All About the Redesigned SAT: Systems of Equations

The New SAT - The Redesigned SAT - Math - Systems of Equations

When a test like the SAT undergoes a major redesign, changes come in a variety of forms. Big changes like those to the essay structure are easier to spot, but subtle changes can be just as interesting.

Consider the pair of similar-looking questions above. On the left we have a question that could appear on the current SAT Reasoning Test. On the right we have a question that could appear on the redesigned SAT.

So what is different? The question on the left has five answer choices; the question on the right has four answer choices. The question on the left has three variables and two equations; the question on the right has two variables and two equations. But is that it? Are we looking at two superficially different yet largely equivalent questions?

The key different between these two questions is not how they look but how they are solved. On the left, we have a system with more variables than equations.

Can we solve for y? No. Can we solve for z? No. Do we need to? No.

We don’t need to solve for y or z, we just need to find the sum of y and z. And if we subtract the second equation from the first equation, we get y​+​z​=​4. How did we know to subtract the second the equation from the first equation? Because the SAT Reasoning Test is looking for clever manipulations of these equations (in this case, simple subtraction) to get the desired result without solving the whole system.

But what about the question on the right? Here we are asked for the actual solution. So we have two simple approaches: we can solve this system like any beginning algebra student by eliminating one of the variables, or we can find the solution by plugging in the pairs given in the answer choices.

Neither of these solutions works on the question on the left: we can’t solve the system, and we can’t directly plug in numbers for y​+​z.

Why does this matter? Well, this change showcases one of the main differences between the math sections on the SAT Reasoning Test and the redesigned SAT. The math on the current test focuses more on problem-solving skills, while the math on the new test focuses more on skills with the kinds of questions given in school.

Read more about the Redesigned SAT on

Posted on November 24, 2015 and filed under SAT.

Faculty Profile: Robert Utter – Elite of Rowland Heights

Hi Robert! Thanks for taking a break from classes to talk with us! Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from, where did you go to school, and all that good stuff?

I'm originally from La Puente, California. I received a B.A. from Whittier College with a major in Physics and a minor in Math. I also received a M.S. from California State University, Fullerton with a major in Physics. 

Lots of your students are heading to college soon and will be choosing majors and classes and all that fun stuff. What was your favorite college course?

My favorite college course was called Chaos in Science and Literature. The first half of the semester dealt with chaos theory and how complex systems are not very deterministic due to all the unknown variables. The second half of the semester discussed literature that referenced the chaos theory, the butterfly effect, fractals, and strange attracters. It was a very fun and interesting course. I liked it because it was different from all of the other typical math and physics courses I was taking. 

What are some tips or advice or you’d give to your high school self?

I would tell my high school self to get involved in the drama club freshman year. I joined the drama club my junior year in high school and wished I had started sooner. Drama really helped me handle public speaking and to be comfortable in front of a large crowd.  

What do you know about college now that you didn’t know before you attended?

I now know that college is really only the beginning. Back then I felt college was all I was going to need. In reality, graduate school has been much more important for me. A bachelor's degree now is not worth the same as it was 30 years ago. A master's degree is really the key to having a successful academic-related career.  

If you were a character from Star Wars, which one would you be? 

Definitely Obi-Wan Kenobi. As a physics professor, I'm always teaching students “The Ways of the Force.”


Posted on November 22, 2015 .

Faculty Profile: Chieh Cheng – Elite of Laguna Hills

Hi Chieh! Thanks for the interview! Let's start at the beginning. Where are you from originally?
Born in Hong Kong, but I grew up in Orange County, CA. 

Where did you go to college?
I went to UCLA for undergrad, and UC Irvine for grad school where I got my MFA in Fiction.

Why did you become a teacher?
I started as a Teaching Assistant while working on my MFA and writing my thesis, which later turned into a novel. During this time, it made sense to have a job that made me constantly think about the challenges facing a novice writer, particularly when many of the students at UCI are science/technology/math/engineering (STEM) types who usually aren't predisposed to writing, and who needed not only instruction, but a sympathetic ear and and an understanding perspective.

As the years went on, I realized that working with students was something I enjoyed and something that kept me in touch with the world.

As far as teaching at Elite, the kids have always been great to work with–intelligent, highly motivated, curious. I just had a student at the Laguna Hills Elite who'd developed a reading app for blind people. I tested it out and the phone took a picture of a page from a textbook and read it (!). It's nice being around people like that. They tend to teach me as much as I teach them. 

