Redesigned SAT has little effect on admissions process

A student flips through an SAT prep book at UA's Think Tank tutoring session. Photo by Shannon Higgins/Arizona Sonora News
A student flips through an SAT prep book at UA’s Think Tank tutoring session. Photo by Shannon Higgins/Arizona Sonora News

As more colleges drop standardized tests from their admissions requirements, the redesigned SAT features new elements that claim to better reflect a student’s ability to perform well after high school.

The College Board’s new SAT, however, seems unlikely to influence the college admissions process any time soon.

“Many schools have dropped test scores from admission requirements because studies have shown that the most important factors in predicting college success aren’t standardized test scores, but high school grades and course rigor,” said Arezu Corella, senior director of undergraduate admissions processing at the University of Arizona.

The redesigned elements include a return to the 1600 scale, an optional essay, no penalty for guessing, a focus on areas of math that matter the most and the use of relevant vocabulary words in context, instead of obscure “SAT words.”

“It’s nice to see that there’s not these isolated tasks that students need to do,” said Lisa Carotenuto, an instructional specialist at the UA’s Think Tank. “On the previous version, there was a section that was heavily weighted toward students’ knowledge of vocabulary, which is important, but I don’t necessarily think that concept is important for the kinds of skills students will need in college.”

Ruben Romero, a college readiness coordinator at Pueblo Magnet High School, said eliminating the penalty for guessing has made students more comfortable with making educational guesses, which has helped to raise scores on the redesigned PSAT. Romero expects this trend to continue with scores on the redesigned SAT.

“I’m hopeful the new test will be a better predictor of college readiness, but that’s still to be determined,” Romero said.

Another aspect of the new test is free, personalized practice with Khan Academy.

“I think it’s a great partnership,” Carotenuto said. “Many students and families are familiar with their material, even beyond the SAT materials.”

Lisa Carotenuto teaches students at the UA's Think Tank SAT prep tutoring session. Photo by Shannon Higgins/Arizona Sonora News
Lisa Carotenuto teaches students at the UA’s Think Tank SAT prep tutoring session. Photo by Shannon Higgins/Arizona Sonora News

Since this partnership was first introduced in June 2015, there was a 19 percent decrease in the number of students who paid for test prep resources compared to March 2015, and 98 percent of test-takers found the material extremely, very, or somewhat helpful, according to the College Board website.

These new elements of the redesign aim to partly address the issue of not representing a student’s ability in higher education and the achievement gap that occurs between different levels of income.

“We believe that assessments must deliver opportunities to students,” a College Board press release stated. “Fewer than half of the students who take the SAT are college-ready, and that statistic has remained constant over time. Even among those who are ready, the majority of low-income, high-achieving students do not apply to the colleges within their reach.”

The trend of colleges dropping test scores for admissions requirements continues. reported more than 850 colleges have now de-emphasized the use of standardized tests. By not requiring SAT or ACT scores, some of those colleges said they  boosted their minority applications and enrollment. Arizona’s three state universities do not track this data.

Without requiring SAT scores, the University of Arizona uses a comprehensive review to determine admission for students, which can sometimes include SAT or ACT scores. Corella said this does not make the application process less competitive at the UA.

Arizona State University uses a similar system of competency requirements to admit students. Applicants who achieve a 3.0 grade-point average in high school or who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class do not have to submit an ACT or SAT score to be eligible for ASU.

“Though there are no plans at this time to require standardized test scores for admissions, ASU will monitor changes to the ACT or SAT to understand how those changes affect the application process,” a university statement said.

Students’ SAT scores are primarily used at Northern Arizona University for scholarship consideration. Admission is offered if students have at least a 3.0 GPA and no deficiencies in their required college prep courses.

UA will continue to monitor changes to the SAT, too, but at the moment, “We plan to remain test-optional for admissions purposes,” Corella said.

Shannon Higgins is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

Click here for high resolution photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *