Changes Taking Place With the SAT

College Board has reinvented the SAT, and only time will tell if it is for the better.

College Board has made a massive change to the standard for college preparatory assessments. The SAT, a test taken by millions of high school juniors and seniors every year, is being totally overhauled. The timing, exam structure, and platform of the test are all completely changing. College Board says the exams are faster, more efficient, easier to take, and less stressful for everyone.

While College Board is adamant these new changes are for the better, some students are struggling to adapt to the changes. Maddie Nicholls, 10, will be taking the digital SAT her junior year. She understands the desire to make the exam more efficient but feels a bit blindsided by the change.

“I can see how doing it on computers could be an advancement, but I still have some worries about the change. It’s our future, you know?” says Nicholls.

The Old SAT

The SAT first began to roll out to American high schools in the 1920s. In the almost century its been given, it has always been taken with pencils and paper packets. The current exam totals three hours, but often goes longer with time spent preparing tests, passing out papers, and taking breaks. The exam is split into two sections, English and Math.

The English section is split into two more sections, the Evidence-Based Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. The reading portion gives 65 minutes to answer 52 questions, while the writing section gives you 35 minutes to answer 44 questions. The reading section features a few longer passages with multiple analysis questions about each passage. The writing portion asks about the rules of writing: spelling, vocabulary, and grammar.

Together, the reading and writing sections add up to half of the final score, accounting for a total of 800 points out of the 1600 maximum. Current seniors have taken both digital End-of-Course exams and SAT paper exams, but not all of them think the move to digital is an improvement. Max Bergmann, 12, likes the current English section of the SAT. In fact, he says that he prefers taking exams on paper.

“Honestly, I like paper tests. Especially for the reading section, because being able to underline and annotate is very helpful for understanding texts,” says Bergmann.

While some students may prefer a paper copy of a passage, digital exams have found ways to allow students more freedom. Students can highlight key phrases, underline main points, and even draw in the margins all through digital programs. Still, these programs can be difficult to use effectively. Abbie Shepard, 12, worries for the current sophomores who may not be used to the digital platform that College Board will use.

“If you study for the SAT, you are taught a certain way to cover things up or cross things out. That changes with a digital test. It will take a lot of time to learn the new tools,” says Shepard.

With the test just a year away, students are left wondering whether they will get to try out the exam beforehand or even learn what tools they can use. The English section usually features a lot of annotation, which may be difficult for the digital SAT, but what about the Math Test? Bergmann also thinks digital math may be more difficult.

“I prefer math on paper hands down. Having the problem next to your hand as you’re writing makes it a lot easier,” says Bergmann.

The math portion of the SAT is also split into two sections, one with and one without a calculator. The first section asks 20 questions in 25 minutes. The questions focus on computational ability, application of formulas, and understanding relationships. The calculator approved section asks 38 questions in 55 minutes. These questions focus more heavily on the use of multivariable equations and theoretical applications.

The format of the SAT changes quite frequently. The exam used to be much longer. It had three sections, including a mandatory essay, and was scored out of a possible 2400 points. Previous exams penalized students for incorrect answers, so students were encouraged not to guess. Thankfully for students, scores are now based only on what amount of correct answers you put. This means you will not have points deducted from your score if you leave questions blank, and you will only be scored on the questions you do answer.

College Board has been known to make major changes, but what exactly will be changing for the class of 2025? Even though the changed exams will be taken in just over a year, many students are unaware of the specifics. One of these students, Aneesha Guna, 10, is concerned that she and many of her peers may not be ready.

“All of these years, we’ve heard about the SAT and how you should prepare. But now, it’s changing a lot and I don’t hear much about it. I feel like I’m not as prepared now,” she says.

Mario Aranda

The New SAT: Changes and Opinions
The PSAT and SAT will be taken on computers or tablets by fall of 2023 and spring of 2024. Timing wise, the test will now take only two hours and 15 minutes, but students will have more time per question. The biggest change is that the test will adapt to the skillset of the test taker. Every test will become unique, depending on how you answer questions.

“It could be good because it adapts to your skill set and what you know, but it may not accurately represent a student’s knowledge. When you test everyone on the same level you can see where they are at. If questions are different, you’re gonna get different results for everyone,” Nicholls says.

The math and English sections will be split into two stages, with the second stage adapting after the results of the first. Now, both of the math sections will allow for the use of a calculator. Each section asks 22 questions in 35 minutes, which is a major increase in time per question. The English sections have been merged into one Reading and Writing section, which is also split into two stages. The grammar and comprehension based questions will be tested in the same time frame. The first and second stage each ask 27 questions in 32 minutes. The reading passages are supposed to be shorter, with only one or two questions dedicated to each.

College Board has not released any information on the specifics of how the system will work, but there are a few assumptions we can make. The knowledge tested is supposed to remain mostly unchanged, but the aforementioned changes to the format of the sections will likely entail slightly different questions. The math portion may focus less on computation and more on theory or application. The English section will likely focus more on large-scale themes and less so on basic comprehension. College Board is very excited about all of these changes, but some students are a little weary of the changes. Aneesha Guna does like the change to digital, but she feels like they haven’t gotten enough warning for it.

“I do prefer digital. I don’t have to worry about pencils or bubbling properly… But, it’s definitely scary, cause I won’t have as much preparation with a digital test… Like, I don’t know what to do now,” she says.

The Bottom Line

Students have long considered the SAT the standard test to take before college applications. College Board is trying to keep up with the times and move digital, following in the foot steps of Florida EOCs and state-wide assessments. They’re taking full advantage of the format and trying to get a better understanding of a students’ abilities rather than basic knowledge. While it may be difficult for some to adjust, these changes are supposed to make the whole system more efficient.

“Transferring from the paper test to the digital test in one year will be hard, but just do your best,” says Shepard.

In College Board’s study, 80% of students found the digital exam less anxiety-inducing. The survey indicated 100% of the test administrators and educators had a good experience working with the digital SAT. After a year of COVID-19 quarantines, block scheduling, and more, Edgewood students are sure to be well-prepared for anything College Board will throw at them.