Standardized testing has long been a cornerstone of the college admissions process, with the SAT debuting in 1926 and the ACT following in 1959. Because these tests are standardized, they have provided college admissions readers with an additional tool to measure a student’s academic abilities and compare them to peers nationwide and globally.

Recently, the SAT has undergone some significant changes. As of this year, the SAT has moved to a new digital format. This shift brings both advantages and challenges. This week’s blog is written by our expert college advisor, Mary Simon. Before joining ICC, Mary spent 16 years working as a college advisor in top schools around the country. In addition to guiding students throughout the college admissions process, she served as a testing coordinator and proctor for the in-school SAT exams and knows about the stress, nuances, and importance of these tests.

Advantages of the New Digital SAT

·         Faster score reporting

·         Enhanced security measures

·         Reduced testing time from 3 to 2 hours

·         Shortened reading passages in the Reading section

·         Calculator use allowed for the entirety of the Math section

·         Greater accessibility for students with disabilities, including built-in adaptations such as a zoom feature to access large print, speech-to-text capabilities, and even a refreshable braille display for students who need these accommodations.

However, this new format presents its own set of challenges. Students taking the new Digital SAT have to adapt to its new format, which is much different than students are used to.

Challenges of the New Digital SAT

·         An algorithm adjusts the difficulty of the test questions in the second half based on the student’s performance in the first half

·         Increased anxiety due to unfamiliarity with the new format

·         Limited resources for preparing for the new format

·         Navigating the technical issues that may arise during digital testing

Recent ACT Updates

ACT has also recently announced some major changes, including the formation of a new partnership with Nexus Capital Management LP and a transition from a nonprofit entity to a for-profit institution. Along with this change, they are beginning to roll out a new pilot program that offers a shorter, digital testing option. This will be an option as early as the June 2024 testing date. This change is in addition to the new digital testing format that they already rolled out at select locations on the February 2024 test date. Currently, ACT offers the paper and pencil version as well as the newer digital format. We expect to see more changes and updates as they embark on this new path.

The State of Test-Optional Admissions

The landscape of testing in college admissions continues to evolve. We have seen a recent resurgence of testing requirements among selective institutions, which is a reversal of the test-optional policies initiated during the Covid 19 pandemic. While Florida’s public university system never went “test optional,” other state public university systems (like Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia), along with Ivy League colleges (like Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth) have announced that test scores will once again be required to apply, underscoring the continued importance of the standardized testing in college admissions. Now that some of these highly competitive colleges have made this change, we expect more will follow suit. The testing landscape is constantly changing, so it is important to stay abreast of the latest developments and have expert guidance in navigating these changes.

Despite the many changes that have occurred over time, testing remains an integral part of the college admissions process (alongside course rigor, grades, class rank, extracurricular activities, essays, and recommendation letters). Data shows that while many colleges still have test-optional policies in place, students who submit test scores are being admitted at statistically higher acceptance rates. For admissions purposes, testing still serves as a standard way to compare students from across the country and the globe who attend vastly different schools with different grading systems and policies.

Additionally, it is important to note that SAT and ACT scores play an important factor in eligibility for merit-based scholarships. In Florida and several other states, test scores are utilized for state-wide merit-based scholarship programs. Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship, Louisiana’s TOPS Award, and other similar programs require students to submit SAT or ACT scores to qualify for merit-based scholarship money. Some universities also offer merit scholarships, and colleges like Ohio State, Clemson, and Alabama award automatic scholarships to admitted students based on a combination of grades and SAT/ACT scores.

As students navigate these changes, it’s essential to develop a strategic approach to testing. Since each student is unique, it’s worth exploring both the paper and pencil ACT and the new Digital ACT or SAT to determine which test best suits their strengths. College Board partners with Khan Academy to offer free digital SAT prep online—a great resource to help prepare for the test. Students should familiarize themselves with the digital questions and test materials, in addition to content mastery and time management, to perform their best on the new digital test.

While some institutions may place more emphasis on test scores than others, the important thing to know is that strong performance on standardized testing can enhance an applicant’s prospects for admission and merit-based scholarships. For this reason, testing should not be overlooked.

International College Counselors

ICC works with students individually to develop a testing strategy and plan tailored to their strengths. If you would like assistance navigating testing or any other aspect of the college admissions process, please contact our expert college advisors at or call 954-414-9986.



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