Since the SAT has been around for such a long time, American academic culture has become accustomed to it. Numerous colleges continue to use it as a criterion for assessing applicants, and students, parents, and educators all understand its significance and goal.
The College Board has been using the SAT to determine which high school students are eligible to attend college for a century now, and while it still exists today, it has undergone a sizable number of changes. The College Board recently announced that the SAT will go digital by 2024, which may be the biggest change yet. It’s a choice motivated by the desire to increase the SAT’s usability for students and to keep the test current in a time when colleges don’t value it as highly as they once did.
Many colleges and universities temporarily suspended their SAT (or ACT) score submission requirements when Covid-19 forced schools to temporarily close their doors in 2020. Only a few schools have brought back those requirements two years later. But even before the pandemic, many colleges already made the submission of test results optional on application forms.
Many students have continued to take the SAT and made the decision to send their scores to potential schools despite this pattern and the numerous test cancellations brought on by Covid. Vice President of college readiness assessments for the College Board Priscilla Rodriguez reaffirmed the College Board’s dedication to upholding students’ right to submit their test results, saying, “Evidence shows that when colleges consider SAT scores in the context of where students live and attend school, the SAT helps increase diversity. The SAT will continue to be one of the easiest and most affordable ways for students to stand out as we recover from the pandemic.
Is the SAT available online right now?
The custom of using a No. 2 pencil to fill in the bubbles on an answer sheet is one of the SAT’s long-lasting legacies. Over the next two years, everything will change.
Even though the SAT will be administered in a digital format, it won’t be available everywhere. The new SAT is not an online test that students can take whenever they want from wherever they choose. Instead, it will continue to be given either in designated testing locations on weekends or in schools during the week.
The SAT has changed in the past, not just now.
The College Board’s choice to develop a brand-new digital exam is consistent with the changes the organization has made to the SAT Suite of Assessments over the past eight to ten years. The College Board also offers the PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT in addition to the SAT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Students in the eighth, ninth, or tenth grade take the PSAT, a condensed version of the SAT. The majority of the assessments in the College Board’s Suite of Assessments are now available in digital format, and have been for a while.
The SAT School Day program was launched by the College Board in 2010 in an effort to give low-income students more access to the exam. Although it took some time for the initiative to gain traction, the College Board now has contracts with 20 states (plus Washington, D.C.) to provide free SAT testing to juniors in high school. Other states offer the test on school days to give opportunities to students who might not have access to the funds or transportation to take it on a Saturday. Some states require the SAT and use it as a standardized assessment. There is already a digital version of the current test being used in many of the states that offer the School Day SAT.
But the 2024 SAT is not simply new because it will be delivered digitally rather than on paper. Additionally, it will incorporate a number of format and design changes aimed at streamlining and simplifying the questions.
Has the College Board not recently made significant changes to the exam?
The parents of today’s students may not be aware of just how different the test is from what they experienced because everyone is trying to keep up with the changes that the College Board has implemented over the past 20 years.
The College Board shifted its focus to writing in 2005 after finally allowing calculators and introducing student-produced (i.e., not multiple-choice) questions in 1994. An essay where students responded to a topic by formulating and defending a thesis was added in order to reflect the significance of clear and effective writing. 1600 points were changed to 2400 total points, with 800 points each for reading, math, and writing.
The new format, however, was short-lived. The College Board sought to develop a test that better reflected the actual work students were doing in high school, driven by the vision of David Coleman, who took over as CEO in 2012. Coleman said, “We are not interested in students just picking an answer, but justifying their answers,” after becoming frustrated with the way students had been able to boost their test scores using test-taking “tricks.”
In place of its previous design, the College Board adopted a more college-readiness-focused approach in 2016.
The new test had four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, No Calculator Math, and Calculator Math, as opposed to multiple short sections for each subject.
All of the questions in the Reading section now relate to passages that were provided in the test, and vocabulary questions—possibly the last remnant of an intelligence test—were eliminated.
