Category: Testing

The SAT has recently undergone a major shift in its design. The SAT has returned to the 1600-point system, made the essay “optional,” and restyled the exam questions to emphasize interpreting evidence and using skills in context. The College Board hopes that these changes will reduce some of the socio-economic bias inherent in standardized testing.

How has the the test changed? In general, it’s been redesigned to more closely resemble the ACT, which has recently surpassed the SAT in popularity for the first time in history. But the easiest way to understand what has changed is to look at what has been added and what’s been removed from the test.

What’s Gone?

  • There are no longer 5 options for multiple choice questions. The reduction to only four options will simplify the test and eliminate students’ potential for confusion.
  • There are no longer quarter-point penalties for incorrect answers, which encourages students to take their best educated guess at questions for which they are not quite certain of the answers.

What’s New?

  • There will be more graphs and charts and a greater emphasis on visual understanding, both for the reading section and the math section.
  • There will be more “great texts,” especially foundational American documents. Though familiarity with these documents isn’t necessary for the comprehension questions, it may reward a strong foundation in those texts.

Deep Focus on Evidence in Language

Above all, the new SAT focuses more strongly on evidence than ever before, and on a student’s ability to gather and interpret that evidence and apply contextual learning.

For the previous essay section of the SAT, students were asked to write an essay expressing an opinion. Now, students are instead asked to analyze a passage from a text in terms of what evidence the author is offering to support a point. This is much more akin to what college students will actually be writing for college courses, and de-emphasizes personal opinion or personal experience.

The vocabulary section also focuses on evidence-based understanding of the words. The vocabulary words in general will be less obscure than before, and replaced with “high utility” words that are used often and in different contexts.


Don’t worry—pretty much everyone is! The new SAT has students, teachers, and admissions officers everywhere buzzing with speculation as to whether the new test is better, easier, harder, fairer, etc. If you’re one of the many who feels confused by these changes, we can help you figure out whether to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, and how to best prepare for either exam. Contact Sandweiss Test Prep today to get started!

Chances are that if you’re a junior in high school or are the parent of one, you’re probably starting to seriously consider college options. A great way to be more appealing to college admissions departments is to boost those SAT/ACT scores.

Why take the tests so early? Giving yourself time to get results back and allow for the possibility to retake them again in the spring will only help with your peace of mind and free you up to focus on other activities.

Students that aren’t prepared for either test shouldn’t feel rushed into taking one. Allowing time to prepare and seek any instructional guidance in advance is better than taking a test multiple times hoping that your score will improve.

The next SAT exam dates are December 6th and January 24th. The ACT tests are on December 13th and February 7th. If you’re going to be taking next available test and you haven’t been studying or you don’t feel prepared, consider enrolling in one of our test prep courses. Courses are still available for the ACT sections and we’re currently offering a condensed SAT course starting Saturday, November 1st for the December 6th exam for $499.

All course prices include a textbook and other study materials as well as access to our weekly Study Hall – perfect for a flexible homework help session! And if you’re unsure which test you should take, we offer diagnostic tests for both the SAT and the ACT. From there, you can prepare for the test that’s best for you.

Totally lost? Here’s a video that explains the differences between the SAT and the ACT tests.

Contact Sandweiss today to discuss your test preparation options and get a head start on the upcoming SAT or ACT tests. Don’t put this off until the last available date – these tests are important and could help determine a student’s future.

The College Board recently announced significant revisions to the SAT exam. In our last post, we told you about upcoming changes to the writing section. Today we will outline the changes to the Critical Reading portion of the exam. The current version of the SAT contains three scored Critical Reading sections and three scored Writing sections (an essay and two multiple choice sections). On the new SAT, both reading and writing will be combined to produce one score on what will be called the “Verbal” sections of the exam.

The new reading questions will be focused on evidence-based responses to expose students’ factual reasoning and contextual understanding. This means that as they answer questions on the reading portion of the exam, students will be asked to use evidence to support their answer choices. The goal is to measure a student’s ability to analyze the components of an author’s argument and identify the relationship between an author’s claims and the supporting information used to justify those claims.

Additionally, test-takers may need to reference and cite certain parts of a passage in order to demonstrate the ability to recognize ways in which authors support arguments.  The new reading portion of the ‘Verbal’ section is designed to allow test-takers to analyze and reference sources in a variety of disciplines, including literature, nonfiction, natural science, humanities, and social science.

