Home / Blog / What Students Like and Dislike about the New SAT

What Students Like and Dislike about the New SAT

For this week’s lesson, we’re going to do something a little bit different: discuss what our students think of the new SAT format. The redesigned SAT has been in use for a year and a half at the time of writing this lesson, and a substantial number of our students have taken the SAT in its current form during this time. The majority of these students have no experience with the old SAT format. The SAT as it currently exists is the only SAT they have ever known. These factors mean that enough of our students have studied for the current SAT format for certain patterns to emerge and that most of them are not drawing comparisons with the old SAT.


The following list of “likes” and “dislikes” is synthesized from various interactions I have had with both students and teachers over the past year. Keep in mind that this list is not intended to be in any way comprehensive or definitive. Instead, it is intended to give students planning to take the SAT or trying to decide between the SAT and ACT a sense of what their peers think of the exam.


In general, students tend to like:


Writing and Language

Reaction to the Writing and Language section has been almost-universally positive. The two-column design, with passages on the left and questions on the right, is simple and intuitive. This SAT section is also extremely similar to the ACT English section. Students who have studied for one of these sections usually find that they are already ready, or nearly ready, for its counterpart on the other exam.


Words in Context Only

Students also appreciate that the SAT now exclusively tests the usage of words rather than the definitions of words. While some students still need to build up their vocabulary a bit for the new SAT, the process is nowhere near as time or memory-intensive as it was for the old SAT.


The Essay

Finally, students really appreciate that the Essay section is finally optional. Those students who don’t need the Essay to get into the colleges of their choice are usually grateful that they have one less section of the SAT to prepare for. Students who do have to take the Essay have commented on how similar it is to the types of writing that they have been doing throughout high school. If a student has experience with DBQs or AP response papers, he or she is usually able to apply that experience directly to the SAT Essay.


On the other hand, students tend to dislike:


Reading Questions

Most students think Reading is fairly straightforward when they begin the section. However, they often get frustrated as they start to work through the questions in earnest. For instance, students find the textual evidence (“best evidence”) questions to be a significant time sink. In addition, some students find the more verbose Reading questions extremely difficult to comprehend. The general consensus seems to be that either of these types of questions would be fine on its own. But the inclusion of both in the same section is simply too much.


Reading Historical Passages

The Reading section “Great Global Conversation” (GGC) passage, which is drawn from founding documents or writings on civil rights and suffrage, is hands down the least favorite part of the Reading section, if not the entire exam. The main problems students have with GGC passages are that much of the language used is borderline archaic and that the issues raised are removed from their original contexts. These factors combine to make the passages difficult for many students to understand. In fact, students find the GGC passage so challenging that we devoted an entire blog post to strategies for deciphering just this one type of passage.


Math (No Calculator)

The Math “section” of the SAT is really two shorter sections: one where you can use a calculator and one where you cannot. While this design choice is consistent with the old SAT, students tend to prefer the ACT Math format, which lets them use a calculator for the entire section. Being able to use (or not use) a calculator at any point on ACT Math allows greater flexibility in developing effective time management strategies. In contrast, students have to practice extensively to complete the “No Calculator” section of SAT Math in the allotted time.