The New, New SAT: Untangling the Confusing Evolution of the SAT Test

The New, New SAT: Untangling the Confusing Evolution of the SAT Test

Although high schoolers perennially insist that their parents don’t know what it’s like to deal with the stress of standardized testing, the SAT has been striking fear into the hearts of high school students since the 1920s. Despite the fact that there’s still much debate about the effectiveness of the SAT and other standardized tests, and the existence of a growing contingent that aims to abolish them from the admissions process entirely, they remain an integral part of the college acceptance experience for many students. However, keeping up with the updates and changes to the content, structure and grading system can feel like just as big a task as preparing for the test itself. 

Thankfully, there is good news on both fronts. First and foremost, there’s nothing to fear when it comes to standardized testing. Although the system has its flaws, a short, but rigorous course of personalized preparation can give you the skills you need to excel on the test. We have a proven track record of helping students achieve and exceed their score goals. Secondly, the last two major updates to the SAT have made the test broadly more accessible, and ultimately more relevant to college admissions. We’ve laid out everything you need to know about the latest updates below. 

Recent Changes and What They Mean 

The SAT underwent a significant overhaul in 2016, which is explored in-depth below, and the College Board announced a new round of iterative improvements to the 2016 test in 2022. The second round of improvements has yet to be fully implemented and is on track to gradually phase-in throughout 2023 and 2024. 

2016 Changes 

The last major revision to SAT was announced in 2014 and implemented in 2016 and represented the organization’s first major attempt to respond to critics of the test’s relevancy to college admissions. The biggest change was making the essay section optional and separately scored, which brought the overall score to 1600. The College Board also removed the guessing penalty, and reduced the amount of content covered on the math section to make it more approachable for a wider range of students. In response to complaints that the test was outdated, the College Board introduced data and tables into the verbal section. 2016 was also the first year that the test was offered in both digital and paper formats across the board. The most recent iteration of the test builds on the precedent of the 2016 changes. 

2023-2024 Changes 

The 2023-2024 changes respond to public doubts about the tests effectiveness and purpose more directly than any prior version. The biggest change in this round is the fact that the test will be digitally administered across the board by 2024. An interesting addition to the digital format is that the test will now be adaptive, like the GRE, which means that performance on questions in the first module will help determine the difficulty of questions in the second module for the same section. In response to complaints that test fatigue impacts student performance, the new test has been reduced to a total of 2.25 hours spread across two time modules, one of each section. Although the time is being reduced, the average time per question is increasing because the number of questions is dropping from 154 to 98. The prior iteration of the test afforded students roughly 1.2 minutes per question while the new test will give students 1.4 minutes per question on average. Keeping in line with the trend of shortening, the passages included on the verbal will be much shorter. Finally, the use of a calculator will be allowed across the entire math section and results will be available in a matter of days, rather than weeks. 

Final Thoughts 

Whether or not these changes change your perception of the SAT and its relevance, they do make the test more accessible. As requirements around the SAT become increasingly lax, a strong SAT can still be a great addition to any application and help bolster your academic resume, even if your top school doesn’t require it for admission. Throughout each and every version of the SAT, one thing remains the same; targeted, consistent preparation is the key to success on the test. Overcoming obstacles related to time management, strategy and content isn’t difficult with a bit of discipline and professional guidance. 

Most high school students already operate under a consistently high level of stress, and standardized testing adds another layer of complexity to the equation. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Once students get a good understanding of their specific weaknesses in each section, study sessions become more productive and yield tangible results. 

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