The other major change to the Critical Reading component of the current SAT involves the dreaded Sentence Completion questions, which test vocabulary that students have not and will not likely ever use in their college studies, profession, or day-to-day lives. Students preparing for the current test will often memorize vocabulary for no other reason than to score higher on the SAT. Instead, on the new exam, the vocabulary-based questions will test words people actually use on a regular basis and/or words that most students will encounter in their college curriculum. 

Sandweiss Test Prep recently released a video explaining this and some of the other changes to the SAT. The first students to be affected by the new SAT are going to be juniors in the fall of 2015 who will take the exam in the spring of 2016.


Sandweiss Test Prep specializes in exam preparation classes and tutoring, college admissions counseling, and academic tutoring for students of all ages. Visit the Sandweiss Test Prep website for more information about our services.

Featured photo credit Flickr user beggs.

This past March, the College Board announced plans to release a new SAT in the spring of 2016.  Details about the impending changes are being released in stages; however one of the most notable changes since the initial announcement has been to the writing portion of the exam.

While writing and reading are currently separate components of the SAT, they will be combined in a ‘verbal’ section on the new exam. At present, the essay portion of the writing section counts for 30% of the overall writing score. On the revised SAT, the essay score will be reported separately, using a 2-12 scale.

The essay on the new SAT will be labeled as “optional,” meaning that students are not required to complete the essay portion of the exam. This is similar to the current version of the ACT exam, with the essay also considered optional. However, this is a bit misleading, since nearly all of the more selective colleges in the country require ACT test takers to submit an essay score. We expect that many colleges will regard the “optional” essay on the SAT in a similar fashion.

On the current version of the SAT, students are asked to offer an argument in response to a statement. The standard instructions are to “discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree” with the prompt. Essay graders have been instructed not to take into account whether the evidence students provide to support their arguments is factually accurate. It has also been demonstrated that longer essays are correlated with higher scores. Accordingly, many students have adopted a “kitchen sink” approach to the essay, tossing in as many details as they can think of, regardless of the appropriateness of this evidence.

The new SAT essay is intended to end this practice and to focus more on a student’s reasoning and analytical skills. Students will be provided with an argument that they will need to analyze with respect to the quality of the reasoning displayed. For example, students will be asked to identify an argument’s underlying assumptions or to discuss what kind of evidence might strengthen or weaken the logic of the argument.

Student responses on the new essay portion of the exam will be evaluated for both clarity of communication and demonstration of critical thinking skills. In recognition of the increased complexity of the new essay task, students will be given 50 minutes to complete this portion of the SAT, which is double the amount of time allotted on the current exam.

For more information about changes to the SAT, Sandweiss Test Prep released a video explaining the most notable differences.


Sandweiss Test Prep specializes in exam preparation classes and tutoring, college admissions counseling, and academic tutoring for students of all ages. Visit the Sandweiss Test Prep website for more information about our services.

Featured photo from

Did you take the June LSAT? Scores are beginning to come out, and if yours was lower than anticipated or necessary, Sandweiss Test Prep can help with LSAT test preparation classes or tutoring.

Re-taking the LSAT could certainly improve your score. A recent report by the Law School Admission Council shows that LSAT test takers had higher scores after their second time taking the exam.

The study tracked results of LSAT takers from 2006-2007 to the 2012-2013 test periods. The percentages and performance of these repeat test takers are classified by testing administration, test year, gender, and race/ethnicity, however the report is “purely descriptive in nature” and “explanation of the underlying causes of any differences is beyond the scope of this report.” Even if you’ve already taken the test it is important to re-prepare for the second attempt, which is perhaps the cause of second-time test takers getting higher scores than first-timers.

The council’s research found that the average of LSAT scores across the testing years was 151.7 for second-timers, 151 for first-timers, and 149.4 for those taking it a third time. Second-time test takers gained an average of 2.8 points over their first attempt. The test takers involved in this study were not selected to participate in this research; they had chosen to re-take the exam on their own.

According to this table, which lists the LSAT repeat-tester data from 2012-2013, approximately 66 percent of students who re-took the LSAT received a higher score on the second test. Slightly more than 8 percent had no change in score, and 25 percent earned a lower score on the second exam.

The LSAT was implemented in 1948 for law schools to have a standardized method of evaluating applicants. Major changes have shaped the exam’s structure since then, with the most prominent being the revisions to the scoring scale. The highest score achievable is 180 and the lowest is 120. The most current version of the LSAT includes five 35-minute sections that focus on reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning.

You’re probably aware of the changes affecting the legal profession in recent years; fewer law school students are acquiring gainful employment within six months of passing the Bar exam. The exception to this current state is for law students who graduate fromthe top legal schools in the country. Therefore, it is more important than ever to get into the best law schools, because that is where the opportunity is.

To improve your chances of gaining entrance to these schools, you should work with a test preparation service like Sandweiss Test Prep before your next LSAT for a better score.

Click here to register for an upcoming LSAT, which is administered four times a year (next in September). Contact Sandweiss Test Prep to enroll in our summer LSAT course.

Featured photo credit Albert Herring, labeled for reuse under Wikipedia Commons.

Last Wednesday, March 5th, the College Board announced a number of fundamental changes to the SAT which are slated to go into effect in 2016. Students who are currently freshmen in high school will be the first to have the opportunity to take the new SAT. Included among the changes are the replacement of some of the more esoteric vocabulary words with ones common in college courses, the elimination of the guessing penalty for wrong answers, the combination of reading and writing questions into a single Verbal section, the transition to an optional essay, and the restructuring of the Math section to concentrate on more “real world” problem-solving tasks.

According to a New York Times article about the changes to the exam, College Board President David Coleman said the SAT needed to become more aligned with the work students actually do in high school, citing survey results that indicate “only 20 percent [of high school teachers] see the college-admission tests as a fair measure of the work their students have done.”

A Seattle Times columnist wrote in an op-ed published over the weekend that, “These tweaks are a shame inasmuch as educators lose measures that provided critical information. The essay, for instance, wasn’t a call to Emersonian excellence but was a way of determining whether a student can compose a coherent sentence.” Other commenters also lamented the test changes as a decision to “dumb-down” the SAT.

We here at the Sandweiss Test Prep team would disagree with this interpretation. First of all, it makes sense to view the changes to the SAT as a business move. In 2012, the number of ACT test-takers surpassed the number of students who took the SAT for the first time, and the College Board was concerned that the SAT would continue to decline in popularity relative to the ACT unless significant changes were made. Secondly, in our view, the proposed changes to the SAT should actually improve the test and not ‘dumb it down’:

1)    Unlike those found on the ACT, the essay prompts on the SAT are mostly irrelevant to the daily lives of high school students. Moreover, the students do not have to provide factually accurate examples to support their arguments, and studies have shown that longer essays receive better scores, regardless of the quality of the reasoning. The new prompts will be more like those found on the GRE and GMAT, and will require students to identify an argument’s assumptions and evaluate the strength of the logic, skills that are certainly necessary to navigate the onslaught of information in our media-saturated age. The fact that the College Board is making the essay “optional” is simply to make it more like the essay component of the ACT. Despite the optional status of the ACT essay, nearly all “competitive” colleges require students to complete the essay portion of the exam.

2) The decision to change the vocabulary portion of the SAT is, in our opinion, long overdue. The words tested on the current version of the exam bear little relevance to the vocabulary encountered and employed not only in our daily lives, but also in most academic writing intended for an audience of more than 30 fellow scholars. How many of you have used “treacly” or “abstruse” lately?

3) Taking away the calculator for one of the two math sections means that students will actually have to learn how to perform basic computation either in their heads or by using a pencil. We have worked with a number of students who, in response to a question like “how much is 47 + 38?”, have had to unzip their backpacks and remove their calculators before being able to provide an answer.

At Sandweiss Test Prep, we’ve been preparing students for the SAT and ACT since 1998. Although we would never claim that these exams are highly predictive of intelligence or academic performance, they do measure some skills that are relevant to higher education and, equally important, to life after college. In our view, any serious effort to improve the quality of the SAT should be welcomed, while all prospective college applicants (and their parents) should remember that grades matter a lot more to college admissions officers than do test scores. Accordingly, the primary focus of those concerned with college readiness should be on “smartening-up” the average high school curriculum.

Next month, the College Board will be releasing some sample questions for the new SAT, and we’ll be posting our analysis of these questions once we’ve had a chance to look them over. In the meantime, click here to view a summary of the key changes the College Board will be making to the SAT.