Everybody’s got a superpower. What’s yours?
When I was a kid, I always thought Cyclops' power of firing optic blasts was nice, though James Kakalios' The Physics of Superpowers reminded me that Newton's third law would mean that a single blast would snap his neck.

I'm no X-Man, so I'd have to say I'm excellent at being pretty good at a lot of things. 

What are some of your favorite study tips?
I don't think this is particularly revelatory–don't procrastinate and start early. Stick to a schedule and make sure you're physically and mentally rested before an exam.  

Who are some of your most notable role models?
There are a lot of people whose work I admire, but I've also learned that amazing work doesn't always translate to admirable people. At the risk of sounding saccharine, I'd have to say that the way my wife carries herself on a day-to-day basis is inspiring to me. And she does amazing work, too.

Posted on November 11, 2015 .

All About the Redesigned SAT: The New Essay

When the new SAT is rolled out in 2016, the essay will be dramatically different. The format for the essay from 2005 to 2015 has been fairly simple. Students have been presented with a question (like “Should young people focus their efforts on developing just one talent?”) and asked to develop an argument in response to the question. Starting with the March exam in 2016, the approach will change dramatically. Among the changes:

  • The essay will be optional.
  • Students will be able to take the test without the essay, but they should check with the colleges to which they apply to see whether those colleges require an essay score.
  • The essay will be longer: 50 minutes as opposed to 25 minutes.
  • The essay will no longer ask students to take an opinion on an issue but will instead ask them to analyze a passage that has been provided.
  • The prompt will be essentially the same from test to test (with minor adjustments to name the author of the passage and so forth).

The new prompt, according to the College Board, is:

As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims. 
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience.

Notice that students should not spend time agreeing with or disagreeing with the point the author makes in the passage. Rather, they should analyze how the author makes his or her points.

To prepare for the new SAT essay, you should do two things. The first is pay attention. When you read, pay attention to the techniques the author uses. Things like person (does the writer use the first person, second person, or third person?), diction (word choice), and structure are important parts of persuasive writing. Pay attention also to your teachers when they go over authors' approaches.

The second thing you should do is practice. Pick a passage that is about one to two pages long, read it, and write an essay analyzing the author's choices. Once you have your essay, put it aside for a few days and then reread it to see whether you merely identified techniques or explained why they are (or are not) effective. Saying that the author uses the second person is not enough. You must say why that choice works or does not work. For example, you might write, "The author's use of the second person is particularly effective since most readers will have experienced the situation the passage describes, and the use of 'you' addresses them directly and makes the passage feel more directly relevant to them. Using 'one' or 'he or she' would create more distance between the author and the reader."

This type of practice may not seem like great fun, but, as with almost anything, practice with the essay leads to improvement. You will feel far more comfortable when you sit for the actual exam if you have practiced.

Posted on November 10, 2015 .

Faculty Profile: Kiley Albrecht – Elite of Rowland Heights

Kiley A. - Elite of Rowland Heights

Hey, Kiley! Thanks for talking with us! So, where are you from originally? 
Tarzana, CA (a.k.a. “The Valley”).

Your educational background is pretty diverse! Where did you go to college? 
I did my undergrad at UC San Diego, where I majored in Spanish and minored in Film History & Criticism. For grad school, I went to the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and received my M.S. in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition.

How did you get your start in teaching?
I started teaching in college as a volunteer reading tutor at an elementary school and then as an online algebra tutor. I then worked with a small start-up company where I helped mentor military personnel, through a combination of phone tutoring and self-study as they prepared for algebra CLEP exams to earn an associate’s degree while deployed around the world. 

After that, I substitute taught math and chemistry at a small alternative high school. Through a dynamic learning center I was able to tutor elementary, middle, and high school students one-on-one to provide after-school support in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act. I also used a tutorial approach to teach one-on-one high school courses, issuing grades through a local high school. The most challenging part was teaching one student her entire 11th and 12th grade years! 

What subjects do you teach at Rowland Heights? 
I teach SAT & PSAT Writing and Critical Reading, which will soon become Writing & Language and Reading on the Redesigned SAT. I'm also a Site Director for the Elite Community Scholars Program. I teach SAT Math and lead College Application Workshops with ECS.

