The SAT is going digital in an attempt to stay relevant as many colleges have, or plan to, make the test optional or eliminate it altogether.
The new online SAT test will first be implemented to international students in the spring of 2023 and U.S. students in spring of 2024. The College Board, the non-profit that runs the SATs, announced the changes on Jan. 25. The test will be two hours instead of three and can be taken on students’ personal laptops or computers (devices will be provided for students who need them).
The latest changes to the SAT will be administered much faster than previous redesigns. For example, details for the 2014 redesign, weren’t completed until 2016.
This version of the SAT will be an adaptive test, according to the College Board’s website. That means that students are asked a series of questions in the first part of each test section that determine the difficulty of questions asked in the second half. And, a calculator will be allowed for all of the math section, a change from the previous test.
Although the test is online, test security will be better than before, says Cindy Chanin, founder of Rainbow EDU Consulting. “A digital exam and unique iterations of it for every student makes it harder for students to copy answers or confiscate the exam from the mail as it’s shipped overseas,” she explains. “If a student’s device freezes during the exam, the clock for the test will freeze as well so the student will not be penalized for technical error.”
Chanin says that the test is trying to stay relevant to consumers and become more competitive with the ACT, which is increasingly popular over the past few years. Another advantage of the digital test, Chanin says, is it will be easier to take during the pandemic.
“When you do a digital exam, there are a lot of workarounds,” Chanin says. “So for example, if a testing center has limited capacity, if it’s done digitally, they can stagger when students take it. This new digital iteration of the SAT enables every single student taking it to have a different version of the exam.”
The new version of the SAT is an appeal to college applicants to keep the SAT as part of their applications. The College Board revised the exam in 2016 to make the test more similar to what students were learning in schools. Across the U.S., more than 1,815 four-year colleges and universities are test-optional, according to Fair Test. Many universities stopped requiring test scores for applicants, at least temporarily, after COVID-19 disrupted testing sites in spring of 2020.
Despite some higher education institutes eliminating SATs as part of their requirements, Chanin explains that the SAT should still be considered for students if their scores will be an asset to their college applications. “Students get to decide how relevant these [tests] are. And the power is in their hands for the first time in history,” she says.
A digital standardized test is not a new phenomenon. The LSAT and GRE are among the many standardized tests that have already gone digital.
According to Chanin the prospect of the SAT going digital before the pandemic was less palatable for many. “I don’t think society during that time would have been able to handle it,” she says. “Now, however, students are much more accustomed to online-testing, and canceled testing sites due to COVID outbreaks helped push the exam online.”
Some critics of the SAT say that the exam is biased, favoring students who can afford SAT prep and tutors. Chanin says that students with access to wealth and tutors do have an edge, but “it’s a systemic issue that’s well beyond the scope of a standardized test,” adding, “some may argue that a high SAT score could help students who don’t have equitable access to rigorous coursework in high schools.”
Overall, the new version of the SAT will not significantly change how Chanin tutors. The SAT is one part of a larger process of college preparedness. Chanin will still focus on building critical thinking skills, vocabulary, creativity and confidence. However, some specific lessons and techniques for the test will be changed.
Chanin doesn’t know if schools will go back to requiring standardized testing on college applications. “Certain schools might go back to requiring it again,” she says. “Time will tell. But, at the end of the day, the student gets to make the decision.”