The 1600-point scoring system was reinstated, with 800 points awarded for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (a combination of the Reading, Writing, and Language sections) and 800 points awarded for Math (a combination of both Math sections).
The essay was revised, but it was made optional. Students had to sign up in advance to take it, and essay scores were computed independently of other test results. The essay was completely eliminated from the test by 2021, though some states still use it for their own assessment procedures.
What modifications are being made to the actual SAT?
The SAT is undergoing significant change, but some aspects will not change. The digital SAT Suite will continue to measure the knowledge and skills that students are learning in school and that are most important for college and career readiness, according to Priscilla Rodriguez in an official video statement. Only at a school or testing facility (not at home) will the test be given, and Khan Academy will still provide free online practice materials.
Students who require special accommodations can get them because the College Board is dedicated to making the exam accessible to all students. The accustomed 1600-point scoring system will continue to be used, and significant scholarship opportunities will still be based on student performance.
What precisely is changing with the SAT, then?
Shorter passages with only one question associated with them will replace the lengthy passages with 10–11 questions each in the Reading section. The passages themselves will cover a wider range of subjects to better reflect what college students read.
Less wordy math questions will be included, and the entire Math section will allow the use of calculators. Students may still bring their own SAT-approved calculators, but an app based on the online Desmos calculator will be available.
From timing to navigation, everything the College Board does with the digital design aims to make the test more user-friendly. Students will have more time to answer each question because the SAT will now only last two to two and a half hours. The digital exam will also have a timer that appears on the screen and a feature for marking questions for later review. Instead of waiting weeks to receive their results, students will now be connected with nearby two-year colleges, workforce development initiatives, and career options via their score reports.
Why would there be such a large change now?
The SAT is still crucial, regardless of how colleges have changed their views on test scores on applicants’ applications. The SAT was still popular among students even after schools became test-optional in 2020 and Covid frequently caused test cancellations.
Colleges should allow students to submit their SAT scores.
In a poll conducted by the College Board, 83% of students said they would like the option to submit their test results to colleges.
Priscilla Rodriguez noted that despite an increasing number of colleges making the SAT optional, students still see the scores as a valuable addition to their applications: “Some students may decide their application is stronger without test scores, while others will benefit from sending them, including the hundreds of thousands of rural, first-generation, and underrepresented students whose SAT scores strengthen their college applications.”
More students can take the SAT because it’s available online.
More students will be able to take the SAT now that it will be offered in digital format. The College Board, which aims to remain relevant in an academic culture that increasingly views the SAT as an optional component of college applications, gains from this as well as students. The SAT will be simpler to administer because the new digital test will be considerably shorter than the current one. States, districts, and schools will have more options for when, where, and how frequently they administer the SAT as opposed to being constrained by a set schedule.
The shift to digital applications is already happening because some schools already offer digital SAT and PSAT versions. The International SAT in March 2023 will mark the debut of the new design on a grand scale. All PSAT tests will switch to the new digital format by the fall of 2023. The entire SAT Suite of Assessments will be available digitally in the updated format starting in March 2024.
How will the updated SAT be more user-friendly?
The College Board has concentrated on students’ access to technology and SAT preparation materials after realizing that the majority of students already complete a sizable portion of their schoolwork on digital devices. Through Khan Academy, students can access official practice exams without having to pay for costly resources or preparation courses.
Since many students take their own devices to practice for the SAT, taking the actual test on those same devices will feel more familiar than responding to questions on paper. Students will be able to access the actual SAT on their own laptop or tablet via a secure server. The College Board will lend a device to anyone who needs one if they don’t have one on test day or their school doesn’t have any. Additionally, students will be able to plug in and reconnect without losing any time or work if Wi-Fi goes down or a device dies.
What are the SAT changes’ main advantages?
