SAT exam to undergo drastic changes, years too late for university students

Students traverse the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus, where opinions on upcoming changes to the SAT exam are largely supportive. Photo credit: Alexandra Carnochan

Maddie Bassalik, Morgan Champey, Riley Doherty, Tayeba Hussein, Jacob Pereira, Harry Quillen, Sarah Perkel and Caroline Val contributed to the reporting in this article.

Having taken the SAT four times in high school, Brooke Buonocore remembers each sitting of the “dreaded” three-hour exam.

“It was exhausting,” said Buonocore, a senior biology major. With a goal of attending a top medical school, Buonocore said she needed “a stellar SAT score” to get accepted by her top choice undergrad college.

“So, I kept taking it until I got the score I wanted,” she said.

Buonocore’s experience is not atypical. The SAT is engraved in most students’ minds as the long, tedious exam that many must take multiple times to get their target score.

But testing frequency and exam anxiety may change for test takers: The SAT is getting a major makeover.

The College Board recently announced several major changes, including a shift to fully online testing, a shortening of the testing period from three hours to two, a streamlining of reading passages and an expedited release of test scores from several weeks to a few days.

Many University of Miami students welcome the test changes, which are scheduled for implementation next year internationally and the following year in the United States.

“I think it is about time the College Board made changes,” said Zoë Manz, a junior ecosystem science and policy major who also took the SAT four times. “The SAT has been relatively the same for decades, and I am glad they are making updates.”

Juliette Leyton, a junior psychology major, emphatically supports the idea of a shorter exam.

“I don’t think people are meant to sit through three hours of standardized testing,” Leyton said. “I think that it causes really high anxiety levels and exhaustion, which causes focus to run out.”

Sophomore David Joseph agrees.

“I don’t think that I was able to put my all into it for three hours,” said Joseph, a communications and philosophy major. “I think a two-hour SAT is a little more accessible. Eventually it gets to a point where you focus on finishing rather than doing well.”

Caroline McDonald, a sophomore health studies major, says she found the SAT “nerve-racking.”

“I think this new format could possibly be a bit better, because now it sounds like it’s going to be less about learning all the tips and tricks for this one exam,” McDonald said.

Students traverse the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus, where opinions on upcoming changes to the SAT exam are largely supportive.
Students traverse the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus, where opinions on upcoming changes to the SAT exam are largely supportive. Photo credit: Alexandra Carnochan

Students, including sophomore Justin Mauney, say they spent a lot of time and money on prep courses, study guides and workshops to become more test savvy, something they could have avoided if the revamped SAT had been implemented earlier.

“Sure, it’s good for students that are in high school right now,” said Mauney, a sports management major. “It just sucks because now I feel like I did all that hard work for nothing.”

High school junior Meghan O’Shaughnessy, who is yet to take the SAT, breathed a sigh of relief when she heard of the changes before realizing the current guidelines will still be in place when she takes the exam next year. Nevertheless, she applauds the College Board’s decision to ditch the paper exam.

“We’ve grown up using computers for all of our homework and tests, so taking a test with pencil and paper would be kind of unusual for us, and I think it could throw a lot of people off,” said O’Shaughnessy, who attends high school in Needham, Massachusetts.

Alain Fernandez, a senior at International Studies Preparatory Academy in Coral Gables, is more critical of the changes, citing issues for students who are less adept at using keyboards.

“I think going fully digital without even a worksheet paper is a bad idea,” Fernandez said, “not to mention issues like carpal tunnel that can slow typing speed significantly more than writing speed.”

However, most students agree that the SAT should neither be a dealmaker or breaker in determining a student’s college acceptance.

“You are always going to have some students who are not great test takers,” said Taylor Kraft, a high school senior in Morristown, New Jersey. “But if they do well in school, they should not be penalized for this one test that determines where they get into college.”

The SAT changes come as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused thousands of schools across the country to reevaluate the value of standardized-test scores during the admissions process, with many schools going completely “test-optional.”

The University of Miami instituted a test-optional application process for the 2021 and 2022 academic years, however it is unclear whether they will maintain the policy beyond this spring semester.

“A decision has not been made for future entry terms,” the university said.

While UM continues to take SAT scores into account during the admissions process, the university says it tends to weigh academic and extracurricular achievements more heavily.

“Our own internal research has shown that grade performance in high school correlates more strongly with graduation,” the university said. “High test scores alone do not carry much value to the institution. The Office of Undergraduate Admission strives to admit and enroll an incoming class that will ultimately persist at and graduate from the University.”

Meanwhile, Madison Kubicz, a senior in Barnegat, New Jersey, is among the dozens of high-school students ready to put standardized testing behind her.

“I felt like the test was always in the back of my mind for a couple months,” Kubicz said. “But I‘m glad I’m done with it, and I can just enjoy the rest of my senior year.”