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What did AJ Tutoring students think about the new SAT?


Now that the new SAT’s first administration is in the books, we at AJ Tutoring were curious to find out what our students thought about the test, whether they felt prepared (the answer was yes!), and what AJ can focus on to ensure student success on future SATs. What did we learn about how to conquer the new SAT? It’s simple: prepare, prepare, prepare. The test is easily coachable.

Upon the first administration of the new SAT, students found that the content was predictable and that the methods they had learned made it possible to maximize the number of questions they answered correctly. Many of our students found that the one-on-one practice they had in their tutoring sessions gave them the feedback and exposure that they needed to be able to adeptly refine and adjust their approach to individual sections, as well as the test as a whole.

What about the Content?


Most students indicated the no-calculator Math section was the most difficult (and more challenging than previously released materials). Students reported trigonometry questions, questions involving complex numbers, and even one challenging 7-24-25 Pythagorean triple. However, as one student stated: “I thought Math was approachable because I knew that the content covered was limited in scope. Also, knowing SOH-CAH-TOA, special right triangles, and how to use a calculator really helped. I could always get started.”

Reading Comprehension – Literal, not Literary

Students reported the highest alignment in Reading Comprehension (though students did say they felt very tired by the end of the 65-minute section). Some students did find a set of paired passages as we expected. Other passages included important historical figures and covered a wide range of topics across the fields of science, medicine, geography, and the arts and humanities. There was a letter by the 1960s labor activist Cesar Chavez, a passage from a Michael Chabon novel, an essay on baby fat (students reported this was by far “the weirdest” content on the exam), and an essay on plate tectonics.


Most students shared that the Writing section, which primarily tests grammar, was easy.


As for the Analytical Essay, at least some of the tests included a source text taken from an article written by E. J. Dionne, Jr. entitled “A Call for National Service.” The full article was originally published in the Washington Post in 2013.

Were there any Surprises?

Students sharing their test-day experiences with peers were surprised to find their friends had taken a completely different exam; there were confirmed multiple versions of the test administered on March 5th. The reasoning for this is most likely that the College Board needs to pretest as many questions as possible to satiate the appetites of students hungry for more practice materials than are currently available.

Just as we had anticipated, there was an experimental section for most test-takers. There’s an amusing anecdote being shared by students in several states in which the proctor began to read a script that indicated test-takers would now be taking a 20-minute “variable” section, only to realize the group was taking the optional essay instead. For the first instance of this reformatted exam, some proctors clearly had confusion and adjustments to navigate as well.

This also clarifies that the College Board did have an experimental section up its sleeve, despite some indications (and even a few outright denials) to the contrary. Students in some schools have reported taking a fifth section of the exam, which was referred to as a “variable section.” As is always the case, opinions varied on the difficulty of the exam, and many students were left wondering how the new test will be scaled. Virtually all students expressed concern that they would not have their scores until after the May SAT date had already passed.

Closing Thoughts

As we wait for scores to be released on May 10th, many March test takers are already planning to repeat the test in May and/or June. Best of luck to all students, and congratulations on being the first group ever to take the new, redesigned SAT. We will continue the conversation as additional information, facts and findings become available. Please feel free to share your thoughts! As always, we love hearing from you!

Overall Test Impressions and Student Reactions

“There weren’t as many questions that were trying to trick you… It was pretty straightforward.” – Aidan P.

“I liked it better than the old one for sure! This SAT was way more applicable to what we’ve been learning in school. I had actually seen one of the English passages in school, and worked on it with my English tutor!”

“I feel good. There was a lot of reading, but I used the strategies we learned in our sessions to get through it. Knowing the test structure and how to eliminate wrong answer choices really helped.” – Zack H.

“I thought the SAT was really straightforward and the actual questions were just like the practice questions we went over in SAT prep.”

“I’m so happy I knew how to guess and fill in the bubble sheets! That really messed up some of my friends.” – Emily B. (MA)

“The No Calculator section was so hard but I knew it would be from the practice tests we went over in our sessions. Lol!” – Gracie G.

“It felt just like the practice tests I took at AJ. It was funny because the same friends that took the AJ practice tests with me on Saturday mornings were there on the real test day at the same time!” – Laura M.

“I was really happy that I did tutoring when I was sitting there with the test in front of me. I could just start answering questions instead of thinking really hard and wasting time.”
– Julie L. (SHP Junior)

“You were right about plug-in and backsolve! AND guessing!” – Sam M. (MA Junior)

“I think it helped a lot. He helped give me strategies to make it go faster.”


Additional Information:

According to the College Board, 463,000 students took the redesigned SAT on March 5th, 2016.

The College Board conducted a survey of 8,089 students who completed the March SAT administration and compared the results on some questions to a survey after the March 2015 administration with the old version of the test. Among the results from the new survey:

71 percent of students said the test reflected what they’re learning in school.

By a 6 to 1 margin, students said they preferred the format of the new SAT over the previous version of the test.

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