5 key things to know before taking the new Digital SAT

1. The return of “sentence completions.”

Parents who took the SAT in the 1980s and 1990s may remember that every reading section used to begin with a set of fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions like the ones pictured below.

Old SAT sentence completions

When College Board launched its “revised” SAT (i.e., the current version of the test) in March of 2016, it discarded this question type, choosing to test vocabulary only in the context of full passages, as in the example below.

Current SAT tests vocabulary in context of full passage

The upcoming Digital test will retain these “vocab-in-context” questions – but it will also revive the sentence completion format, albeit with longer and more detailed texts:

New Digital SAT "vocab-in-context" question

This change may be bad news for many Bangkok-based international school students, for whom vocabulary is often a source of difficulty.

2. The end of history passages.

One of the most challenging aspects of the current SAT has been the presence of history passages – socially- and politically-themed persuasive essays, speeches, and other documents from as far back as the 17th and 18th centuries:

These passages have been difficult for everyone, but they have been especially vexing for Bangkok-based international school students, who typically have much less experience with the academic study of history – and less experience with the study of humanities fields in general – than do their counterparts at private schools in the US.

The Digital SAT will not include history passages. For most Bangkok-based international school students, this will probably be good news.

3. The addition of poetry and drama.

The current SAT includes passages drawn from literature – but only passages from prose literature (i.e., passages excerpted from novels and short stories) and only passages dating from the 19th century onward:

Current SAT 19th century literature passage

The Digital SAT will include passages drawn from poems and plays, and it will occasionally include material from as far back as the English Renaissance:

For many Bangkok-based international school students, this may be bad news. Like old history passages, old literature is likely to feature complex sentence structures, sophisticated vocabulary, and other elements that make comprehension especially challenging.

4. New “critical reasoning” questions.

Long a hallmark of graduate-level admissions tests like the GMAT and LSAT, “critical reasoning” or “logical reasoning” questions ask test-takers to strengthen, weaken, or otherwise address the reasoning employed in a series of short argumentative passages.

Here is an example from the LSAT:

LSAT critical reasoning example

While critical-reasoning style questions have appeared occasionally on the current version of the SAT, they will be a mainstay of the new Digital SAT reading and writing:

Whether this change will be good or bad news for local students remains to be seen. On the one hand, critical reasoning questions tend to be challenging by their nature. On the other hand, students with a passion for scientific research may find that some of the “reasoning” involved comes naturally.

5. Familiar – and perhaps simpler – writing questions.

The Digital SAT will scrap much of what is hardest about the current writing test and put most of its emphasis on “Standard English Conventions” (i.e., grammar and punctuation) and “Transitions,” as in the two questions below:

This will likely be good news for all students: because punctuation and grammar questions are almost entirely knowledge and pattern based, they are generally very easily masterable.

Students should bear in mind, however, that changes like this one tend to benefit everyone and may therefore offer little net benefit to individual test-takers.

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