Starting in 2024, SAT tests—previously taken with #2 pencils and frantic bubbling on scantrons—will be administered completely online. Research suggests that the digital nature may result in lower scores; however, the College Board is more focused on making this assessment easier to administer.
The College Board did not move SATs online in 2020, instead resorting to canceling certain testing locations. This year, however, the College Board has announced that starting in 2024, the SATs will be entirely digital, although they will be administered at proctored, secure locations. They have been piloting this new test form since November 2021.
Many students seem to prefer the paper version. Junior Jiwon Bae said, “Schools teach us about these tests using paper as their default. They focus on methods to annotate and dissect the problem, so I think it is easier to go with the way we have always done it.” Research led by the American Institutes of Research found that people score better on paper tests than on digital versions. However, not all students are fans of paper exams. “I’ve gotten used to being online,” said senior Sabrina Sanchez DeLope. “It’s easier for me to flip back towards the questions and highlight online.” Additionally, studies, including one conducted by Harvard students, suggest that digitalization is only a setback until students get used to the format.
While the digital SAT is supposedly already implemented in some areas, it seems that these testing locations are being regularly canceled. DeLope said, “I got an email about how I was eligible for the online SAT.” Additionally, senior Alyia Matin said, “I had signed up for it, but it said in order for me to take the online SAT I had to take it on paper first.” The College Board Digital SAT Suite says the digital exam is now open for international registration, so perhaps the organization has made changes since they sent out the first emails notifying students they were eligible for the digital SAT.
According to the College Board, 80% of students who took the first pilot exam responded that they found it to be less stressful than the paper version. Not only will the new SAT be online, but it will also be shorter: approximately two hours rather than three, with more time per question. Additionally, there will be only one math section now, and students can use calculators for its entirety. College Board representatives also implied that there will be changes to the test’s material. Priscilla Rodriguez, Vice President of College Readiness Assessments at the College Board, said, “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. With input from educators and students, we are adapting to ensure we continue to meet their evolving needs.” The College Board has stated that there will be faster grading, with scores being released in days rather than weeks.
These changes may alter the general trend of test scores in the upcoming years. The new SAT will have fewer questions, meaning each question will be worth more points. Thus, to get a similarly high score with the online SAT, students cannot make as many mistakes. The College Board has also mentioned smaller reading passages and only one math section, but has not yet released the specifics of how the test will adapt to these changes.
These online SATs will still be administered in controlled locations with proctors present. Students will be permitted to use essentially any electronic device that allows them to download the test software, including personal laptops and school-provided devices. Some think this could be unfair. Senior Emmett Avrach said, “It’s definitely worse if you’re not familiar with the computer,” which gives students with personal computers a slight advantage over those who are taking the test on an unfamiliar device.
Some have concerns over potential cheating on this new exam. Senior Gabe Escamilla said, “People will cheat for sure,” although he did admit that the controlled environment with a proctor would deter people. Statistically, the College Board discovers only about 2,000 cases of cheating per year, 0.1% of more than 2 million students who take the SAT annually. If, despite the controlled settings and proctors, digitalization increases the number of students who are cheating, this could pose a threat to the integrity of students’ SAT scores.
Shifting to online administration of the SAT will cause changes in how students view the test. However, with testing locations more accessible and subject material more relevant, the College Board hopes to create a test better suited for assessing students.