Friday, January 8, 2016

The Redesigned SAT - Math

This year Michigan is switching from the ACT to the Redesigned SAT for the free college entrance exam offered in schools. I’m not bragging when I say I can do every problem on the ACT. The students I tutor work through sample tests and ask for help on the problems that stymie them. Even so, I had to prepare and review to complete the math sections of the New SAT.

To prevent surprises on Test Day, this post discusses some general differences between the math sections of the ACT and the Redesigned SAT. For a complete list of the topics tested on the SAT, see a test preparation manual. Some older editions are still floating around, so get one that says “Redesigned SAT” or “New SAT.” Practice tests can also be found online.

The SAT allows students more time for each problem. On the ACT, students have 1 minute/problem. On the SAT, students get 1.25 minutes/problem on the No-Calculator section and 1.45 minutes/problem on the Calculator section.

The math section is divided into calculator and no-calculator sections. The no-calculator section includes 20 questions. The calculator section has 38 questions.

A Ti83 or Ti84 calculator is necessary to complete the calculator section. (For the ACT, a simpler calculator such as one from the Ti30 series is sufficient.) Students should know how to use their graphing calculators to: enter scatter plot points in lists and graph these points, fit regressions of curves and lines, enter equations, find zeros of polynomials, enter exponents (both fractional and negative), take roots, calculate trig functions and other standard mathematical functions.

The SAT tends to have more multi-step math problems.

Math tends to be more advanced on the SAT. The ACT covers Algebra I and Geometry with four trig problems. The SAT focuses on Algebra II. For example, on the ACT students must recognize that y = x2 + 5 is the equation of a parabola, while on the SAT, students must understand how to transform functions. A review of factoring polynomials and solving quadratic equations will not go amiss. The SAT includes fewer geometry problems, although some proofs are required. Students should review the criteria for proving congruence of triangles. Familiarity with SOHCAHTOA (a mnemonic for the trig functions that is taught in geometry) will see students through half of the trig problems on the ACT. For the SAT, students should also be familiar with the unit circle and the difference between degrees and radians.

Some math questions on the SAT are not multiple choice, but instead require that the student enter a numerical answer. This approach makes guessing impossible. Before Test Day, students should read this information on how to grid in numerical answers.  

The calculation of some problems requires the solution to the previous problem. If the student gets the first question wrong, it is improbable that the second question can be answered correctly. Most educators agreed that double jeopardy questions are poor testing technique. I hope future iterations of the test remove this type of question.

Some questions require that the student find two separate values and add them, even if this sum has no mathematical or physical meaning. For example, after finding the Cartesian Coordinate (x,y), the student may be asked for x + y, or after calculating time and distance, the question may ask for the sum of time and distance.

There are numerous “trick questions.” The student should read the problem and underline what the question is asking. After the calculation is complete, the student should double check what the question asked. For example the student has calculated profit, and the question asks for percent change.

I highly recommend students work practice tests before Test Day. Numerous tests can be found online. Here is a link to the College Board sample tests.

In future blog posts, I’ll write about the other sections of the Redesigned SAT. Each post will include links to the others. 
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Wyman Stewart said...

Thank you for this post. Looking forward to future updates. Too old for the SAT or ACT, but am always curious about both. I took the ACT, which was viewed as easier than the SAT--the preferred test of colleges then. Think we'll hear from a lot of riled parents (and students), the first couple of years. I suspect test scores may drop. :-) Will be fun reading the news stories. Of course, I could be wrong.

"Changes" by (the late) David Bowie seems an appropriate song dedication to SAT takers on this date. Good luck kids!

Ann Finkelstein said...

I think the first offering of the New SAT will be an eye-opener for a lot of students. I suspect my life as a tutor will be interesting in the next few months.