Changes to the SAT in 2022

The New SAT in 2022

A new version of the SAT is in place as of March 2022 that includes dramatic revisions. While the latest version of the SAT will continue to use the 1600-point scale it returned to in 2016, the optional essay and SAT subject tests remain discontinued, having been phased out in 2021. Beginning in 2023, international students will be able to take the SAT digitally, using computers instead of pencils and paper; students in the US will have access to the digital version in 2024. The test will still need to be administered by a proctor, however, meaning students will not be able to take it at home.

Other notable changes include:

  • Shorter test time: The newer version of the SAT will require two hours to complete instead of the previous three hours

  • More time between questions and sections

  • A broader range of topics will be covered in the reading section

  • Using a calculator will be permitted on the entire math section

  • Adaptive test: The set of questions presented to students in the second module or section will depend on how well the student performed in the first module. The test will not adapt question by question, allowing students to return to any question in a given module during the allotted test-taking time.

  • Scores will be available sooner: Scores will be available to students in days, rather than weeks, and score reports will no longer contain any subscores.

According to the College Board, these changes are being implemented in order to reduce the stress experienced by students and improve access to the exam, while increasing test security and maintaining the overall value of the SAT.

As can be noted by the extensive history of revisions and updates to the SAT listed below, the SAT is not a static, unchanging exam. What has not changed since the test’s beginning, however, is the importance of preparation. Despite the changes to the SAT, adequate preparation is still essential to success. While it is true that the new SAT attempts to align itself more closely with the actual material taught in high school courses, it is important that students understand the way in which this material is evaluated on the test. There are many different methods of testing students' knowledge, but high test scores are dependent on the ability to demonstrate this knowledge in the exercises that are specific to the SAT. Furthermore, time management skills, or lack thereof, can still have a significant impact on the overall score, and many of the successful test-taking strategies associated with older versions of the SAT remain relevant. Any given student is competing against millions of other test-takers, with those who meticulously prepare having a substantial advantage.

Changes to the SAT in 2021

On January 19th, 2021, the College Board discontinued the optional essay section of the exam, as well as SAT subject tests. The College Board explained their decision to discontinue the essay by stating that there were other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing. According to the College Board, the SAT subject tests were discontinued because they were no longer necessary, given the wide-spread reach and availability of advanced placement courses for students in high school.

Changes to the SAT in 2019

In early 2019, the College Board introduced the use of what it termed an "adversity score." While the score was not initially widely introduced, there were plans to incorporate it gradually over time; however, as public awareness of the new score increased, criticism was swift from both parents and educators alike. The adversity score consisted of an average of two ratings between 1 and 100. One score was for the student’s school environment and the other score was for the student’s neighborhood environment. The scores were intended to assess complex factors such as crime, poverty, and other socioeconomic obstacles a student might have to face on a daily basis that could impact their learning and access to quality education. The majority of the criticism revolved around the belief that it simply was not possible to quantify a student’s individual accomplishments and challenges in the same manner that their grasp of math and verbal knowledge could be quantified and measured. The adversity score was withdrawn in 2019, and the College Board issued statements acknowledging that it would focus on scoring achievement rather than reducing experiences into a single data point reflecting economic hardship. The idea behind the adversity score was not entirely done away with, however, as the College Board continued with their plan to report school and neighborhood scores to both students and college admission personnel, attempting to find some way to record economic hardship data a college could use however it saw fit.

Changes to the SAT in 2016

A new version of the SAT was put in place in March 2016 that included dramatic revisions to the test's scoring and content. The old 2400-point scale was replaced by the 1600-point system that was in use prior to the last major round of revisions in 2005. The essay, which was now optional, would be scored separately. The penalty for guessing was eliminated, with points no longer being deducted for incorrect answers. There was also a reduction in the number of obscure vocabulary words included on the test, and the reading passages drew on a wider range of disciplines. The new SAT emphasized words in larger context rather than the isolated sentence completion exercises of old. Math sections attempted to relate concepts to actual rather than theoretical problem-solving in addition to the analysis of data, emphasizing practical applications of mathematics that would likely be encountered by students early in the college learning.

