A Short, Thumb-nail Sketch of What's Going on With College Admissions Testing: The "New" SAT and "Old" ACT

04/14/2015 12:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

As you may have heard, there is a new SAT being released in 2016. Students should know that many colleges plan to accept both the old and the new, redesigned SAT for the 2015-16 (current juniors) application season. On the other hand, for the Class of 2016-2017 (current sophomores) colleges and universities will be accepting the new SAT, but many have not yet decided whether they will continue to accept the old one. Oh boy!

Admission Possible Tip
To get the latest information about whether a college will accept the old and/or new SAT, call each admissions office directly and speak with an admissions representativee

Here is a summary of what is known so far:


√ May 2015, June 2015 October 2015, November 2015, December 2015 and January 2016

√ March 2016 and thereafter

A new, redesigned PSAT (preliminary SAT offered to high school sophomores and juniors) will be offered for the first time:

√ October 2015

As always, the PSAT is the test through which students qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Although different for each state, National Merit Semi-finalists tend to score in the 210-220 range or top 0.4 percent.

Admission Possible Tip
Beyond designating National Merit semi-finalist status, the PSAT has little or no meaning to college admissions officers.

Just in case you're wondering, there are no changes in the substance, structure or timing of the 20 Subject Tests.

There is no new ACT, moreover the ACT has not changed since 1989, except for adding an optional essay in 2005. PLAN, the pre-ACT, has been discontinued.

What Test Should You Take?

Juniors (Class of 2016)
Many high schools and test tutors are encouraging current juniors (Class of 2016) to either take the current SAT and/or the ACT, mostly because they are the same old tests. Generally speaking, currently available test preparation materials are well documented and based on years of practice and real testing, whether one is preparing for the SAT or ACT.

  • How this might play out is that current juniors can take a practice ACT and an old SAT (offered free by test tutor groups such as Princeton Review), and decide which one best suits them and when to take it.
  • If it's the ACT, you can prepare for this test and take it June 13, 2015 or in September, October or December next fall.
  • If the SAT better suits you, you can take it on May 2 or June 6 (keeping in mind that AP tests are in May and many students are taking Subject Tests in May or June), or also in October, November or December of fall 2015.

Sophomores (Class of 2017)
Because there is so little information about the new, redesigned SAT, high school counselors and test tutors have very disparate views about what sophomores (Class of 2017) should do about preparing for and taking that test. The other pending issue is that colleges have not said whether they would accept test scores from the old SAT.

This is how I see the options:

  • Take the PSAT in October 2015. There is no downside in doing this and the experience is literally a pre-SAT experience.
  • Take a practice ACT and see if the tests suits you. If the answer is yes, prepare for it and take it sometime before school ends in spring 2016. In many ways, this is the simplest thing to do.
  • Hopefully, individual colleges will have decided whether they will accept the old SAT by summer or fall 2015. Already, many colleges such as Boston College, Harvard, NYU and Ohio State have said they will accept the old scores. Depending on how your fall 2015 schedule is, AND if it looks like most other colleges will also say yes, it might make sense for you to prepare for and take the old SAT in October, November, December 2015 or January 2016.
  • If taking the old SAT just doesn't work out for you, then you can bite the bullet, prepare as much as is possible for the uncertain redesigned test and take it either in the spring or fall of 2016.
  • Have a look at the growing list of test optional (don't require the ACT or SAT) schools in the US to see if any of them are a good fit for you.

Since there are so many factors to take into consideration regarding which test to take and when, how to best prepare, and whether to take more than one type of test, it probably makes sense for you to consult with your parents, college counselor, a teacher or two and/or test prep people about what you should do.

Admission Possible Tip
College Board and the highly respected Khan Academy have joined forces to provide any student with free online tutoring for the new SAT.

New Elements of the Redesigned SAT
To give you a sense for the new SAT scoring system, here is a little background and history. Before 2004, the SAT scoring system involved combining a 200-800 Math score with a 200-800 Reading score for a composite score on a scale from 400 to 1600.

In 2004, the SAT scoring system changed to a 200-800 Math score, 200-800 Reading score and an additional 200-800 Writing score for a combined composite score of between 600 and 2400.

A new 2016 SAT scoring system will involve a 200-800 Math score and the merging of a Reading and Writing score into a single 200-800 score for a composite score on a scale from 400 to 1600. An additional essay score (if that choice is taken) will be offered separately.

Some of the new elements of the redesigned 2016 SAT include the following:

  • As just mentioned, the redesigned SAT will offer an optional essay section that will involve staying on an extra 50 minutes. Some colleges will require the SAT essay section and others will not.
  • As with the current ACT practice, SAT takers will no longer be penalized by a quarter of a point for every question answered incorrectly.
  • Test takers will have a choice to take either a Computerized or Paper SAT.
  • It is predicted that the March and May 2016 SAT results will be delayed until 6-8 weeks after the test.

When it comes to testing, this is a particularly confusing time. As insights and information become available, I will try to keep you informed through this blog. In the meantime, there are reliable resources that you can turn to, for example:

Applerouth is a respected website that identifies what a lot of colleges say they will do about the old and new SAT (Warning: keep abreast; the colleges might very well change their minds):

Finally, Compass Education Group offers a very good explanation of the "Structural Changes to the Redesigned SAT," "Thematic Elements of the Redesigned SAT" and a really useful "Comparing the Redesigned SAT (rSAT) and the ACT."

Please note any other good resources you run across in the Comments section of this blog.