Everyone knows about the SAT and ACT and the important role these exams play in gaining admission to highly selective colleges, but all too often, too little attention is paid to the SAT Subject tests. These exams are one-hour, multiple-choice tests that measure knowledge of various academic subjects, including Literature, Math, US and World History, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and several different foreign languages. Scored on the same 200-800 scale as the regular SAT, these subject tests can not only contribute positively to the admissions process, but they can also help students save both time and money once they are admitted to college. At certain schools, high scores on subject tests can be used to bypass introductory level and general education courses and, sometimes, to award college credit, thereby reducing tuition fees.

Most schools that require or “recommend” SAT subject tests want applicants to submit scores for two or three different exams. In most cases, the schools don’t have a preference for which exams you submit, but if you are planning to apply to a math or science-related major, or to an engineering program, you will probably want to submit the Math 2 and one of the science exams. If you plan on majoring in a specific foreign language, you will obviously want to submit the Subject Test for that language. Nearly all Subject Tests are administered in both May and June every year, on the same days that the regular SAT is administered. Students are not allowed to take both the regular SAT and a Subject Test on the same date.

More common than the SAT Subject tests are the Advanced Placement exams. These are administered by the College Board, the same organization that produces the SAT and the Subject Tests. Many students are enrolled in AP classes at their high schools, and these classes are designed to prepare students to take AP exams during the second week of May. AP exams are offered in a wider variety of academic subjects than what is covered by the SAT Subject Tests, but the multiple choice content of the AP exams generally covers the same material as the questions on the Subject Tests. The AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the top score. Many colleges will allow students who score a 4 or 5 on a particular AP exam to bypass introductory classes in that subject, and in some cases, students can also receive credit toward their degrees.

In both cases, SAT Subject Tests and AP Exams do give admissions officers more information about you that may be pertinent to their evaluation of your academic performance, goals, and interests. For example, if you provide test scores for a US History SAT Subject Test and an AP U.S. Government exam, it reveals to the admissions department what you’re interested in—which in turn indicates what area of their school you may be contributing to. It’s particularly wise to provide these test scores if you’re applying to a specific school or academic program at that institution—like a school of communications, pre-law program, school of business, etc.

Another benefit of providing test scores from specific subjects is to offset an area in which you might not be as strong. For example, if your SAT math score is weak because math is something you genuinely struggle with, it may be worth it to take an SAT Subject Test in an area you excel in and want to pursue in order to show the admissions board that you are committed and strong in a particular academic area.

Sandweiss Test Prep can help you prepare for these exams this spring. We offer both individual and group tutoring for most SAT Subject Test and AP Exam topics.  Please contact us today to arrange for diagnostic testing to determine which subject tests you are best suited for, or to obtain more information about our programs.

Your student’s test day is almost here! Aside from the test prep courses he or she has taken with Sandweiss Test Prep, there are a few more steps to be taken to complete the preparation process. The following are some extra SAT and ACT test prep tips.

  • Pack the night before. Life is busy, and you or your student is bound to forget something on test day. To minimize this, make sure that everything is packed and ready to go the night before the test. Then, if someone oversleeps, or other delays occur the next morning your child will still sit down for the test with everything he or she needs.
  • Prepare the correct items. The list of things to bring and things to leave at home has been covered in our test prep courses, but another reminder might be helpful. Remember to bring several No. 2 pencils, of course. Additionally, your child should pack photo ID, the test admission ticket, graphing or scientific calculator, and a watch. Cell phones will not be allowed, so your student will not have access to his or her phone calculator and clock. Some extras that your child might want to bring include a water bottle, snacks, soft eraser, and a book. For a complete list of things to bring and items NOT to pack, click here.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Make sure your child goes to bed early the night before the test. It will do no good to stay up late studying, and is much better for them to get rest so that their brain can function optimally on test day.
  • Dress in layers. The testing room can be hot or chilly, so wear layers on test day. This way, you can add or take off layers to suit your comfort and avoid distraction for yourself and other test-takers during the exams.
  • Leave early. To avoid any delays due to road construction or traffic, leave your home with plenty of time to arrive at the testing location.

We wish your student the best!

Once your child has completed their ACT or SAT, it’s time to come in for your free diagnostic review for your SAT Subject Tests! Also, your student should be thinking about whether he or she will need help reviewing for the AP exams coming up.


Stay tuned for more helpful tips and information here on the blog.