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SAT shouldn’t be a ‘stress test’ - Drop the clock says Doc

By Jake Beardslee · September 25, 2023

In brief…

  • Dr. Adam Grant supports the College Board's decision to shorten the SATs and allow calculator use on all math sections.
  • Time pressure on standardized tests underestimates students' capabilities and rewards rushing over deliberate thinking, according to Grant.
  • The new rules could help shrink the gender gap and improve the performance of students with learning difficulties.
UPenn's Dr. Adam Grant praised the College Board's decision to shorten the SAT exam from 3 hours to 2 and allow calculators on math sections.  Narek75/Wikimedia

A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School argued that shortening the SAT exam from three hours to two is positive because time pressure on standardized tests rewards students for rushing instead of working carefully.

Last year, the College Board announced it would shorten the SAT and allow exam-takers to use a calculator on all math sections starting in 2023.

Dr. Adam Grant said in a New York Times op-ed that speed doesn’t measure knowledge or intelligence, but rather “the much narrower skill of how well students reason under stress.”

Citing studies, Grant pointed out that more time can reduce gender gaps and help students with learning difficulties. He argued that extended time shouldn’t just be for students with disabilities, but for all test-takers.

“If a significant portion of the students run out of time, it means the test is too long or the time period is too short,” Grant wrote.

According to the professor, the new SAT rules could be a “game-changer” in education, leading to less student anxiety and a better preview of what’s needed to succeed in the future.

“In school, timed tests teach kids that success is a sprint,” Grant said. “But in life, success is a marathon.”

“It’s time we stop confusing quick with smart,” College Board CEO David Coleman told the Times.

Many colleges have eliminated SAT/ACT requirements, with Columbia University being the first Ivy League school to make the exams optional.

Average ACT scores for 2022 high school graduates were the lowest since 1991, showing a decline in college preparedness. The reduced time pressure and calculator allowance on the new SAT could help address these concerns.

At the same time, the College Board’s own research found that even with the three-hour SAT, 97% of students finished sections with up to seven minutes to spare.