Motives for the Revisions to the 2016 SAT

The College Board pointed to increased opportunity, greater usefulness for college admissions officers, and a higher degree of relevance to high school curricula as the major reasons behind the changes to the SAT. Older versions of the test, as exemplified by the frequent appearance of little-used vocabulary words and sentence completion exercises devoid of larger context, were seen by many as disconnected from real-world experience, both in academia and in professional life. Some college admissions officers expressed concern that the old SAT was more pedantic mental exercise than substantive assessment of college readiness. A 2013 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling showed a lower admissions emphasis on standardized test scores in comparison with high school curriculum and grade point average than was previously the case. The rising popularity of the ACT was also a factor in these revisions. The 2016 changes to the SAT aimed to address criticisms of the SAT's content, assessment, and credibility.

The 2016 SAT: More Higher-Order Thinking

The College Board's efforts resulted in an SAT that was agreed to be a much better assessment than before. Contextual evaluation of skills was one of the most significant of these improvements. Past test-takers were expected to reproduce "dictionary" definitions of words that did not account for contextual variations in word usage, and math skills were assessed in isolation. Vocabulary questions on the 2016 SAT were drawn entirely from reading passages, and students were asked specifically about the meaning of words as they were used in these passages, which tested reasoning and inference rather than memorization. 2016 SAT math questions were based on realistic scenarios that emphasized the use of logic more than abstract mathematical ability, and multi-step problems were also introduced. In general, the focus on higher-order thinking eliminated the necessity of learning "tricks" when preparing for the SAT.

The 2016 SAT: More Transparency and Predictability

The 2016 SAT also featured greater transparency and predictability. Older versions of the test often included deceptive questions and unnecessary complications that confounded otherwise high-performing students, who were unfamiliar with the presentation of these questions. The newer SAT addressed these problems with accessible and consistent assessment types. The content and scoring of the 2016 SAT was disclosed to a much greater degree of specificity than before. It became a relatively simple matter for students to learn which skills were tested in each section, the percentages of each question category, and the types of assessments they could expect. Test-takers would know in advance, for example, that reading passages would be taken from literature, history, social studies, and science. These revisions helped students prepare for the SAT, and they also greatly decreased the variation in content and difficulty level from test to test.

Changes to the SAT in 2005

The SAT underwent changes again in 2005, partly due to criticism from the University of California system, which maintained that the test did not closely align with high school curricula. Analogies were eliminated from the Verbal section, which was renamed "Critical Reading," and quantitative comparisons were removed from the Math section. A new writing section with an essay was added, and since the changes introduced an additional scored section, the overall maximum SAT score was raised from 1600 to 2400. To accommodate the new writing secion and essay, the total time alloted to complete the SAT was extended to 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Changes to the SAT in 1994

Numerous changes were made to the SAT in 1994, primarily in an attempt to make the test more closely reflect the work done by students in school, as well as the skills they would need to be successful in college. Antonymns were removed from the Verbal section to make rote memorization of vocabulary words less useful. The amount of content devoted to passage-specific reading was increased from 30% to approximately 50%. The included reading passages were chosen because they were believed to better reflect college-level reading material, compared to prior versions of the test.

In the math section, three important changes were made: the math content being tested was expanded, free-response questions were added, and students were permitted to use calculators. The tested material included data interpretation through charts and graphs, the concepts of median and mode, logic problems, counting and ordering problems, and the slopes of lines.

Changes to the SAT in 1974

By 1971, over one million students were taking the SAT every year, making it an integral part of completing high school and applying to college. The test underwent significant changes in 1974, beginning with the verbal section of the SAT. The number of reading comprehension questions was reduced to 30% of the overall verbal portion of the exam, and more antonym and analogy questions were added. In the Math section, data sufficiency questions were replaced with quantitative comparison questions, thought to be as effective as the previous style of questions but less complicated and requiring less time to complete.

The SAT in the 1940's—1970's

Beginning in 1942, the College Board stopped using the essay format for the SAT, and the test became standardized, ensuring a test score received by a student one year could be directly compared to a test score received by a student the following year. At this time, test scores ranged from 200 to 800 on each of the two test sections, Math and Verbal.

By 1951, use of the SAT had grown rapidly, with approximately 800,000 people taking the test that year. The content of the exam changed very little over those first few decades of its existence with those changes that were introduced including:

  • the introduction of sentence completion questions

  • the introduction of quantitative comparison math questions

  • small alterations in the length of the exam

Origins of the SAT: 1920's

The SAT was first introduced in 1926 and was known as the "Scholastic Aptitude Test." Administered to roughly 8,000 students, many of whom were applying to Yale University and Smith College, the test was born out of the nationwide interest in intelligence tests and the need for uniform university entrance exams. The earliest versions of the exam were essay-based and graded by hand, requiring several days for a student to complete and even longer for proctors to grade.