Requests for extra time and additional accommodations on the SAT doubled from 80,000 in 2010-11 to 160,000 in 2015-16, according to a report by Education Next.
Timing the test works to the advantage of students with well-connected parents who know how to seek accommodations, like extra time for learning disabilities, and education professionals question the validity of timing a college gatekeeper test if the practice discourages critical thinking, close reading and deep thought because there simply isn’t enough time to do it.
Some argue removing test time limits would make standardized testing more equitable for all, though others say the SAT should be timed since students won’t have unlimited time to complete tasks in college, and success on the test is meant to reflect how well the students will do their freshman year.
As the recent “Varsity Blues” scandal shows, pressure to do well on gatekeeping assessments like the SAT is high. Students and their parents look for any advantage that could bump the end result into a higher category.
The debate over un-timing the SAT is not new. Discussion on the topic goes back to 2006, when requests for additional time on the SAT began to increase. It was pointed out then that students could receive permission to take extra time on the tests and colleges wouldn’t know the difference.
Mark Franek, who was the dean of students at William Penn Charter School at the time, argued the test should be kept to one day but shouldn’t be timed for anyone. All students should have as much time as they need, he said.
Fast forward 13 years, and the debate rages on.
Some, including Gregory Cizek, a professor of educational measurement and evaluation at the University of North Carolina School of Education, say timing the SAT predicts a student’s future success, and that untimed K-12 state assessments would additionally disadvantage students with accommodations and create political fallout "people just aren’t willing to stomach."
As it stands now, the SAT seems to favor affluent students with well-connected parents who know how to lobby for more time on the test, which is also used to make the case for eliminating time limits for everyone.
Timed or not, the prevalence of the test continues to grow.
Nearly 2.2 million students in the class of 2019 took the SAT, an increase of 4%. Of those, one million took the test on SAT School Day — up from 780,000 in the class of 2018. But the mean SAT score dropped slightly in 2019.
The increase in numbers this year also includes more minority and low-income students, thanks to SAT School Day, which allows students to take the test at school. In the class of 2019, 46% of SAT School Day test-takers hailed from high-poverty public schools. Only 22% of that group took the test on the weekend.
This group also had more to gain to by retaking the SAT. High-poverty students who do so increase their likelihood of enrolling for college by 30 points. Unfortunately, this group is also less likely to retake it.
Additionally, data shows students who take the full suite of PSAT-related assessments earlier in high school are more likely to be on track for college success. More than 8 million students took the PSAT suite during the 2018-19 school year, and they performed better on average than those who did not.
Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed a quote to University of North Carolina School of Education professor Gregory Cizek. The quote has been corrected.