In January 2022, the College Board (CB for brevity) announced a sweeping revamp of the SAT, its flagship college admissions test. The changes took effect for non-US testers earlier this year (2023), and they’ll be implemented for domestic testers at the beginning of 2024. These adjustments are the most dramatic shift in the world of high school standardized testing since… the last time the SAT reinvented itself, in 2016.
Sarcasm aside, the upcoming changes are substantial, and they will affect the way students prepare for the SAT to a commensurate degree. With many rising juniors now beginning the process of choosing and preparing for either the SAT or the ACT, your friendly neighborhood test experts are here to cover the changes to the SAT coming in 2024: what’s changing, what’s staying the same, and how it affects you. Let’s dive in.
An Overview of the Current SAT
The SAT is one of the two standardized tests utilized by colleges during the admissions process, with the other being the ACT. Comprised of four sections that contain a mix of multiple-choice questions and grid-in math problems, the SAT has a maximum possible composite score of 1600 points. The test bordered on a mandatory rite of passage for high school juniors and seniors for many years; despite the current proliferation of test-optional admissions policies prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of aspiring college freshmen still sit for the SAT each year, oftentimes more than once.
The structure of the current version of the SAT is as follows:
SAT Structure Through December 2023
|Structure and Length
|Writing & Language
|Math No Calculator
(15 multiple-choice, 5 grid-in)
|Math With Calculator
(30 multiple-choice, 8 grid-in)
Until recently, there was an optional fifth section of the test that was comprised of one essay prompt; however, that Writing section was eliminated a couple of years ago, and it is currently only administered on School Day testing dates in specific states.
What Are the SAT Changes for 2023 and 2024?
Now that we’ve covered the structure of the current paper-and-pencil SAT (which is still available to US-based students for 5-6 more months), let’s discuss the changes that are coming at the beginning of next year. Here are the high-level SAT changes that American students can expect to see starting in 2024.
(Note that we’re not diving into all of the content and question-type changes within each individual section; I’ll be covering that more rigorously in a future post.)
The first and most obvious change is that the new SAT will be an entirely digital test. The test will be administered through the Bluebook testing app, which must be downloaded to the student’s device prior to test day. This means no more bubble sheets and no more #2 pencils—just a laptop or tablet, which can be either a personal device that you bring to the testing center or a loaner device that you borrow from College Board or your school for the test.
Fewer (Types of) Sections
As I outlined above, the current paper-and-pencil SAT has four different section-types: Reading, Writing & Language, Math No Calculator, and Math with Calculator. The new digital SAT, however, will have only two: Reading & Writing and Math. Because there will be two modules of each of these two section-types, the total number of sections will remain at four; however, the number of different sections you need to prepare for will be cut in half.
See below for a table containing more details about the breakdown of the new section structure.
|Structure and Length
|Reading and Writing
-Time and questions split evenly between two modules
-Time and questions split evenly between two modules
Though the number of sections that makes up the test isn’t changing, you’ll notice if you compare the two tables above that the new version of the SAT will be significantly shorter: 2 hours and 14 minutes of testing time for the digital test compared to 3 hours of testing time for the current paper-and-pencil test. If you’re anywhere close to as lazy as I was in high school, this will be music to your ears.
One of the less visible but still significant changes coming with the digital SAT is the introduction of a section-adaptive test structure. This means that for each of the two section-types (Reading & Writing and Math), the first module will contain questions of a range of difficulty levels in order to allow the system to assess the student’s ability; then, the second module of each section-type will be selected from two options (a harder version and an easier version) by the testing algorithm based on the student’s performance on the first module.
In layman’s terms, this means that if you crush the first Math or Reading & Writing module, you can expect to see harder questions on the second; if you struggle with the first module of either section-type, your second module of that section will contain easier problems.
New Calculator Usage Options
Calculator lovers, rejoice—the day you’ve been waiting for has arrived. Whereas the current SAT has one calculator-active Math section and one calculator-inactive Math section, both Math modules on the digital SAT will be calculator active, which means that you don’t have to do a single operation in your head anymore.
Not only that, but the Bluebook testing app has a version of the Desmos graphing calculator built into its interface. This is a major win for students who aren’t especially quick at doing things like adjusting the window and finding intersection points on their personal graphing calculators, as Desmos makes those actions extremely intuitive.
And an underrated part of the new policy is that you don’t have to choose one calculator or the other: you can bring your personal calculator to do arithmetic operations if that’s easier for you, then pull up the in-app Desmos calculator for any graphing-related questions. This promises to be a substantial improvement for students who are on the lookout for opportunities to let the calculator do some of the heavy lifting for them.
