What’s changing: The SAT is moving to an all digital format in 2023 outside the U.S. and in 2024 here in the U.S. That means students in 9th grade (and below) during the 2021-2022 school year will be the first U.S. students to sit for the new exam.
How is the test different?
-It’s much shorter. The current SAT is 3 hours, and the new version will require only 2
-There aren’t as many questions, and you’ll have more time to answer each one
-Reading passages are shorter with fewer questions per passage and they will cover a wider range of topics
-It’s a section-adaptive test (more on that below)
-It’s more secure (probably)
-No more non calculator section: you’ll have access to a calculator for all questions
-You’ll be able to take it on a flexible schedule – no more set exam dates – and many schools will offer testing during the school day
How is it the same?
-It’s still out of 1600
-You’ll still be able to practice on Kahn Academy’s site, since they will be getting new practice tests by the end of 2022
-You’ll still be able to choose whether or not to send your score to each of the colleges to which you are applying
-You will still test at a school site
Why this change is happening:
The move to test optional has put pressure on College Board and ACT to remain relevant. And with nearly 700,000 fewer students sitting for the exam, College Board was wise to take action. But many of these changes were coming before the pandemic and the roll out of digital options may have actually been slowed by staffing issues and students learning remotely. The GRE (which is from the same test maker, College Board) had already gone digital before the pandemic. College Board was thus able to quickly pivot and create an in-home administration for that exam. In contrast, there are no plans for an in-home version of the SAT.
The new testing format should also increase equity. College Board will connect students with resources about vocational and two-year college programs, not just four-year universities. And by increasing the number of SAT School Day administrations, the test makers are giving the opportunity to test to students who work, have family obligations on the weekends, or can’t afford to travel to far-flung testing sites. This flexibility will help low-income students. Plus, tablets and computers will be provided for test takers who don’t have their own devices.
Questions and Answers
Q: Wait, how does that work? How can they make it so much shorter? Why was it so long to begin with? I hate long tests!
A: Most students feel the same. The move to digital allows for the test to transition to a section-adaptive format. Each subject is divided into 2 sections. If you do well in the first, you get a harder second section. Conversely, if you don’t do as well in the first, you get an easier second section. Ideally, this allows for an accurate score assessment to happen more quickly and efficiently.
Q: Are there drawbacks to that format?
A: Totally. Test takers who have sat for the GRE for grad school admission know already that one troubling aspect of this format is that awesome test takers who don’t do as well as they usually do in an early part of the exam are then bucketed down to an easier second section. That means there is no opportunity to recover and get a great score. Essentially, you’ve gotten score locked.
Q: What about scratch paper? Can’t I just take it on paper anyway?
A: No. The move to an all-digital format is one reason why the Reading section is being so dramatically reconfigured. It’s impossible to take margin notes and scan 90 lines of text repeatedly to answer each question. So the text needs to be bite-sized to get this to work. That means a set of short passages paired with one question each.
Q: I have heard a lot about test security recently. Rick Singer found a way for his families to manipulate the system. Is this new format more secure?
A: Somewhat. Keep reading.
Test security: What’s good
-The ability to mix up the order of questions means it will be more difficult for students to copy the work of others in their room. College Board has sophisticated algorithms to detect cheating and when patterns are uncovered the scores of entire rooms – not just those who were cheating – can be delayed or canceled.
-Many test security issues arise from compromised materials: those with access to test booklets steal them before or after the exam and share them. When tests are digitally delivered, there are no paper copies floating around ahead of the exam.
Test security: What’s not so good
-Section-adaptive tests come with their own challenges. We don’t know exactly how questions will be constructed for each exam but often question banks are employed. As the test is being administered much more frequently, questions from the bank are reused for a given time period (say 30 days). Test takers have the capacity to do what we call “brain dumping,” a practice where individuals leave an exam and then immediately post or share everything they can remember. This isn’t such a big deal when a test is administered only once (though College Board is known to sometimes reuse sections or entire tests). But if the same set of questions is being used in various combinations over a defined period, it is possible for brain dumpers to figure out every item on the exam. When you see a surge of test takers sitting for an exam on day 27, 28, or 29 of an exam period, the reason is often brain dumping.
The practice of sharing questions and answers on forums like Reddit will only intensify. And students will likely be restricted to taking the test only once in a question bank period to ensure they don’t see the same questions twice.
Q: I like test optional. I only want to submit my grades.
A: You’ll still be able to and most of us in test prep world think test optional is here to stay. But competitive students overwhelmingly want to submit scores anyway – more students are preparing for the SAT here at Sentia than ever before – and the shorter format coupled with more exam days is going to be pretty appealing to many students. Given that there are more than 25,000 high schools in the US, the SAT will continue to provide a common measuring stick by which the academic accomplishments of all students can be assessed. That’s particularly important in an era of grade inflation: most U.S. students graduate from high school with an A average. It’s pretty hard to measure academic success when more than 50% of graduating students have exceptionally strong report cards to show.
Q: What about the ACT?
A: Given our decades of experience, we know that many students stick with the exam they know in the first year or two of a change. Thus, the ACT may see a short-term boost in popularity. That’s particularly true for strong students who want to practice on a lot of previously-administered official testing material. At first, there won’t be much out there for the new SAT. To respond to market demand, test prep behemoths will create “spun” material of dubious quality. These practice tests and question sets resemble those of the SAT but are actually poor imitations that don’t help students prepare for the real exam. However, the ACT will likely be changing soon too; it’s hard to compete with a shorter digital exam that is administered far more frequently. Plus, studies show that most students prefer a digital experience.
Q: I have a learning difference. How will my test-taking experience change?
A: We don’t anticipate this being a significant issue. In fact, the move to a digital format may allow for more flexibility in administration – particularly for those students who test in school over multiple days. 50% extended time, by far the most commonly awarded accommodation, is almost certainly here to stay.
Q: This is all overwhelming. Can you give me some good news?
A: Sentia Senior Tutor David Rosenberg offers this sage advice: “”Adapting to new test formats is old hat for any SAT tutor worth their salt. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again, and we’re more than prepared to do it now. With any iteration of the test, the underlying strategy remains the same: lay a solid foundation of content knowledge, get smart about timing, leverage the structure of the test to the student’s advantage. Lean on us; we’ll be way ahead of you in knowing this new test cold. Ultimately, no matter what the new test looks like, Sentia tutors are going to find a way to make it work in your favor.”
Q: I have more questions.
A: Comment below or reach out to us directly. We love talking to students and families and welcome your call.