What parents, students need to know about SAT changes

Big changes are on the horizon for those who administer and take the SAT as the College Board promises a pared-down online test in 2024. 

It was a standard in college admissions for nearly a century, but more students and universities are opting out of the hours-long test. The College Board hopes its new test will prove less stressful for students while still delivering an accurate predictor for college preparedness.

"The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant," Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at College Board said in a statement. "We’re not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform. We’re taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible. With input from educators and students, we are adapting to ensure we continue to meet their evolving needs." 

The shorter, online version will be available next year for international students and launches state-side in 2024. But online doesn't mean at-home. Actually, many of the basics won't change.

How the SAT stays the same

Students will still sit at a school or other designated test site for a proctored exam. A perfect score will still be 1600 points. The test will consist of two sections: math, and reading and writing. 

How the SAT changes

The College Board says the new test will take about two hours instead of three. There will be fewer questions and students will get more time to answer each question. Calculators will be allowed throughout the entire math section. Reading passages will be shortened and students will answer just one question per passage.

Students will also get their scores back days after taking the test instead of waiting weeks to find out their results. 

Reactions to the changes

"I think it’s great," said Rafael Ramos, a junior at Steinbrenner High School in Lutz. "On the last PSAT I noticed that I was running out of time and I just bubbled it in."

The changes come as many universities reevaluate the metrics of measuring a student's college potential. When the pandemic canceled SAT and ACT exams across the country, many top universities waved standardized test score requirements. Harvard, Cornell and the University of Virginia are among the elite schools that, at least for now, don't require applicants to submit their test scores. 

By state law, Florida's state schools require SAT or ACT test scores for admissions, a rule that remained in place even through 2020 when many high school juniors and seniors struggled to sit for the exams due to pandemic cancelations.

"With the incoming 2021 class we saw drop in the SAT score of about 15 points," said Glen Besterfield, Dean of Admissions at the University of South Florida. "Really that’s because some students weren’t able to test and weren’t able to perform as well." 

MORE: A shorter, digital SAT test: What you need to know about changes to the college entrance examination

Some schools also question the equity of the test. Wealthier families can increase their child's odds of getting a top score by paying for private tutoring and covering the cost of sitting for multiple exams.

"The SAT has always been criticized on possibly having an effect on lower socio-economic classes," said Besterfield. "The jury will be out for quite a while on whether these changes have an effect on that." 

Khan Academy, which offers free online practices materials and exams, helps bridge the equity gap when it comes to the SAT. 

College admissions officials also insist an SAT or ACT score is only part of the equation when evaluating a prospective student.  

 "We would encourage a student to apply regardless of what their test score is because in-classroom performance is going to be more productive than a test score alone," said Charles Murphy, University of Florida Director of Freshman and International Admissions.