SAT Changes Coming in 2024: What’s NOT Changing?
If it wasn’t clear from everything I listed above, the SAT in March 2024 is going to look VERY different from any of its previous iterations. With that being said, however, not everything will be changing when the test shifts from paper-and-pencil to digital; in fact, there are quite a few things that will be remaining the same. Below is a list of the biggies.
- No changes to testing locations: For a hot minute during the height of the COVID lockdown, College Board had big plans to roll out at-home SAT testing for students across the globe; however, those plans have been put on hold for at least the foreseeable future. Though the new SAT will be entirely digital, it will still be administered only at schools or at approved test centers.
- No changes to scoring scales: The mechanics of SAT scoring will be changing with the rollout of the digital test. Instead of depending solely on how many questions you get correct in each section, as is the case with the current scoring system, your score will also depend on the difficulty level of the questions you get right, as well as which module they were in. On a macro level, however, the overall scaled scores that students receive after all the calculations are done will look exactly the same: a Verbal (Reading & Writing) score with a max of 800 and a Math score with a max of 800, which are added together to create a composite score with a max of 1600.
- No changes to mechanics of question format: Though the new SAT will introduce some new question-types, the composition of the test in terms of question mechanics will remain more or less the same: the Reading & Writing section will consist entirely of multiple-choice questions with four possible answers, and the Math section will consist of ~75% multiple-choice questions and ~25% student-produced-response (grid-in) questions. The only real change here is the fact that grid-ins on the digital SAT will sometimes have negative answers.
- No changes to accommodations: Documentation released by College Board states that the digital SAT will “offer students with disabilities the same range of accommodations available in the paper-based suite”; the process for requesting those accommodations will also remain the same. CB’s documents also indicate that students who require a paper-based test due to a disability will still be able to access one upon receiving approval.
SAT Changes Coming in 2024: How Do They Affect You?
Reactions to all of this information will likely vary depending on the individual test-taker. I’ve worked with a number of students who would have loved to take the test on a computer, as the migration of school assignments and activities to the digital realm, which was accelerated by COVID, made them more comfortable working in that medium. On the other hand, I also know many students who value the ability to interact with the test by writing in the booklet, particularly in the Reading section.
If you fall into the latter category, I wouldn’t worry too much: reading passages on the new SAT will be substantially shorter than on the current test and will only have one question associated with them rather than 10-11, which should limit the amount of annotation that feels necessary while you read. Additionally, you’ll still have access to scratch paper on the digital test, so you’ll be able to take notes as you read even if you can’t mark directly on the passages.
One aspect of the new SAT that almost nobody is likely to complain about is the shorter testing time. A shorter test means more of your Saturday to enjoy, but it also means less mental fatigue while you’re testing; if you’re someone who tends to feel noticeably less sharp at the end of a 3-hour test than you do at the beginning, you may very well feel that your performance improves once the SAT changes in 2024.
Another consequence of the digital test format that should be universally popular is a much shorter turnaround time for scores. College Board has stated that the waiting period for testers to receive their scores should now be “days instead of weeks”; this will allow students to make decisions about repeat testing sooner, which will in turn give them more time to prep for that next test.
Finally, digital tests are more secure than paper-and-pencil tests in a number of ways. Because testers can’t return to a section once they complete it—not like “you’re not supposed to”, like “you literally can’t access it anymore”—less honest students will be unable to do things like discuss questions from previous sections during the break, then go back into the testing room and change their answers. This is a positive development for the vast majority of students who didn’t try to game the system in that way.
SAT Changes Coming in 2024: When Do They Take Effect?
As I’ve alluded to at different times in this post, the rollout for the new digital SAT suite is a multi-stage process. The new test has actually already been rolled out for international students: it began to be administered in non-US locations in spring of 2023. For domestic students, the PSAT will utilize the new digital format this year (2023-2024) for the first time; then, starting in spring of 2024, the SAT will transition to its new digital form. From that point on, the current paper-and-pencil test will no longer be available.
See below for a graphic that summarizes the timeline for the rollout of the new test.
Source: The Digital SAT Suite of Assessments Specifications Overview, Page 3
SAT Changes Coming in 2024: How to Prepare
Rising high school juniors who are starting to think about test prep are in an interesting spot right now as they decide on their best plan of action: instead of simply choosing between SAT and ACT, they’re now choosing between current SAT, new SAT, and ACT. If that applies to you, here are the main options you have and a few things to consider about each one.
