Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jan 25, 2022

The College Board has announced that the SAT will abandon its traditional paper-and-pencil format and will be solely administered on computer by 2024. In addition, test time will be reduced from 3 to 2 hours. The New York Times has details and reactions:


The SAT will soon be taken exclusively on a computer, the College Board announced on Tuesday, ending an era in which high schoolers have had to make sure their No. 2 pencils were sharpened and their answer bubbles were completely filled in.

The exam, which students will complete on laptops or tablets at testing centers, will also be shortened from three hours to two hours. The changes will begin in 2024 in the United States and in 2023 in other countries.

The College Board is trying to retool the exam that has stressed out millions of students in the face of questions about whether college admissions tests are fair, or even necessary.

The number of SAT test takers declined from 2.2 million high schoolers who graduated in 2020 to 1.5 million in the class of 2021, according to the College Board. About 1.7 million students in the class of 2022 have taken the test to date.

In addition to its transition to a digital test, the College Board will also allow calculators on the entire math section, shorten reading passages and reflect a wider range of topics.

In pilot runs that were conducted last year, 80 percent of students said they found the digital tests less stressful, according to the College Board, which said laptops or tablets would be provided for students who need them.

Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, which questions the use of standardized tests in college admissions, said in a statement that the shift to a digital SAT “does not magically transform it to a more accurate, fairer or valid tool for assessing college readiness.”

In response to criticism of its test, the College Board has said that SAT scores serve to strengthen the applications of many students who test better than their high school grade-point averages would indicate.

Some college administrators said the upcoming move to a digital platform was overdue. A year ago, the College Board announced it would do away with SAT subject tests and the essay question.

“It’s about time that they’ve moved away from paper and pencil,” said Kent R. Hopkins, vice president for academic enterprise enrollment at Arizona State University. Mr. Hopkins, who serves on a College Board advisory panel, said he was hopeful that the new format would enhance security and make the test less “clunky.”

The Wall Street Journal has additional information on the College Board announcement:


Put away your No. 2 pencils: The new SAT is digital and will be a shorter, simpler and perhaps easier test.

The shift will begin internationally in March 2023 and in the U.S. in March 2024, said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of college readiness assessments at the College Board, the nonprofit that runs the exam. The PSAT will also go digital.

“The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give and more relevant,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

The new test will take about two hours, down from three. Reading passages will be shorter and will be followed by a single question, and math problems will be less wordy, Ms. Rodriguez said. Calculators will be allowed for all math questions, and scores will be returned in days instead of weeks. The test will be administered only at schools or testing sites.

This year, more than 76% of all four-year colleges and universities won’t mandate an entrance exam score for admissions, according to FairTest, a nonprofit that advocates for a more limited use of standardized tests. Most will continue making the tests optional through at least the 2023 admissions cycle. The move away from the standardized tests accelerated in 2020 after the University of California dropped the exam just as the pandemic forced testing sites to close, making the exam difficult to administer.

This shift has dented the College Board’s balance sheet. In 2020 its fees from programs and services declined to $760 million from $1.05 billion the prior year, according to financial statements. Last January the company laid off about 14% of its employees and eliminated SAT subject tests.

The digital test will continue to be scored on the 1600-point scale. Students will be able to take the digital exam on their own tablet or laptop or on a device provided to them. The College Board has been hit with security breaches in the Middle East and Asia and said the digital platform will make the test more secure. The new format enables each student to have a unique test form, making it “practically impossible to share answers,” according to the College Board.

John Barnhill, a College Board Trustee and associate vice president for academic affairs at Florida State University, said he believes the largest impact will be on international students, who will have greater access to the test.

“Testing internationally has been very problematic,” he said. “There aren’t as many tests available, and sometimes there are some dramatic cancellations.”

For admissions officers, the critical question will be how reliable the scores are, and that remains to be seen, he said.

The College Board piloted the test this fall, and Christal Wang, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Arlington, Va., is among the students who volunteered to take it. Because the digital exam was an hour shorter, she said, it was significantly easier.

“It doesn’t test your attention span the same way,” she said. “You definitely don’t feel as strained.”

Ms. Wang said she was pressed for time taking the old test but finished with time to spare on the digital exam. “What I would tell other students is that you don’t have to practice reading the same way,” she said.

