Exploring the introduction of a digital SAT as well as its different advantages and disadvantages
It’s official: the SAT is going digital.
The news came out on January 25, which Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at College Board, stated would make the exam “easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant.”
These steps have been taken in order to address recent criticisms of the exam. For one thing, students have been complaining about the stress associated with the SAT for years. “It’s obviously really nerve-wracking to prepare for,” says Veda Vudathala (11). “But actually taking it is even worse. All you do for three hours is sit there and answer question after question, and sometimes you feel like you won’t be able to get to all of them within the time constraints.”
Sruti Addala (11) added, “It’s also really stressful waiting to get your score, because for a lot of people, you want to know how you did right away instead of waiting in suspense.”
But there are other downsides in addition to stress—one of them being the complaint that a high SAT score isn’t accessible to all students. Those who can afford to retake the test multiple times, get the supplemental help of tutors, and buy preparation books such as Barron’s and The Princeton Review will inevitably outperform those from low-income backgrounds.
American High’s College and Career Specialist, Ms. Chow, brings up another example of the SAT’s inequity. “Leaking questions is something that happens every time the SAT is administered,” she said. “It’s easy to cheat, since people all over the world are taking the same test. So that presents another pitfall.”
Additionally, it can be difficult to take the exam at all, as testing center slots fill up rapidly. For some students, that means having to travel far from home in order to give the exam. “When I was signing up to take the exam in March a few months ago, the closest availability was Denver, Colorado,” said Addala. “Luckily, some spots opened up closer by, but I still need to drive [a few hours] to get to that center.”
These inequities have only grown more prominent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With testing centers across the world shut down for extended periods of time, many universities have gone test-blind and test-optional, meaning that applicants’ SAT and ACT scores are either not considered at all, or optional to submit. In response to these changes, the College Board was moved to making the SAT digital in an effort to maintain its “relevance.”
This change is one among many. The exam will now be just two hours long instead of three, make results available within hours rather than weeks, eliminate the no-calculator math section, and rely on adaptive testing instead of offering all test-takers the exact same questions.
Ms. Chow believes these changes are not only necessary, but also overwhelmingly beneficial.
“One thing I appreciate is that [there won’t be] a question database; the questions are [tailored] specifically for [a] student’s ability based on their performance so far. That makes it fairer, and measures their ability more accurately,” she said.
However, Ms. Chow can still think of one con to the new format. “Personally, I like having the physical paper in front of me, because I can annotate and show my work more easily. But I grew up taking tests this way.”
Today, most students are actually more accustomed to taking exams digitally due to experience with district benchmarks, the SBAC, AP exams for the past two years, and more, which would make the transition to a digital SAT an easy one.
“I still think in terms of test security and fairness, this digital [format] will be much better,” Ms. Chow conceded.
College Board began piloting the digital exam in recent years, but full implementation will begin in 2023 internationally outside of the United States. In 2024, the first American students will take it digitally, and from then on, it is a complete transition to computers.
“I think it’s definitely possible that other exams [like the ACT] will also move to being digital,” said Ms. Chow. “They will use the response to the SAT as a guideline. I think it will overall be for good.”