Why Elite?
For all the reasons. I get to be surrounded by respectful and dedicated students, highly effective teachers, and an endlessly supportive and friendly staff. Most importantly, I get to help students recognize their strengths and transform their weaknesses as I guide them along a path that will positively affect the rest of their lives. 

What makes Elite students special?
They're well-rounded. They develop cognitive endurance, test-taking skills, effective study habits, team work, and subject-specific knowledge (to name a few). They're also fortunate to have a caring support system cheering them on. When my students succeed, I'm so excited for them! I know they’ve not only chosen to learn something new, but also gained new self-confidence, which hopefully leads to more success. It’s a beautiful cycle.  

What do you get up to when you're not teaching?
I’m always looking for a good book, a good movie, or a good boba place. I also like going on hikes with my dog Timmy. 

Can you recommend any good music for studying?
That probably has to be a personal choice.  Let’s see . . . people often say classical. I’d say anything but a lullaby, probably? Something that feels good and resonates with an energized, yet focused mind.

If you could only give your students one study tip, what would it be?
Have fun! Or at least have a positive attitude. If studying is boring, or a chore, it is much less likely to be effective. Besides, who doesn’t want to have fun?


Posted on October 27, 2015 .

Watch What Happened at the 2015 Elite Vision Expo!

This year, the Sixth Annual Elite Vision Expo drew more than 3,000 Elite students and parents to Fullerton, California to learn more about college admissions, financial aid, college majors, and future careers!

We kicked off the day with inspirational keynote addresses from Dr. Tae Kim, Attorney Steven Kim, and Judge Timothy Saito. Additional Expo events included college seminars, college and volunteer booths, an incredible student talent show and quiz bowl, and alumni workshops featuring graduates from Amherst College, Claremont McKenna, Cornell, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Northwestern, Pomona College, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, USC, and Yale.

Next year's Vision Expo is scheduled for August 2016 and is open exclusively to Elite students and their families. Stay tuned for more info!

Posted on October 27, 2015 .

What's New on the Redesigned SAT?

In March 2016, the College Board will switch to a new, redesigned version of the SAT in an effort to more closely align the test with the knowledge and skills that are essential for college and career readiness. Here's what you can expect to see on the updated exam:

Scoring & Other Major Changes

  • The SAT is now divided into four tests: Reading, Writing and Language, Math, and the optional Essay.
  • Composite scores are derived from results on the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Tests.
  • The maximum composite score is 1600 instead of 2400.
  • The total length of the SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes – or 3 hours without the optional essay.
  • There is no deduction for incorrect answers.
  • Multiple-choice questions now have 4 answer choices each instead of 5.


  • The Essay is now optional, though some colleges and universities will require it.
  • You will not be asked to write about your personal experience or share your opinions about a specific issue. 
  • Instead of making a persuasive argument yourself, you will be asked to analyze a source document and the techniques its author uses to persuade readers.
  • You will receive essay scores in three different categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
  • The time allotted for the Essay is now 50 minutes instead of 25 minutes.
  • Essay scores will be reported separately from the composite score.


  • All questions on the Reading Test are multiple-choice and based on passages including U.S. founding documents, important speeches and writings from around the world, and texts from science and literature.
  • All "fill-in-the-blank" sentence-completion questions have been eliminated.
  • Some reading passages will be accompanied by informational graphics and charts.
  • Vocabulary-in-context questions focus on common words and phrases.

Writing and Language

  • All questions on the Writing and Language Test are multiple-choice and based on passages. 
  • Stand-alone sentences testing grammar have been eliminated.
  • You will be asked to correct grammatical errors, create smooth transitions, order passages logically, and create consistent tone. 


  • Higher-level math including trigonometry and pre-calculus will be included.
  • Some questions will test your ability to solve math problems in real-world contexts, such as science and social studies.
  • Calculators will be allowed only in the longer of the two Math sections.

Download a PDF version of this document


Posted on October 26, 2015 .

Here's How Our Teachers Prepare for an Amazing Year...

It's no secret that Elite teachers are among the best and brightest. Each year, our faculty and staff gather at the Elite Teacher Convocation to kick off the academic year, celebrate our students, and get inspired! Watch the video above to learn more about what goes down at the Teacher Convocation and hear what a few of our teachers have to say about what makes Elite great!

Posted on October 8, 2015 .