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What You Can Use from Old SAT Guides

As we have discussed many times in the past, the College Board rolled out a completely-redesigned SAT in March of 2016. Since then, just over a year has passed, and students taking the SAT or PSAT for the first time this year might not even be aware that there was an “old” SAT.


Yet, the changeover is recent enough that some current SAT students have older siblings who have taken the old version of the test. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that at least some of these younger siblings have inherited prep guides for the old SAT.


If you are one of these siblings, you might be wondering what, if any, use you can get out of old format practice materials. The short answer is not much. The SAT has changed so drastically that entire sections of the old test are no longer applicable to the exam in its current form. The longer answer is that certain parts of old practice tests can be useful to a limited extent.


These parts should be used as supplements for the new official practice tests only. There are eight official practice tests available, both for free on the College Board website and in the Official SAT Study Guide, 2018 Edition. In the unlikely event that you start to run out of these tests, the following guide will help you to sort out what to take and what to leave from old practice tests.



Let’s start with what you should ignore: Sentence Completion questions. These glorified vocabulary quiz questions no longer exist on the SAT in its current form. Instead, the new SAT tests the meanings of words based on the contexts in which those words appear in passages.


By contrast, old SAT Reading Comprehension questions do have some utility for preparing the new SAT. These questions can be useful for understanding how SAT Reading “works” because the rules for correct answers have not changed between the old and new exams. However, the new Reading section tends to demand more of students than the old one did. Questions and answers tend to me much longer on the new SAT, and some question types are unique to the new format, most notably “best evidence” questions and questions involving charts and graphs.



Writing has been redesigned to closely resemble the ACT English section. This redesign makes old SAT Writing practice material practically useless for preparing for the new test. All new SAT Writing and Language questions are context-based, meaning that “Identifying Errors” and “Improving Sentences” questions from the old SAT are no longer applicable. You could conceivably get some use out of “Improving Paragraphs” questions. However, these questions comprise such a small percentage of the old SAT Writing section that you’d be better off using old ACT English practice tests instead.



The Mathematics section has arguably changed the least between the old and new SAT. That having been said, we recommend only using old practice tests to target mathematical concepts you are having difficulty mastering. While the underlying concepts of the old and new Math sections are essentially the same, the presentation and focus are very different. The new SAT places a greater emphasis on “real world” math problems and includes a handful of concepts that did not appear on the old SAT.



Do not, under any circumstances, use old SAT Essay practice prompts to prepare for the new SAT Essay. The old and new Essay formats have completely different goals. The old format required students to write a short persuasive essay on a broad topic. Taking and defending a position was central to scoring highly. The new format tasks students with analyzing a document. Injecting your own opinion is not allowed and will actually hurt your score. In other words, the new Essay is practically the opposite of the old one.




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