Start Prepping Now and Take the Current SAT
Though the shift to the digital SAT looms large on the horizon, there are still four test dates remaining in 2023 for the current iteration of the SAT: August, October, November, and December. This means that students who are nervous about being guinea pigs for the domestic implementation of the new test still have time to prepare, test multiple times, and hopefully earn a score they’re happy with.
If that’s your plan, however, I would highly recommend starting the process ASAP. Though there is a good amount of overlap between the current SAT and the new SAT in terms of content and question-types, there are also significant differences; this means that if you get caught in a situation where you want to continue testing as the calendar rolls over into 2024, you’ll have some new material to prepare for that you wouldn’t have needed to worry about otherwise.
The advantage of taking this path is that there are a ton of materials out there for the current version of the SAT. You’ve got eight official practice tests hosted on College Board’s website, as well as a number of third-party resources (albeit of inconsistent quality) and even some unofficial previous tests floating around the internet. This provides you with plenty of ammo to get the process of preparing for and taking the SAT out of the way before the changes coming in 2024.
Wait to Prep Until the New SAT Arrives
If you don’t think you’ll realistically be able to earn an SAT score that meets your needs in the next 5-6 months, your next option is to wait for the rollout of the new test.
If you’re considering this route, note that you’ll probably want to delay starting to prep until closer to the end of 2023 because of the dearth of practice materials currently available for the digital SAT. As of now, there are only four adaptive digital practice tests available through the Bluebook app and four linear practice tests hosted on the College Board website; since the linear and adaptive tests pull from the same question pool, you’ll probably even notice some overlap between them, which means that these materials don’t really constitute eight unique tests. Khan Academy does also have some prep material for the new SAT, but it’s very limited.
The upshot of this is that it will be very hard to make this content last until the first digital test date in March 2024. It’s likely that there will be new practice material produced over the coming months, both by College Board and by third-party companies, but currently there’s simply not much. Make sure you’re timing your prep to ensure that you have enough material to be practicing consistently until your test date.
Take the ACT Instead
The final path you can choose is to totally disregard the changes to the SAT coming in 2024 and simply prep for the ACT instead. The ACT is a very different test in several ways, prioritizing problem-solving under time pressure over in-depth content knowledge; however, it’s just as learnable as the SAT, and often even more so for students who are able to read and process quickly. There is also a ton of high-quality practice content available, which means that most students won’t need to worry about running out of materials.
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Whichever path you choose, we’d love to help you achieve your best possible score. Reach out today to learn more about how the Pros can help you beat the old SAT, the new SAT, or the ACT.
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SAT Changes Coming in 2024: Final Thoughts
We’ve covered a lot of ground today: changes to the structure and delivery of the SAT coming in 2024, aspects of the test that we know will not be changing significantly, and how all of this affects you. There will very likely be new information released over the coming months; if so, rest assured that they’ll lock me back in this dark room until I write something about it, so make sure you check back regularly for any new updates.
SAT Changes Coming in 2024: Frequently Asked Questions
Is there still an essay on the new SAT?
Nope, you’ve dodged this particular bullet once again. The essay portion of the SAT was largely discontinued in 2021, and there are no indications that the digital SAT will be bringing it back.
Will the upcoming changes to the SAT make it easier?
It largely depends on the test-taker. There are changes coming to the test that many students will likely appreciate: reading passages will be shorter, students will have access to a calculator for the entirety of the Math section, and total testing time will decrease by more than 25%. This may make the test feel easier to many students; however, remember that your SAT scaled scores are calculated based in part on the performance of other students. If more students are consistently getting more questions correct, the bar for earning a high score will rise.
Is it still worth taking the SAT?
For many students, yes. Though most colleges and universities have moved to a test-optional admissions policy as a result of the COVID pandemic, test scores can still help you show admissions officers that you fit what they’re looking for in an incoming freshman. Look up the median SAT scores for the schools in which you’re most interested—if you believe that you can earn a score that’s at or above that 50% mark, it’s often a good idea to take the test.
Why are colleges dropping the SAT?
How much time do you have? The short answer is that most of them aren’t. With a few notable exceptions (looking at you, University of California system), the majority of schools have gone test-optional, not test-blind. This means that they don’t require you to submit scores with your application, but they will still consider them if you do. This upsurge in test-optional policies was largely caused by concerns about the ability of students to take the SAT safely during COVID, but it’s also the result of a series of debates about the utility of standardized tests that have been going on for years.