New Year, New SAT – What You Need to Know

In Spring of 2024, College Board (the company that creates and distributes the SAT test) will roll out its most drastic format change since the switch to the current 1600 point model that has been the staple for over a decade. Along with the test going fully virtual, College Board has released several sample tests showing massive overhauls to the test format. In this post, we’ll cover what you need to know about the new test and how to prepare accordingly.

Pros and Cons

First things first, the test will be administered “virtually” starting in Spring of 2024. No more scantrons, waiting weeks for scores, or issues with nullified test scores to do illicit test distribution: that’s good news for students. Since the tests are individualized (more on that later), there is no risk of students accessing tests before the official dates. There are downsides, of course – College Board is putting the kibosh on the “old” pencil and paper method which means tests will be computer based. Though the virtual platform does allow for text annotations, highlighting, and other functionality, test takers who are accustomed to bubbling answers or annotating directly on the test will be forced to adapt.

Virtual, but… Not

Students taking the new SAT will NOT be able to take the test from home, despite the switch to a virtual platform. College Board toyed around with the idea of home-tests during the height of the pandemic but found it too difficult to implement fairly, so test takers will report to testing centers much like the current SAT. Students will be able to use their own computers, a computer at the testing center, or a device provided by College Board, so accessibility issues should not be a problem. The new test also boasts numerous safeguards against power or internet outages.

Alongside changes to the test format, much of the test content is receiving a comprehensive overhaul. With more time per question, shorter passages, and a reduced overall test time, students taking experimental versions of the new SAT have reported a much more forgiving experience, reduced anxiety, and increased test confidence. Time will tell whether this applies to all students once the test is released; however, we will discuss some of the basic changes so you can prepare.

Multistage Adaptive Testing

Though this might sound complex, the “multistage adaptive testing” change is really quite simple. The reading and math sections will be administered in two “modules” that test students’ ability to answer questions at different difficulty levels. Module one can be viewed as a sort of “trial” phase where students are given a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. Once the SAT calculates the student’s proficiency in module one, an algorithm will determine what types of questions will appear on module two. For example, a student who performs very well in module one will have a more challenging second module. Complex systems in place will calculate a score based on the performance in both modules. For more information, visit the College Board website.

Key Content Changes

  • 1. The test is shorter — The test has been trimmed down to just over two hours instead of three. Students who participated in the trial reported significantly better experiences with concentration and stress.
  • 2. There is more time per question. — Since the test has been significantly trimmed down, you’d think the questions would require less time as well, but the inverse is true: the SAT is granting students more time to answer each question on all sections.
  • 3. Reading passages are much, much shorter. — Saying the new SAT has shorter reading passages is a massive understatement. The reading passages are now only a paragraph long (if that) and are only attached to one question. This is the most significant change across the entirety of the new SAT. Just because the passages are shorter (so College Board claims) doesn’t mean that they won’t require intensive reading, though our expert analysis shows that the questions are easier – plan and simple.
  • 4. Calculators are allowed on all math sections. — Most humans have calculators within an arm’s reach at all times, so College Board has revamped the math section to emulate reality. No more “non-calculator” sections: calculators are still closely monitored by proctors, so make sure you choose your tools accordingly. Calculators cannot transmit or receive data.
  • 5. Multistage Adaptive Testing — The reading and writing sections are now combined. The new reading and writing section as well as the math will be administered in two “modules” that test students’ abilities to answer intermixed easy, medium, and hard questions. This new test format is tailored to each student based on an algorithm, so cheating will be virtually impossible.
  • 6. Faster scoring — Since the test is virtual, scores will be available within days instead of weeks. Nice!

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