Prepare for the Revised SAT*

In 1926, 8,000 students put pencil to paper as the first Scholastic Aptitude Test-takers. (Interestingly, the ballpoint pen wouldn't be introduced in the United States until several years later.) Sixty-eight years after that first grueling moment (as it's imagined by teens everywhere), the SAT became the Scholastic Assessment Test and continued in its claim to fame as the most widely used university admissions exam in the United States.

In March 2005, a new SAT debuted. Graduating classes of 2006 were the first to sit for the latest in SAT retooling. The new exam added an emphasis on student-written essays and higher-level math questions. Other elements of the "old" SAT disappeared completely.

What's out, what's in . . .

Word analogies — the THIS IS:TO THAT portion of the exam — is BYE-BYE:SAT. Heralded by some as the easiest part of the test (and by others as the biggest pain), the 19 word analog questions were voted out of the game plan for the revised SAT. Test-takers will trade the pleasure of pairing up words and figuring out their relationships for the joy of essay writing.

The writing exercise pumps up points and test-taking time for the overall exam. This section adds another 200 to 800 points to the score, so the max is 2,400 rather than 1,600. (Students who once got all giddy about a 1,400 score will have adjust their bragging rights when faced with a new generation of test-takers who boast their elevated numbers.) The essay also stretches exam time to 3 hours 45 minutes.

The Critical Reading section (formerly known as the Verbal Reasoning portion) centers on passages in the 100 to 200 word range with a couple of questions for each. Longer reading passages and sentence-completion questions remain as mainstays on this 70-minute section.

Math-wise, quantitative comparison questions left the scene with the new SAT. The revised test features expanded math topics that are considered third-year college preparatory level, such as exponential growth, absolute value, and functional notation. And, if that's not enough, test-takers can look forward to linear functions, manipulations with exponents, and properties of tangent lines. Although the newly added Algebra II questions may cause some students to tremble in their tennies, the updated exam only poses a handful of Algebra II problems (less than 10% of the test). The whole 70-minute package delivers multiple-choice and grid-in formats for registering answers.

What (else) not to sweat

The essay portion of the new SAT requires students to organize and express their ideas on an issue - something most teenagers do right out loud every day. The test poses an open-ended question that can be approached in many different ways. What the scorers are looking for is a well-supported position that puts forth reasoning and examples from the student's reading, studies, experience, or observations. Test readers don't get hung up on a few stumbles in spelling, punctuation, grammar, or handwriting. They're evaluating the overall quality of the work, not poking around for nitpicky stuff.

Institutions will be able to view applicants' essays only if students send the colleges their test scores. Although essay scores may come into play for admissions or English Comp course placement, many colleges are likely to consider the newness of the essay element to tell more about overall skills set trends.

The SAT bumped up in cost as of the March 2005 sitting, but not enough to send students scrambling for a second job. The fee increase is minimal: $10 to $12.

The bottom line to all the hoopla

Like everything else in life, the SAT changes now and then. The new SAT is different — not harder, not easier, just different from the way it's been since those pencil-gnawing students put their know-how to the test almost eight decades ago.

*SAT is a registered trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this product.