The SAT is undergoing a series of changes in the upcoming years, one of which being a switch from paper testing to digital testing. (Photo credits to Western New York News Now)
The SAT, or the Scholastic Aptitude Test, will undergo a slew of substantial adjustments in 2024, with the goal of making the long-running standardized exam more “twenty-first century-esque.” The changes were posted on the website of the group that runs the test, the College Board, on January 25, 2022.
The SAT's main shift is the transition from a paper-and-pencil to an all-digital format. Even though students will still be expected to take the exam at authorized testing locations, it’s much more relaxed than the previous testing experiences. Other changes include a shorter test time (two hours instead of three), the ability to use calculators on both math parts, a new reading section with different passages that each have one question, and a customized test for each person.
The College Board seems to be accustomed to modifying the SAT; it has a long history of doing so ever since they started in 1926. Whether these changes are minimal or grand, the SAT changes every couple of years to suit shifting circumstances and to understand or find the qualities that colleges and universities want in potential students. Three recent changes to the exam were made in 1994, 2005, and 2016; they seem to be on an eleven-year cycle.
For example, there have been several changes since the beginning of the SAT. In 1994, antonym questions were removed, the reading sections became a lot longer and more complex, open-ended math problems were added, and calculators were introduced. Essays were introduced to the exam in 2005, and the marking scale of the perfect score was changed from 1600 to 2400. Analogy questions were also deleted. The essay was made optional in 2016 (it was removed in June 2021), and the 1600-point scale was reinstated. This might be because of the sections that were removed and to compete with the new-standing ACT (American College Testing) for a spot on students’ college applications.
The much more recent reforms, which are due to take place for international test takers in 2023 and for U.S. students in 2024, seem to prioritize educational experience and fulfillment. The first class to experience it in the United States will be the current sophomore class, who are graduating in 2025. While this is amazing for future generations, there has been a little bit of controversy regarding this.
Diya Patel, a current junior at Monroe Township High School, who has already taken the SAT this fall, wanted to share her thoughts on this.
“I feel as though this isn’t fair to a lot of [current] juniors and people who have or had taken the SAT before this. Studying and actually taking the SAT is hard, and taking it online along with all these changes sort of undermines the hard work everyone else had to do before the change. On top of that, we’re the last graduating class to take the ‘normal’ one, and then after that it’s a completely different norm. It almost seems unfair that not only COVID-19 ruined our high school years, but this would too.”
Many agree with Patel on this as the fact that changing the SAT is sort of changing the tradition that many have done in the previous years. However, people are also excited to speak on the changes that are being made to the current version.
Nishan Nayak, a junior at Monroe Township High School, has started getting ready for the alternative option, the ACT. Despite not having taken the SAT, he was asked to share his thoughts on the new changes that make the test more personalized.
Nayak states, "I think it definitely brings a different view on standardized testing…I remember when my brother took [the SAT] back in the 2017-2018 academic school year. He had mentioned that it was a lot more difficult and that the preparation for the exam was most likely the hardest part. So this change is even a bit more different than the previous changes, it’s basically the entire test."
These user-friendly adjustments to the SAT come at a time when there is widespread skepticism about the test's economic fairness and utility as an admissions filter in higher education. As a consequence of the pandemic, several schools have gone test-optional, and students are no longer required to submit SAT results. In fact, several institutions in California, which has a highly rated system of public and private colleges, became test-blind in 2020, which means they no longer evaluate SAT or ACT results in admissions choices.
Some colleges, such as the University of Delaware, have made SAT scores optional upon application. (Photo credits to Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley)
Considering this tendency, many people, particularly students like Nayak who wish to go to universities in California and other states with test-optional institutions, think that the SAT is more than just a measure of academic understanding.
"The things that you are proving about yourself, like while you are studying for the SAT, are probably way more important than the SAT itself. I mean, you learn discipline, studying techniques, and time management all while studying for school and doing the thousands of extracurriculars colleges expect. Taking the SAT, in my opinion, is something that speaks to your dedication to do something, and I think that is valuable to schools. It sort of shows how hard a person can work to achieve good results, not that I'm saying your numerical scores equate to intelligence or your hard work," he said.
Despite the fact that many institutions have gone test-optional, students who submit SAT scores have an edge over those who do not; in a sense, it's not truly a choice. If test results are not taken into account, high school grades and GPAs will be some of the most important variables in admission selections. But it's very hard to choose between thousands of students with similar grades (in different classes, schools, economic situations, etc.). This is where the SAT comes into play; it is a standard instrument for comparing millions of individuals.
Yasmin Thomas, a senior at Monroe Township High School who teaches younger kids SAT tactics and conducts mock examinations, agrees with Nayak that it contributes more towards the college choice and application process. She believes that although the SAT is necessary for students, the admissions process will never be fair to everyone so the SAT isn’t always a make or break test.
The SAT may not be popular among students throughout the admissions process, but the alternative may be worse. The new exams will make them more appealing, accessible, and less stressful for students to take. In the future, the improvements may lead to a more level playing field for students worldwide.
"A saying I've heard a lot from my teachers, particularly around SAT season, is that it's something that everyone has to complete," Thomas said. "It's a rite of passage, and I don't think it'll go away very soon."
Good luck to everyone who is taking the SAT in the upcoming months!