The most striking difference in the new SAT Reading/Writing section is the length of passages. The new SAT uses what they call “discrete questions”; i.e. one short passage (25-150 words) followed by a single question. This is a departure from the paper version, which included fewer longer passages followed by 10-11 questions all on that passage.
In part, the reason for this switch has to do with the new digital format. In order to increase security, the new digital SAT is adaptive—students taking the test on the same day don’t all see the same questions in the same order. Shorter passages make this easier to accomplish. It also reflects College Board’s efforts to make what they consider a more engaging test. More passages on more topics mean students have a greater chance of seeing something that might interest them.
Another difference is that critical reading and writing skills are now tested together. Instead of seeing two separate sections, the digital test contains two combined “Reading/Writing” modules that contain a mix of question types. In many respects the passages look similar: both reading and writing questions show students one short passage followed by one multiple choice question. For writing questions, students are asked a mix of questions on standard English conventions including punctuation and grammar, and higher-level questions that ask students to revise and improve passages in order to effectively convey ideas.
Some other additions include the return of “Words in Context” questions, which ask students to fill in the blank with the word that best completes the sentence, and the new “Student Notes” questions. These require test takers to integrate information and ideas about a topic and form an effective sentence about them.
So what do these changes mean for students preparing for the Reading/Writing section on the digital exam? College Board insists that the new test, while shorter, retains the same level of rigor as the current paper version. Students are still being tested on their ability to read and write at the college level. Some students may indeed find the new shorter-passage format more engaging, but overall, the same core skills are being tested as in previous versions.
Raising reading levels remains the key to success on all sections of the new SAT. Not only do students need to understand the passage, they need to decode and comprehend the questions and the answer choices (this goes for the math section, too).
In school, students often get by with lower reading comprehension levels by compensating: memorization and excessive studying allow dedicated students to succeed without becoming truly confident readers. However, the design of the SAT—the strict timing and focus on reasoning and critical thinking—does not reward memorization and excessive studying. It rewards high reading comprehension levels, and successful test prep should involve a strong emphasis on raising reading levels and empowering students to feel comfortable reading and understanding a variety of college-level texts.
What’s more, reading is the fundamental skill students need to succeed once they get to college—and throughout the rest of their lives.
To learn more about the new SAT, check out College Board’s Digital SAT webpage.
To find out how raising reading levels can help your child on the tests and beyond, email our Client Services team to set up a complimentary consultation.