SAT going digital in shifting college admissions landscape
The SAT exam will move from paper and pencil to a digital format, administrators announced Tuesday, saying the shift will boost its relevancy as more colleges make standardized tests optional for admission.
Test-takers will be allowed to use their own laptops or tablets but they'll still have to sit for the test at a monitored testing site or in school, not at home.
The format change is scheduled to roll out internationally next year and in the U.S. in 2024. It will also shave an hour from the current version, bringing the reading, writing and math assessment from three hours to about two.
"The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant," said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at the New York City-based College Board, which administers the SAT and related PSAT. "We're not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform. We're taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible."
Once essential for college applications, scores from admission tests like the SAT and rival ACT carry less weight today as colleges and universities pay more attention to the sum of student achievements and activities throughout high school.
Amid criticism that the exams favor wealthy, white applicants and disadvantage minority and low-income students, an increasing number of schools have in recent years adopted test-optional policies, which let students decide whether to include scores with their applications.
The pandemic accelerated the trend as testing sessions were canceled or inaccessible.
Nearly 80% of bachelor’s degree-granting institutions are not requiring test scores from students applying for fall 2022, according to a December tally by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a watchdog group that opposes standardized testing. The group, known as FairTest, said at least 1,400 of them have extended the policy through at least the fall 2023 admissions cycle.
About 1.5 million members of the class of 2021 took the SAT at least once, down from 2.2 million in the previous year. A College Board survey found many students want to take the SAT to preserve the option of submitting the scores and qualifying for certain scholarships.
Rodriguez said the digital version will be delivered in a format more familiar to students who regularly learn and test online at school.
Also, student score reports will not only focus on connecting students with four-year colleges and scholarships, but also provide information about two-year college and workforce training options. That reflects an increase in the number of students who are given the exam during a designated SAT day at school, with some districts requiring students take it. About 60% of students who take the SAT do so at school, Rodriguez said.
“We want to present students with a wider range of information and resources about their post-secondary options,” she said.
Scores will be available in days, rather than weeks, she said. There have been cases through the years of sets of paper exams getting lost in the mail.
Hallie Cirino is the founder and CEO of Westport Educational Consultants, which has been prepping kids for the SAT for the past 30 years. Cirino said she's curious to see the format shift first-hand.
"I think it'll streamline it, make it less stressful," Cirino told News 12. "We've seen so many changes in the SAT over time, especially a huge change in 2016 when it went from 10 sections of the test to four, and then more recently, they dropped the essay. So now we'll have to deal with yet the next change."
Cirino pointed out this is a generation used to screens and kids are already taking tests online in school.
"I've also had students with various learning disabilities where seeing a page with a ton of questions is really hard for them to narrow down the space in their minds and not panic. And typically, the online testing they just show one question on the screen at a time, so I think visually it's going to be so much easier for a lot of students too," Cirino said.
"Bottom line for me is this is not a new thing for our students," said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer at the Connecticut State Department of Education. Gopalakrishnan told News 12 all the state's standardized tests are online except the SAT, which has been the sole paper and pencil exam since Connecticut started using it as its assessment of juniors in 2016.
That will change this spring. He said public school students will take the current version of the SAT but on their computers.
"This will be the first year we do that, and we're joining pretty much the majority of states that use the SAT as their state exam in grade 11," Gopalakrishnan said.
He said that will be the case next year too with a move to the new format in 2024.
"We're pleased the College Board is finally making the transition to digital assessments. I think we're well positioned for this transition and welcome it," he said.
The College Board said students without a personal or school-issued device will be provided one for test day.
You can get an early look at the digital exam application here.
AP Wire Services were used in this report.