of the new SAT, you will be ready to prepare for the next time you take the test, or for the first time you take the test! Never again will you wonder, “how long is the SAT?” because now you know.

What Are The Next Steps?

It’s time to get to work!

You can read about when to start studying for the SAT here, or check out the blog about how long to study for the SAT.

Looking for SAT practice?

Kickstart your SAT prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

The redesigned SAT Essay asks you to use your reading, analysis, and writing skills.

It’s About the Real World

The SAT Essay is a lot like a typical college writing assignment in which you’re asked to analyze a text. Take the SAT with Essay and show colleges that you’re ready to come to campus and write.

What You’ll Do

  • Read a passage.
  • Explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience.
  • Support your explanation with evidence from the passage.

What’s New

The SAT’s essay component has had a total makeover:

  • It’s optional—but some schools will require it. Get College SAT Essay policies.
  • You have 50 minutes to complete your essay, 25 minutes more than the required essay on the old SAT.
  • You won’t be asked to agree or disagree with a position on a topic or to write about your personal experience.

Watch the Video

The Essay Prompt

The prompt (question) shown below, or a nearly identical one, is used every time the SAT is given.

As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience.

The Topic

You can count on seeing the same prompt no matter when you take the SAT with Essay, but the passage will be different every time.

All passages have these things in common:

  • Written for a broad audience
  • Argue a point
  • Express subtle views on complex subjects
  • Use logical reasoning and evidence to support claims
  • Examine ideas, debates, or trends in the arts and sciences, or civic, cultural, or political life
  • Always taken from published works

All the information you need to write your essay will be included in the passage or in notes about it.

What the SAT Essay Measures

The SAT Essay shows how well you understand the passage and use it as the basis for a well-written, thought-out discussion. The two people who score your essay will each award between 1 and 4 points in each of these three categories:

Reading: A successful essay shows that you understood the passage, including the interplay of central ideas and important details. It also shows an effective use of textual evidence.

Analysis: A successful essay shows your understanding of how the author builds an argument by:

  • Examining the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and other stylistic and persuasive techniques
  • Supporting and developing claims with well-chosen evidence from the passage

Writing: A successful essay is focused, organized, and precise, with an appropriate style and tone that varies sentence structure and follows the conventions of standard written English.

Take a look at the SAT Essay rubric, or guidelines, scorers use to evaluate every essay.

Who Should Take the SAT with Essay

You don’t have to take the SAT with Essay, but if you do, you’ll be able to apply to schools that require it. Find out which schools require or recommend the SAT Essay. If you don’t register for the SAT with Essay at first, you can add it later.

SAT fee waivers cover the cost of the SAT with Essay.

Sending Scores

If you take the SAT with Essay, your essay scores will always be reported along with your other scores from that test day. Even though Score Choice allows you to choose which day’s scores you send to colleges, you can never send only some scores from a certain test day. For instance, you can’t choose to send Math scores but not SAT Essay scores.

Reminder: Check the Score Choice policies of every college you’re applying to, because some schools require you to send scores from every time you’ve taken the SAT. If this sounds intimidating, keep in mind that many colleges consider your best.


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