The New SAT – Everything You Need to Know
- What are the Changes?
- What is Staying the Same?
- How Does This Affect Admissions?
- How Might This Affect Your Test-Taking Strategies?
You may have heard that CollegeBoard dropped a major announcement on January 25th letting students know that the formats of the SAT (and PSAT) will undergo substantial changes. These changes will apply to international test-takers in 2023, and then domestic students in 2024. In this blog post, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of these changes and providing context for you as to how they could impact your personal admissions strategy and change how colleges evaluate applications.
What are the Changes?
Let’s get into what specifically is changing about the SAT. Keep in mind that CollegeBoard has not yet released all the information about the new SAT, so more changes may be made in addition to this list..
The new test is completely digital
You can use your personal laptop or a school-issued computer to take the test. For students who don’t have computers, CollegeBoard is committed to providing laptops on test day, and the test can be taken without a constant internet connection. So, if your laptop crashes mid-test and loses connectivity or power, the digital SAT has been designed to ensure you won’t lose your work or time while you reconnect.
Instead of 3 hours, the test will now take 2 hours. There will be less questions, and you will also get more time per question to answer. But this also means that students will have less margin for error – keep in mind that fewer questions also means you can make fewer mistakes to make a strong score.
You can use a calculator on the entire math section
This change is important, and will likely affect your test-taking strategy, as you’ll need to learn how to use a calculator more efficiently. The ACT has historically allowed calculators, so we used to recommend it for students who are more dependent on their calculators, but this will no longer be a difference between the tests that may predispose you towards taking one or the other.
Reading passages will be shorter
The passages will be shorter and will only have one associated question each. Also, CollegeBoard has stated that the passages will be more reflective of topics that are representative of what students will encounter in college. This means you’ll need to focus on the test question by question, rather than approaching a passage as a whole and then looking at the associated questions.
Results will be released in days rather than weeks
You will get your scores back sooner and know if you need to retest within days, making your admissions process more agile.
The test will be more secure
With the current exam, if one test score is flagged, then the entire administration might be canceled. But, with the digital exam, each student will receive a new test score, making the new SAT more secure.
There may be more potential re-designs
CollegeBoard claims that they’re not just throwing their old test online – they’ve stated that they are going to be “taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible.” This implies that they’re also looking to restructure the test – and possibly questions – beyond the changes listed above.
This would make sense as during the past couple of years, there has been increased public discourse calling out the SAT, questioning how equitable it is and how accurate of a marker it is to admissions officers of a candidate’s merit. However, there’s no way of knowing for sure if there will be significant re-designs to the questions themselves until the new test is released.
What is Staying the Same?
The test is still out of 1600 and will still be administered at a proctored testing site with other students. As for AP tests, CollegeBoard has committed to keeping AP tests fully in-person, at least for 2022.
How Does this Affect Admissions?
First and foremost, this is a natural outcome of the post-COVID admissions landscape. It’s CollegeBoard’s attempt to maintain relevance given the growing number of test-optional schools, and an attempt to prevent test-optionality from becoming permanent. This new test will likely put a lot of pressure on the ACT to do the same. They don’t have a digital policy nearly as streamlined, and we can reasonably expect that they’re working on something similar.
All of this being said, universities will still have discretion around their admissions policies and will probably continue to pursue test-optional policies strongly for the foreseeable future. This could be catalyzed further if the Supreme Court strikes down race-conscious admissions. A lot of schools may even switch permanently to test-blind policies to maintain racial diversity on their campuses.
Going test-blind would be a way for schools to maintain race-conscious admissions with fewer ‘objective’ metrics for candidates to be scrutinized on. If a school wants to maintain racial diversity without race conscious admissions, GPA across all demographics has less of an accessibility gap than the SAT and ACT.
As for the changes themselves, it might not be completely all roses for students excited about a shorter test, reduced passage lengths, and increased calculator privileges. The shorter test could mean less stress and, paired with the full calculator availability and more time per question, we’ll likely see an overall increase in aggregate student performance. This means you’ll have to get a higher percentage of questions right to achieve a similar scaled score (in other words, percentile cutoffs will be higher).
How Might This Affect Your Test-Taking Strategies?
You should continue to take the SAT multiple times and study for it as best as you can. Test optional policies are still more of a safety net than a set policy, so a high test score has the potential to compensate for weak points in your profile.
Also, prepping with up-to-date online resources is crucial. The test-taking experience of the new SAT will be as different as its content, so students who, say, used to write notes in the margins of reading passages will now need to learn a new approach.
For additional context, CollegeBoard did a pilot of the new test last Fall. They claim the feedback has been mostly positive. Students have said that the new exam is easier to take and feels less stressful, and educators have said that it is also easier to administer. However, we won’t know if this applies to the majority until the new version is rolled out to all students.
And as for the effects on admissions, this will largely depend on colleges’ individual decisions to alter (or not alter) their test-optional policies. With all of this in mind, note that CollegeBoard is really going to be pushing this test as faster and easier, but it’s really more nuanced than that.
With every policy change in admissions, certain groups will benefit, but others will be affected negatively. One thing’s for certain – the future SAT just got a bit more uncertain. As an overall strategy, if you’re taking the SAT, you should err on the side of caution and prepare for it as much as possible.
To see how your score stacks up against other candidates, try CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator. This tool takes into account metrics like your standardized test score, GPA, extracurriculars, and more to calculate your unique chances at your prospective schools!