The current version of the SAT will only be offered four more times — in August, October, November, and December of this year (2023). The next SAT, in March of 2024, will be the new, digital SAT. (Exciting!)
So, should students prepare for the current SAT, the ACT, and/or the new SAT?
A Short, Relevant History of Redesigned SATs
Before we talk about the new SAT, however, we have to cover some relevant background. Prior to 2016, we (Summit Prep) prepared most of our students for the SAT (roughly 40% of the Reading section was vocabulary so it was easy to increase in score from vocab memorization alone, dramatically more schools superscored SAT results than ACT results, and the old SAT was a very high quality test). As such, the SAT was the better test for most students.
But, in March of 2016, the SAT changed to its current format: the vocab was removed, and, much more significantly, the quality of the test plummeted (previously ETS, the parent company of Collegeboard, had made the SAT, but, starting in 2016, the Collegeboard starting making the test itself). The content became less predictable, and the curves were occasionally brutal: I still shudder at the June 2018 curve when one (just 1!) question wrong on the Math section brought students’ scores down 50 points from an 800 to a 750, making it virtually impossible for high-achieving students to reach their score goal that day because just one silly mistake derailed a 750+ Math score.
So, since 2016, we prep most of our students for the ACT: comparatively, it’s a higher quality test, the curves are much more predictable and forgiving (especially at the high end of the scale), students can delete ACT scores so they can take the real tests as the best possible practice tests and incrementally work their score up, and the Common App adjusted its score reporting process so that most schools functionally superscore ACT results.
In short, the ACT became (relative to the redesigned SAT after 2016) the better test for most students — though the SAT remained the better option for some students, and we have prepared those students for the SAT accordingly.
Which brings us to today.
The New, Digital SAT
The new SAT looks very appealing: it’s a 2-hour exam, instead of the current 3-hours, and the content appears to be of higher quality than the current SAT.
It will also be adaptive: students who do well on the first Verbal section will get a harder second Verbal section. Students who do not do as well will progress to an easier second section. The same goes for the Math sections. This cuts down the time that students have to test because the most well prepared students don’t need to waste time doing easy Math questions on the second Math section that they will get correct anyway, and the students who are not as well prepared for the advanced topics will not have to waste time on the second Math section doing questions that they probably would not get correct anyway. The adaptive nature of the test gets students to their score range faster and with fewer questions.
So, those are all good things, and we already have over 400 extremely well-designed SAT questions based on the new SAT format and question types, and one of our tutors already has his content published in numerous books on the new SAT.
But students still shouldn’t prep for the new SAT — at least not yet.
Don’t Prep for the New SAT
Here are the reasons why:
- There are only 4 official practice tests. Unless a student is starting close (within 50 points) of their desired score goal, then it’s risky to choose to prep for the new SAT because a student could easily run out of authentic practice tests before reaching their goal — and, by far, the best practice content is the real tests. If you have to use third party content, that can be good, but it will never fully simulate the real test (no prep companies will ever invest the millions of dollars to make an accurate, adaptive test that gives students accurate scores, because they don’t have the scale of testing needed to recoup the cost — if they did, then they would just become a competitor to the SAT and ACT and offer their own test). Thus, even high-quality questions (which we have) that cover the SAT topics will never be able to be perfectly aligned into a simulated practice test that gives a highly accurate score. In short, to get the best prep and largest score increase, you still need official content, and that is severely limited.
- The last time the SAT changed in 2016, it was a mess for the first two years as the Collegeboard scrambled to make consistent curves and consistent content. Even if a student does amazingly well on the 4 official practice tests, there is a significant risk that the real tests will be scaled and scored differently when the test officially launches in March of 2024.
- The new SAT has a terrible calendar for testing: the first test dates are March, May, and June of 2024. The May test coincides with AP exams, and the June test coincides with finals at the end of junior year. Students in AP classes should be starting AP prep in March (or, at the latest, April) of their junior year, so that basically only leaves students with an optimal testing opportunity on the new SAT in March of junior year. If they don’t “one-and-done” that test (and very few students score at their potential on the first real test that they take), then they are risking having to continue prep over the summer after junior year and having to take the SAT again in August and/or October of senior year (but ideally the summer after junior year would be spent doing an internship, academic program, and/or working on college applications and essays, instead of doing SAT prep).
So far, the new SAT looks awesome. But, as of now, it is still a closed pot, and we will have to see what awaits us once it is uncovered in March of 2024. Until then, students have two better options.
- The current SAT: if they are better suited for this test and can be nearly certain they can reach their score goal by December of this year.
- The ACT: the best option for the vast majority of students this coming school year because it is known, unchanged, and allows students dramatically more time and testing opportunities to reach their score goal.
Questions? We love answering questions. Feel free to reach out to us anytime.