In the midst of ongoing debate about the future of standardized tests in the admissions process, the College Board has announced that the SAT will be fully digital for international students in March 2023 and for U.S. students in March 2024. The revamped exam also will be significantly shorter. The College Board’s vice president of college readiness assessments, Priscilla Rodriquez, asserts that these changes will make testing more accessible, telling NPR, “The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant.”
Same SAT, new format
The 74 reports that although the digital SAT will continue to be scored on a 1,600 scale, the fully computerized exam will be two hours instead of three, have shorter reading passages than the current SAT, and will permit the use of calculators in the math section. The digital SAT will be accessible only at designated testing sites or schools, which will provide students tablets or laptops to access the exam. Students may also choose to use their own devices.
The digital SAT will autosave in case of internet disruptions and will be adaptive to student performance. “Each section will begin with an introductory set of questions. The difficulty of subsequent questions will vary depending on whether the students perform well or poorly on the first set,” writes The Washington Post. The digital format also will enable students to more quickly receive their scores, likely within a few days of their exam.
College Board: A ‘lower-stakes test’ but still important
Leaders at the College Board say they made the latest round of changes with college access in mind. The exam, they say, remains an important component of holistic admissions, even though the proliferation and persistence of test-optional policies have made it “a lower-stakes test.” According to a survey from the College Board, “83 percent of students said they want the option to submit test scores to colleges. This finding remains consistent whether or not students have taken the SAT and across race/ethnicity and parents’ level of education.”
Additionally, Rodriguez told Inside Higher Ed, “hundreds of thousands of rural, first-generation, and underrepresented students” were among those who use “SAT scores [to] strengthen their college applications. Evidence shows that when colleges consider SAT scores in the context of where students live and go to school, the SAT helps increase diversity.”
Skeptics question changes’ actual impact
However, for critics of standardized tests, these changes fail to address the inherent bias of the SAT against low-income and disabled students and students of color. The transition to a digital format “does not magically transform it into a more accurate, fairer, or valid tool for assessing college readiness,” Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, told the Los Angeles Times.
Once a rite of passage for prospective college students, the SAT is no longer required for applicants to more than 76 percent of U.S. colleges and universities, The Wall Street Journal reports. Meanwhile, in a year when elite colleges admitted increasingly diverse classes, the Common App found that less than half of college applicants for fall 2021 admission submitted test scores. Many students who opted out of submitting scores were from underrepresented groups—a trend that continues, according to a new update from the Common App.