The SAT is a multiple-choice college readiness assessment designed to predict high school students’ college preparedness.”. In addition to grades, extracurriculars, recommendation letters, and personal statements, many colleges look at test results from the SAT (or its competitor exam, the ACT) when making admissions choices.
Nevertheless, there is a growing trend among certain institutions to reduce the importance of standardized tests in the selection of students. Notably, because the pandemic prevented many students from taking the exam, many schools made standardized tests optional or even (in the notable case of the University of California system) stopped accepting standardized test scores altogether—policies that have, in many cases, remained in place even as the pandemic has waned.
This de-emphasis of the SAT and ACT did not begin with the pandemic, however. There are well-documented racial disparities in test results, which many believe contribute to diminished college accessibility for black and brown students. Similarly, concerns about accessibility for disabled students drove the University of California’s abandonment of standardized testing as an admissions criterion. Because of these concerns, many schools had already been de-emphasizing these exams, and the pandemic only furthered this trend.
The SAT Has Undergone a Major Overhaul
At least partially in response to these concerns, the College Board (the organization that produces and administers the SAT) has begun redesigning the exam, with a new model to go into effect in 2024 in the U.S. (and a year earlier abroad). Though much about the redesign remains a mystery, we do know a few things for certain.
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First and most dramatically, the SAT will shift from a pen-and-paper test to a digital exam. This shift is likely at least in part motivated by the College Board’s business model: online exams are cheaper to administer, and, because it would presumably improve the exam’s accessibility, the new format may allow the College Board to appeal the University of California’s prohibition on standardized test use for the admissions process.
It’s not all about the bottom line, though. The digital SAT format has important implications for students as well. Students may need to alter their test-taking strategies, since long-standing pencil test advice like, “Save hard questions for the end,” may no longer apply if students are not allowed to skip questions. Also of concern is that many students’ reading comprehension is considerably lower when they read from screens rather than physical media. The digital format will also allow the College Board to make questions harder or easier depending on a student’s performance up to that point. These changes will provide novel challenges, especially for students who have spent time preparing for the current SAT paper and pencil test.
Short & Sweet
In addition to these new challenges, the redesign also promises to make some aspects of the test easier for students. The exam’s length will go from three to two hours. Additionally, due to the digital format, proctors will no longer be responsible for packaging, arranging, and distributing exam materials. These changes will particularly benefit students who struggle to maintain attention over the SAT’s marathon length.
Question formats will also be shorter, with extended reading passages followed by multiple questions being phased out in favor of shorter passages accompanied by a single question. These changes are designed to address concerns about reading comprehension in digital media.
Calculators Permitted Throughout
Students will be permitted to use a calculator throughout the redesigned SAT’s math section. This contrasts with the current SAT’s math section, which is divided into two sections, the first of which students take without a calculator, and the second of which they take with one. Students will be permitted to bring their own graphing calculator, or they may use one included in the exam, which the College Board believes should minimize test-day hurdles and make the test more accessible to low-income families. Not every student can afford a graphing calculator, which often costs between $100 and $200.
Instead of waiting weeks for results (as they currently must), students will get digital test score reports within a few days. Historically, SAT score reports have included percentile rankings and an analysis of the student’s score. Additionally, reports have historically included information regarding four-year universities and scholarship possibilities. The College Board plans to expand the content provided in the new structure that includes information on local community colleges, job training, and employment opportunities.
The SAT Changes’ Effects
Due to the SAT’s high-stakes reputation, many students feel great pressure to do well. Happily, the College Board claims that, in a November 2021 trial of the new digital exam, 80% of participants found the new format “less stressful” than the paper exam. With these improvements, along with increased accessibility resulting from the test’s new digital presentation, the College Board hopes to address critics’ concerns.
Preparation is Key
Regardless of the proposed changes, the key to success on the SAT is likely to remain prepared. National test preparation companies, private tutors, and self-guided online resources are among the options available to students preparing for the test. This includes free practice exams and instructional videos as well as test-taking advice that the College Board provides to students. The College Board plans to continue this practice, releasing practice exams for students so they can get a feel for the new digital format.
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