Santa Rosa, California – February 24, 2016 – On March 5, hundreds of thousands of high school students will take the first “new” SAT test—the most sweeping overhaul to date of the college entrance exam. David Benjamin Gruenbaum, founder of the Ahead of the Class test preparation company and author of the world’s first book on the new SAT, New SAT 2016: First Choice, offers advice—and warnings—for students and parents facing the new exam.

Gruenbaum, who has personally prepared over 6,000 students for the SAT and ACT during the last 28 years, has been working with the new SAT since writing his book in 2014. “The changes to the test are big,“ he says, citing five specific modifications that are critical to a student’s success:

1. There is no longer a penalty for a wrong answer. Gruenbaum: It is now completely to your advantage to fill in every question on the test. 

2. Reading questions now include dependent follow-up questions. Gruenbaum: If you’re having trouble with this area, you can start with the follow-up question first.

3. One of the math sections does not allow calculators. Gruenbaum: Don’t panic—most of the questions can be easily solved using paper and pencil.

4. The new test makes extensive use of charts and graphs—even in the Writing (Grammar) section. Gruenbaum: Here comes the Common Core. There are definitely tricks that can make reading charts and graphs easier.

5. The essay is now optional. Gruenbaum: Every student should sign up for the essay. Some colleges won’t accept the scores without the essay!

The new test creates an environment where test prep firms can dust off questionable practices that work best when a test is new. Gruenbaum tells parents to beware of tactics that have been identified as unhelpful at best, and harmful at worst. The problems stem from the fact that there are no historical scales that can be used to evaluate student performance as they practice, leaving parents and students unable to verify a program’s value. Gruenbaum’s new SAT “do’s and don’ts” include:

DO: Take the test! Some programs are steering students toward the ACT test, because they are more prepared to coach for a better-known exam. “There’s no need to be afraid of the new SAT,” says Gruenbaum, “The ACT and SAT are very different tests and every student should take both because you never know which test will be easier until you have taken both.”

DON’T: Take a “mock” SAT created by test-prep companies. “The College Board has released four sample SAT tests. This is what students should use for preparation,” according to Gruenbaum. Some students have accused test-prep companies of using mock tests to give false readings that help these companies sell their services. “There is no substitute for official tests, period. Everything else is suspect,” says Gruenbaum.

DON’T: Believe any test prep companies that promise a guaranteed score improvement on the new SAT. “The College Board hasn’t even developed the new SAT scale yet,” Gruenbaum points out. “Any guaranteed score increase is meaningless.”

DO: Put a good amount of time intopreparing for the SAT to learn the tricks and style of the new test. The College Board claims that the new test doesn’t have any tricks. “This is the same claim the College Board made in 1994 and 2005. Of course, there are tricks. All tests have tricks!“ says Gruenbaum. “The good news is that I have been preparing students for the New SAT since last summer. This test is even more coachable than its predecessors.”

In addition to helping students gain admission to their dream schools, SAT scores can also influence the amount of financial aid families will receive. The stakes are high. It’s critical for students and parents to understand what the new SAT is and what it isn’t, and how to best prepare with or without outside assistance.

David Benjamin Gruenbaum is the co-owner of Ahead of the Class, a private education and test preparation company based in both Orange County and Sonoma County, California. During the past 28 years, Gruenbaum has prepared more than 6,000 students for their SAT and ACT college admissions exams.