I’ve tried to reserve judgement on the latest changes made to the SAT by the College Board. Unfortunately, our expectations have been 100% met. Here’s what I think about the initial rollout of the digital SAT.

Let me explain.

But before we get into the outcome of the changes thus far, I think a quick summary of the historical changes to the SAT, could provide proper context. College Board has had a recent history of rolling out a new format or restructured exam over the last two decades. The first big change came in 2006 – with the announcement of an additional 800-point Writing section, leading to a combined possible score of 2400. Along with this big change, came smaller changes – with the removal of the long-standing “analogy” questions, removing the penalty for guessing, and going from five answer choices to four, just to name a few.

The second overhaul took place in 2016 when the SAT reinstated the 1600 scale from the pre-2006 era, combined the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections, and eliminated what was “affectionately” referred to SAT vocab questions. And this bring us to the most recent shift – the most significant change to date, not just because of the delivery method (which seems to be many people’s focus), but also due to the structure of the exam and how it’s scoring process drastically changed. The exam is still on a 1600 scale, but now it’s a shorter, computer-adaptive exam – not to mention the removal of any long reading passages and the no-calculator section.

Now, on to the expectations that were (unfortunately) met.

For those of us who have been around for the other two big changes, the roll-outs haven’t exactly been smooth – even with the long lead times and amidst the fanfare provided by College Board and many in the media. There are a couple common themes we’ve witnessed, and the themes have continued up to today:

The SAT has continued the trend of releasing very few versions of the updated test prior to release. In the latest round of changes, students only had four practice tests to work with – which was exacerbated by the fact that there are 36% fewer questions on each test than a year ago.* It may be clear without it being said, but this doesn’t provide students with the opportunity to properly prepare for the exam. A highly motivated student could move through the 392 questions in a week or two, given that timed, these questions should take students just nine hours to complete.

If that weren’t enough, after the first administration of the digital SAT in the United States took place on March 9th, many students took to various forums to express their concern that the four tests they practiced with weren’t reflective of what they experienced on the official test. This isn’t the first time this happened: it occurred in 2016 as well. During that transition, the four tests provided before the first official examination didn’t reflect the official tests over the next several years. From my estimation, the exam didn’t become fully “stable” until 2018 or 2019. Unfortunately, College Board met our expectations in when it came to the lack of good materials from which student can prepare.

Sample of the digital SAT
Sample of the digital SAT Reading and Writing section

SAT Test Day Problems

The challenges don’t end with preparation for the exam or the practice tests not reflecting the actual test. We have record of students arriving for their official SAT on May 4, 2024 (the second administration of the dSAT) and not being able to access the digital exam. At the 9:00AM deadline for starting, when the staff still couldn’t help the students gain access to their test, the students were dismissed and not permitted to take their test – no matter the time, money, or energy they put into preparing for that particular test day. And this occurred when the students arrived 15-20 minutes early for the exam, with their admission ticket in-hand, & already signed-in to the Bluebook app (the online app within which the SAT is administered) as instructed.

Test makers have encountered problems like this repeatedly over the years: from hardware (my own personal experience with the GRE 15 years ago) to software (systems crashing) to the bandwidth of available WiFi (which is what we think caused the issue on May 4th).

*Technically, there are other easier or more difficult questions in the “other module,” but those may not be easily accessible for students – as they’ll either need to intentionally miss enough questions to get to the easier module OR somehow score high enough to get to the more difficult module for each section.

We recommend students focus 100% of their energy on preparing for the ACT – since there are so few good SAT materials AND because of the significant challenges students have faced with the digital SAT. For help preparing for the ACT, contact any of our tutors. We offer FREE Practice Tests every Saturday morning at both our Prairie Village and Leawood locations for students to establish a baseline score. Sign up for this Satuday!