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Is the SAT Harder than It Used to Be?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test, and formerly Scholastic Achievement Test) is a test many college bound students take in the hopes of proving they have the aptitude for college work. Over the years, the SAT has undergone numerous changes, including the name change, which occurred in the 1990s. Students wishing entry to most colleges must take either this test or the ACT (American College Test), though some liberal arts schools have ceased to require either test, and most junior or community colleges have their own tests to determine math and writing aptitude.

In recent years, some significant changes to the SAT have been made, and many believe the test is now harder than it used to be. Two of the most prominent changes are the inclusion of a 25 minute prompted writing section, which requires students to write, as best as possible, a first draft essay, usually in five-paragraph form. Another important change is an upgrade in the difficulty of the math section. Further, the math section, since the 1990s is not only multiple-choice answers. Students must supply answers on some of the questions and may use a calculator.

The increase in complexity in the math section causes many students to need extra help from test prep courses or tutors. If you are worried your student is behind on their math skills, you may want to find a private tutor to get them up to speed on the fundamentals. Online algebra 1 tutors are easy to find and can work with your busy schedule by arranging virtual tutoring sessions. By improving the student’s confidence in basic math problems, they will be more adept at strategically getting through the SAT math section.

Another change that many students welcome is the elimination of the analogy section, meant to test logic and vocabulary. SAT writers felt that a written essay was more important to gauge written performance and college readiness. This has led many to claim the current test is more difficult, since writing scores on the essay are read by people who may be less objective. Studies on grading of the essay section did show that students with longer essays tend to receive better scores, regardless of accuracy of content.

It’s very difficult to receive a decent score on the written section of the SAT without the following skills:

  • Ability to quickly write a five-paragraph essay
  • Ability to apply grammar and spelling conventions
  • Understanding of paragraph structure

Moreover, many criticize the short time given to this writing section. Some students may be excellent writers, but need more time, greater than 25 minutes, to prewrite and order their thoughts. This can lead to errors in grammar or faulty logic as students race to finish their essays.

In response to this more challenging aspect of the SAT, many schools have raised the bar on teaching the five-paragraph essay as early as the fourth or fifth grade, hoping students will have gained mastery of the form by the time they reach middle school. A number of tutoring facilities have also emerged to help students master the lightening fast skills needed to provide a logical essay in the short period of time allowed. Ironically, most colleges reject the five-paragraph form in freshman English, and students who think this is the only way to write an essay are often concerned by poor grades on their early writing attempts.

Most importantly, the writing section still leaves some students with less opportunity to score well on the SAT. Those with poor writing skills or dysgraphia may not be able to pass it because in general, typewritten answers are not allowed. In all scores, the writing section may not fully indicate skill at writing, and certain universities take this into account. In fact some colleges have become opposed to the SAT as a testing measure, because they emphasize writing as a process that includes multiple rewrites, something that can’t be accomplished in the short time allowed on the test. Improve your SAT scores by working with SAT math tutors. and practice with SAT prep books.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

By Feryll — On Feb 16, 2015

I took the SAT on a Saturday morning. The test was being held in a town about an hour away from my home, so I had to get up extra early to be sure to get there on time. When I arrived at the testing site I was barely awake and in no condition to take a test and do well on it.

Fortunately, there were a lot of multiple choice questions and I either knew more than I thought or I simply got lucky. I scored higher than most of my classmates, which was ridiculous because some of them were much better students than I was, and they took school much more seriously.

By Sporkasia — On Feb 15, 2015

The problem I have with tests like the SAT is that they attempt to gauge a person's intelligence, level of ignorance, and ability to learn in a span of a few hours. A student's record over 12 years of school has to be a better indication of what he or she is capable of than a standardized test taken one Saturday morning. I applaud all of the schools that are no longer requiring potential students to take the SAT or any other of these types of tests.

This being said, at the moment these tests are still important, and I want my children to get into the colleges they wish to attend, so this means SAT testing is probably in their futures.

By Animandel — On Feb 15, 2015

I would love to help my children get a head start on what they need to know so they can score higher on the SAT. When I was in high school, I didn't take the test as seriously as I should have. There were many ways to study for the test and a lot of my classmates were taking advantage of these study guides, but I didn't want to study for any test, let alone one that wasn't going to help me get out of high school.

My lack of effort showed when I received the scores from my SAT in the mail. Even with the low scores I managed to get into a college, but my choices were very limited.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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