The Supreme Court has agreed to take up two cases that have significant ramifications for college admissions in the US. SCOTUSblog has the details:

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reconsider the role of race in college admissions. In a brief order, the justices agreed to take up two cases asking them to overrule their landmark 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, holding that the University of Michigan could consider race as part of its efforts to assemble a diverse student body. The decision to grant review in the two new cases suggests that the court’s conservative majority is poised to do just that.

The cases are Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. The court consolidated them for oral argument, and they likely will be argued early in the 2022-23 term, which begins in October.

Six years ago, a divided court upheld the University of Texas’ consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 4-3 majority in Fisher v. University of Texas, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The composition of the court has changed significantly since then: Although Justice Elena Kagan was recused from the Texas case because she had been involved in it as the solicitor general of the United States, Kennedy retired in 2018 and was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett succeeded Ginsburg, who died in 2020.

It was therefore a much more conservative court that considered the latest petitions asking the justices to revisit the issue. Both petitions arose from long-running lawsuits filed by a group called Students for Fair Admissions. Founded by Edward Blum, a former stockbroker who also backed the challenger in Fisher (as well as the challengers in Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that narrowed the Voting Rights Act), the group describes its mission as helping to “restore colorblind principles to our nation’s schools, colleges and universities.”

The first case, filed against Harvard University, contends that the university’s race-conscious admissions policy discriminates against Asian American applicants. According to the group, Asian Americans are significantly less likely to be admitted than similarly qualified white, Black, or Hispanic applicants. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld Harvard’s policy, prompting SFFA to come to the Supreme Court in February 2021. The group urged the justices to take up the case and overrule Grutter, describing the 2003 ruling as a decision that was “grievously wrong” and now “sustains admissions programs that intentionally discriminate against historically oppressed minorities” – in the past, Jewish students, and now Asian Americans. The group also asked the justices to weigh in on whether Harvard’s policy violates Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination by entities receiving federal funding.

Natalie Wexler writes in Forbes that Harvard's decision to eliminate SAT/ACT requirements for the next four years might not result in a more diverse student body:


Harvard has made SAT and ACT scores optional for applicants for the next four years, joining a growing trend. But if colleges expect that policy to result in greater student diversity, studies show they’re likely to be disappointed.

More likely, they’re betting the move will increase the number of students from groups that have historically been underrepresented on campus and also score lower on the tests. The pandemic has prompted a number of colleges to go test-optional, but some institutions took that path long ago in hopes of increasing diversity. Harvard’s decision may prompt more schools to move in that direction.

But a recent study of 99 private colleges that adopted test-optional policies between 2005 and 2016 found that the proportion of Black, Latino, and Native American students increased by only one percentage point. The same was true for students from low-income families. Another smaller study published in 2015 found similar results.

Why? A researcher on the 2015 study told the Hechinger Report’s Jill Barshay that other factors in college admissions decisions—like extracurricular activities and advanced coursework—tend to privilege the same students who score high on tests. The more recent study noted that the same is often true of subjective criteria like letters of recommendation. That suggests that even if an institution goes so far as to bar admissions officers from considering test scores, as the massive University of California system has done, student bodies are unlikely to become significantly more diverse.

Tests could help colleges diversify, but that would require a different kind of test—plus a rethinking of much of the K-12 curriculum and of standard approaches to teaching. The roots of this problem run deep.

The Iowa regents have voted to make the SAT and ACT optional at all 3 state universities (Iowa, Iowa State, and University of Northern Iowa).


The Iowa Board of Regents unanimously voted on Wednesday to make the ACT and SAT optional in the state.

The tests first became optional due to the pandemic, but that change will now be permanent after the board's decision. Students applying to Iowa's three public universities, University of Northern Iowa, University of Iowa, and Iowa State University, will no longer be required to take one of the standardized tests.

"The goal of this request that's before you is to enable an alternative pathway that will really just give the admissions offices flexibility to make admissions decisions in the absence of an ACT or SAT score," BOR Chief Academic Officer Rachael Boon said to the board.

The universities will still use the Regent Admission Index, which combines a student's high school GPA and core college prep courses with an ACT score. Boon says that will continue to be the primary pathway for automatic admissions of Iowa residents, but that an alternative pathway will now be available to make decisions without the scores.

Boon said that the BOR's Admissions Study Team found that the ACT tests have "some value in predicting your GPA, but ultimately had a limited relationship to the likelihood of graduation." The BOR also had discussions with several high schools across the state about the change.

Nationally, many universities have decided to make these tests optional, and board members agreed that following this trend keeps them competitive. Boon said that the decision isn't about devaluing the ACT, but more about recognizing the different options for admissions.