The SAT is changing. What that means for NC high school students and their college prospects

Alex Brandon/AP
·6 min read

A rite of passage for many high school students is undergoing a major change with the news that the SAT will soon go digital and get shorter.

The announcement comes as more colleges and universities, including those in North Carolina, continue to reassess whether to require prospective students to submit standardized test scores as part of the admissions process. It will also impact how schools, tutors and test preparation companies work with students to get ready for the exam.

Here’s what to know about the changes to the SAT and how those changes will affect students, families and schools.

What’s changing about the SAT?

The revamped SAT will be different in a few ways.

The test will soon be taken on a computer or tablet, rather than with pencil and paper, the College Board announced Tuesday. In U.S. schools, the transition will happen in the spring of 2024, and the PSAT will go virtual by fall 2023.

The digital tests will still be administered by a proctor at schools or test centers rather than at home, per the College Board. Students will be allowed to use their own laptop or tablet or a “school issued device” to take the test.

“If students don’t have a device to use, College Board will provide one for use on test day,” the group said in a statement. “If a student loses connectivity or power, the digital SAT has been designed to ensure they won’t lose their work or time while they reconnect.”

In addition to going digital, the test will also be cut from three hours to “about two hours.” The new test will have “shorter reading passages with one question tied to each.”

Students will also be allowed to use calculators “on the entire Math section.”

And going digital will allow students and schools to get scores back faster, the College Board says.

What will SAT changes mean for students and families?

Changes to the test will mean changes in test preparation for high school students and their families, tutoring companies say.

Princeton Review editor-in-chief Rob Franek said in a statement the changes mean his company, which provides test-prep books and courses, will need to adapt its lessons and materials to the new model.

Dennis Yim, who serves as director of academics for the tutoring and test preparation company Kaplan, told the Observer he’s hopeful that the changes to the test will help reduce test anxiety for students.

“Historically, what’s been most challenging about the SAT has been it’s length,” he said, “so we believe that these changes, they’re going to make the testing experience less intimidating, and it’s going to likely make students more willing to take it.”

Yim, who described the changes as “some of the biggest in the nearly 100 year history” of the SAT, said organizations such as his will have to evaluate their own tests preparation materials in light of the changes.

They will, he added, have some time since the new tests won’t be rolled out in the U.S. for a couple of years. And there are things students who will be among the first to take the new tests can do now to get ready.

“The No. 1 thing I love telling students to do is take a free practice test … This is just to make sure you’re aware of what the challenges ahead will be. This will give you a baseline score,” Yim said.

Still, he added, early high school students with an eye towards college and time to spare before taking the SAT should focus on their GPA, their extracurriculars and building relationships with their teachers.

“Start thinking about how you’re going to tell your story in a genuine way” in your college applications, Yim said.

Which North Carolina colleges and universities require SAT scores?

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and more discussion of the value of standardized testing, more colleges and universities around the country have gone “test optional,” meaning they don’t actually require applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score as part of the admissions process.

Here’s where many schools in Charlotte and around North Carolina stand:

  • The 16 schools of the University of North Carolina System - including UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill and NC State - are not requiring SAT or ACT scores “for students applying for admission in Spring 2022, Summer 2022, and Fall 2022” due to COVID-19. Prospective students can choose to still submit test scores.

  • Duke University is not requiring SAT or ACT scores for students “in the 2021-22 admissions cycle” amid the ongoing pandemic, but applicants can still submit scores if they want to.

  • Wake Forest has not required prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of the admissions process since 2008. Applicants can still choose to share their scores.

  • Davidson College announced in March 2020 that the school would be test-optional for three years as a “pilot program.” At the end of the three years, the school will decide whether to remain test-optional or again require SAT or ACT scores. In the interim, applicants can decide for themselves whether to submit scores.

  • Elon University is test-optional for most applicants. Prospective students who are home-schooled, who attend a high school that doesn’t give letter grades, or who are applying for the school’s “Nursing, Accelerated Pathways to PA and DPT and the Accelerated 3+1 Business Dual-Degree programs” must submit SAT or ACT scores.

  • Queens University of Charlotte does not require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, but they can do so if they choose.

  • Johnson C. Smith University is temporarily waiving its requirement that students submit SAT or ACT scores due to the COVID-19 pandemic “for first-year undergraduate applicants who meet other admission requirements.”

Should you still take the SAT if your top choices are test-optional?

Even if the college or university you’re applying to doesn’t require an SAT or ACT score, submitting one can still help your application.

“Last year, we did a survey at Kaplan of admissions officers at test optional schools, and 60% of them said that the test can still give you an advantage,” Yim said.

High school students should consider what the rest of their application looks like and their test-taking abilities before deciding, he advises, and remember that taking the test doesn’t bind you to submitting that score to schools.

“You have to know your options. This is all about options,” he said. “You want to use a strategy that’s going to give you the best chance of getting into your top college choices.”

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