Why is the SAT Changing?

SAT, ACT, Prep, College, Admissions

As you might be familiar, the SAT is changing. For the past 10 years, the SAT was on a 2400-scale. However, the SAT is now going back to a 1600-scale. I say “back to” because the SAT had always been out of 1600 points prior to 2005. However, the 1600-SAT exam that you are going to take will be different than the one your parents took when they were in high school. So you might be wondering, why is the SAT changing?

High School Common Core
I’ll start by giving you the reasons that the College Board, the company that publishes the SAT, gives for why the SAT is changing. First, the College Board states that this SAT makeover is so that the SAT is better aligned with the Common Core. The Common Core is a set of standards that have been developed in an attempt to make sure that students across the nation are meeting some basic requirements for each grade level. The President of College Board, David Coleman, was a key person in helping develop the Common Core. Therefore, when he took over as the President of the College Board in 2012, David Coleman was very interested in aligning the SAT with the Common Core.

However, the SAT has always proclaimed that it tests what students learn in high school. This is nothing new. Aligning the SAT with the Common Core is not a huge change to the longstanding mission of the SAT. It will continue to be an exam that asks standardized questions in Reading, Writing, and Math.

Better Workforce & Democracy
Perhaps the most ridiculous reason that the College Board gives for why the SAT is changing is that it will create a better workforce and a better democracy. I personally have never heard of a standardized test creating a better society!? For example, the College Board may claim that the problem-solving that you learn for the SAT will help you better problem solve when you are working in a job. However, I don’t believe most people think about the obscure algebra problem they did on the SAT when they encounter a problem at work. In addition, to claim that math, reading, and writing problems will create a better democracy is quite a stretch. In any case, this is actually what the College Board is claiming about this new SAT.

Of course, the College Board makes these claims because it needs the SAT to be accepted as an admissions exam for college. If the SAT did not reflect what students learned in high school, did not better prepare students for the workforce/college, and did not create a better democracy, it would be less likely to be used as a college admissions exam. Therefore, I wouldn’t believe the hype. The SAT is simply one exam that is trying to create a standardized measure to compare high school students across the nation. I do admit that the SAT does a very good job at making a standardized exam that measures students based on their level of preparation. The key here is “based on their level of preparation.” If a student has prepared extensively for the SAT, their score will be directly related to that. If a student has never prepared for the SAT, their score will usually reflect that.

Why are most business decisions made in this world? The answer: money. And the College Board’s business decision to change the SAT is no different. The College Board makes money when more students take the SAT. But in 2012, for the first time ever, more students took the ACT than the SAT. Although it wasn’t a lot more students (it’s still about 50/50), it was more. And the College Board decided to do something about it — change the SAT. The timing of the announcement was ironic – in December of 2012, the College Board learned that more students took the ACT…and two months later in February of 2013, the College Board announced that the SAT will be changing.

So why did more students begin to take the ACT? Many students started to find the ACT easier. Traditionally, whether you took the SAT or the ACT really depended on your geographic region. Students who live on the East or West coast typically take the SAT. Students who live in the Midwest typically take the ACT. But there is no logical reason for this test preference. Which test you take really makes no difference in terms of college admissions.

So now that we understand that many students perceived the ACT to be easier (although it’s not necessarily easier), what did the SAT do? Well, they made their test easier. They eliminated obscure vocabulary, they reduced the number of answer choices from 5 to 4, they eliminated any penalty for guessing, they made the essay optional, and made many other changes that essentially made the SAT easier (although the College Board would never say that explicitly). This also made the SAT more similar to the ACT. Therefore, you are in a great position. The SAT and the ACT are more similar than they ever have been. So now, more than ever, it really does not matter which test you take.

Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation (formerly 2400 Expert), a #1 bestselling SAT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC's Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect and teaches students his methods in an online SAT prep class.