The New SATs: What You Need to Know

high school testing

The New SATs: What You Need to Know


Despite the fact that some colleges and universities are moving away from test-based admissions, about 1.7 million students took the SAT in 2022, up from 1.5 million in 2021.There are good reasons for that, including the fact that most colleges and universities will still use test scores if they are made available to them.


Brian W. Stewart, M.Ed., founder and president of BWS Education Consulting, Inc. and author of the upcoming book Barron’s Digital SAT Study Guide Premium, 2024, notes that the test is likely to be only one of many optional criteria for evaluating possible admissions. Reference letters and lists of extracurricular activities may also be optional, but that does not mean applying students should not provide them. “Given how competitive university admissions have become, students should go above the minimum requirements to secure admission and scholarships.” He continues, “Think about it this way—you may be able to apply for a loan without a credit score, but it makes it much easier for the lender to approve your application with that information.”


The SAT will look different in the coming months. Since spring of this year, international students have been taking the SAT digitally and by spring of next year, all students will be testing digitally. What do parents need to know about these changes?


What is the difference between the paper SAT and the digital SAT?


The most obvious difference, of course, is that students will take the digital SAT on a computer. This should be no problem for “digital natives” or those born after 1980 who have been surrounded by digital technology for their entire lives.


Also, the digital examination will be shorter, two hours instead of three. Part of the goal of these changes is to make the test less stressful for students, and making it a shorter test is thought to accomplish that. Unlike the paper test which specifies when you can and can not use a calculator, the digital SAT will allow calculator use throughout the math test. In fact, both a calculator and a timer are included in the testing program.


According to Stewart, another difference will be that the digital SAT tests the more concrete skills that students will need for both college and careers. “Evaluating argumentative evidence, understanding the fundamentals of grammar, and solving real-world math problems are all essential skills tested on the new SAT,” says Stewart.


Lastly, the new digital test will have dozens of short passages to read rather than the five longer passages of up to 750 words a piece. Says Stewart, “By having many shorter passages with more varied topics, the digital SAT will likely feel more accessible to students who may be thrown off by longer passages.”


How can parents help their children prepare for the digital SAT?


Some of the preparation work will be the same as for the paper test. But Stewart stresses the importance of keeping up with the changes to the test. Parents can help their children prepare by:


  • Having them take the digital PSAT this fall when it is offered in schools.


This test will be formatted like the digital SAT and will first be offered in March of 2024.


  • Making sure their materials are up to date


Says Stewart, “The digital SAT represents the most significant change to the test in its history, so it is critical that students become familiar with the new question types and test format. Many of the new question types, like rhetorical synthesis and textual evidence, are very different from what is currently on the SAT.”


  • Encouraging them to read for fun


Reading for fun can help students on many levels, but it is of particular importance to doing well on the SAT. According to Stewart, “The digital SAT has excerpts from a wide variety of genres—poetry, novels, social science, natural science, and historical documents—so reading widely will be quite helpful in getting students ready for the test.”


Ultimately the changes to the SAT test are significant and may seem daunting to parents. But as today’s students have grown up increasingly using computers for their learning, this change may be a step in the right direction, giving students a chance to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and ability to think critically in a familiar format.

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