SAT now all-digital, an hour shorter

As of March 9, the SAT has transitioned to a fully digital format for all U.S.-based test takers. The digital exam, taken on the College Board’s Bluebook application, has an adaptive format, provides a built-in calculator, and will provide scores in days rather than weeks, Inside Higher Ed reports. The paper version of the test will remain available only to students with certain accessibility exemptions.

The College Board began piloting the digital SAT with international students in March 2023 and offered the digital PSAT to U.S. students in Fall 2023 so they could familiarize themselves with the format before the full transition to digital this month. The College Board announced its plan to pivot to the digital SAT in 2022, although plans for the digital format were unfolding before the onset COVID-19 pandemic, Priscilla Rodriguez, the College Board’s vice president for college readiness assessments, tells Inside Higher Ed.

“When we made this decision [to go digital] during COVID, we had already entered a new test-optional world,” says Rodriguez. “That actually galvanized us to do this. We thought, ‘If the test is going to be optional, we want it to be the best option.’”

Modifying the SAT

The fully digital SAT uses a multistage adaptive design that evaluates students’ performance in the first half of the Math, Reading, and Writing sections, and then produces questions in the second half that meet test takers’ skill set, the College Board says. Scores will be capped for students who get an easier second half, though they will still be able to receive a high score. “The difficulty level and other qualities of each question…as well as whether the student got the question right or wrong—are taken into account when calculating a student’s score,” the College Board says. Multistage adaptive design shortens the test from three hours to two hours and 14 minutes. The reading passages are shorter, and test takers also have more time to answer each question. 

The shortened SAT follows in the steps of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which both became shorter in 2023, Inside Higher Ed reported last year.

Who will be impacted?

The changes make the SATs more “consumer-friendly” but may not address racial, gender, and economic gaps in SAT scores, Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the advocacy group FairTest, tells The 19th

However, test takers with learning difficulties, such as ADHD and dyslexia, and English learners may benefit from a shorter test, and adaptive questions and a readily available built-in calculator may ease anxieties and level the playing field for test takers, experts say. Students with learning difficulties can qualify for accommodations, which can be difficult to obtain, but a shorter test means students who receive time accommodations may not have to take the whole weekend to complete it. The impact of these changes on student performance, especially among students from underrepresented backgrounds and neurodiverse students, won’t be clear until summer 2025, FairTest experts tell The 19th.

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