The College Board ran a global pilot of the new SAT in test centers in the US and abroad in November 2021. The test was overwhelmingly supported by students, educators, and test administrators, who praised its improved design and straightforward administration.
The examination will go more smoothly.
The initial procedures are more effective than what is currently in place. Students won’t have to spend time checking in and filling out paper forms, and educators won’t have to deal with packing, sorting, or shipping test materials without the need for physical copies. Students won’t have to stress about remembering to pack pencils, calculators, or even digital devices because all the materials are provided.
The examination will be more practical.
Positive student feedback on the test itself was particularly noteworthy. The ability to switch between the questions, an online calculator, and a formula sheet allowed students to say that having the material available digitally was more convenient. It was much simpler to keep track of the remaining time thanks to the built-in clock: “This reduced my stress as I knew I had enough time to think critically about the question rather than panicking and choosing a random option when I was unsure of what I had just read.”
I loved that I could go back to questions that I had flagged, since usually on paper I take extra time to find the questions I had missed. Students clearly appreciated the feature allowing them to flag questions for review. The ability to mark one’s response quickly and confidently was incredibly relieving, according to test-takers, who also found the process of answering to be much more efficient than what is required on the paper-and-pencil test.
The examination will be more efficient.
The updated questions and simplified structure received more praise. The newly redesigned Reading section was well received: “I really liked reading the brief passages and responding to just one question. That lessened my anxiety. The reading passages were “much better and more interactive than the long reading texts on the current SAT,” according to English language learners. Students were able to analyze and respond to the questions in the math section, which they felt “were shorter, made sense, and got straight to the point.”
The examination will be safer.
Finally, the simplicity and security of the new SAT are appreciated by test administrators and proctors. The test center coordinators “didn’t have to spend another half hour at the test center just to make sure that things are done,” as there were no forms to complete, paper tests to package, or answer forms to fill out. With the current paper-and-pencil test, the test administration can be cancelled or student scores can be disregarded if even one test form is compromised.
With the SAT going digital, each student will also receive a distinct test form, making it nearly impossible to share answers.
Why are students advised to take the SAT?
Parents and students may understandably wonder why it is necessary to take the SAT since the vast majority of colleges and universities do not require SAT scores as part of the college application process. The SAT is not irrelevant just because it isn’t a requirement for an application.
Not whether you must take the test, but rather what advantages your SAT scores will bring, is the real question.
If the SAT is optional at the majority of colleges, why does it even matter?
According to the College Board, of the 1.7 million students in the class of 2020 who took the SAT, approximately 300,000 were from rural or small towns, 600,000 were first-generation college students, and 700,000 belonged to an African American or Latino racial or ethnic group. The SAT continues to “open doors for students of all backgrounds,” according to Rodriguez.
62% of students in the class of 2021 who took the SAT were able to do so for free on a weekday at their school. Independent studies demonstrate that universal testing during the school day increases the percentage of low-income students who enroll in college. Rodriguez uses her own experience as an immigrant kid who arrived in the U.S. on a shoestring budget to highlight the importance of the SAT to these students: “I know how the SAT Suite of Assessments opened doors to colleges, scholarships, and educational opportunities that I otherwise would have known about or had access to.”
Finally, even though there are more than 25,000 high schools in the United States, the SAT is still an objective test that students can take. There is no way that colleges could be familiar with all of those high schools and have seen every student there. It is becoming more difficult to decide which students should be accepted into colleges as grade inflation continues to rise in American high schools.
The percentage of students graduating from high school with an A average has increased from 39% in 1998 to 55% in 2021, even though high school grades continue to be the most widely accepted indicator of a student’s ability. Colleges need more data points to make their decisions when more than half of students receive As.
That means extracurricular activities for many students, but clubs and sports are frequently expensive and out of reach for many families. When taken into account, test results can support a student’s GPA and reveal strengths that go beyond what grades might suggest.
According to preliminary findings from the College Board’s pilot program, the new digital SAT will give students a better opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and stand out on college applications.