Universities

SAT Exam Will Go All-Digital as More Universities Ditch Standardized Testing Requirements

The College Board is adjusting the test that has millions of high school students stressed amid questions about whether the test is fair or even necessary.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Put down your pencils.

The SAT exam will transition to an all-digital format in the United States in 2024, the College Board announced Tuesday.

The move, intended to reduce student stress, comes as colleges and universities increasingly move away from standardized test requirements.

The new test will be administered on a computer device instead of the traditional paper and pencil. Candidates will be allowed to use their own laptop or tablet, but will still need to take the test at a supervised site, such as a school.

The digital format will allow test results to come back more quickly. The new test duration will also be shortened from the current three hours to two hours.

College Board reported that 80% of students found the digital format less stressful during a November 2021 pilot of the new test.

Test prep experts say test anxiety is a huge factor for students, millions of whom have been stressed out by SATs and other standardized tests for years.

“It’s such a high-stakes test, there’s so much stress,” said Elizabeth Clippinger, regional director of the Sylvan Learning Center. “It’s part of our preparation, breaking down the test so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.”

Clicking a box may be less stressful than penciling in a bubble, but it’s unlikely to change test prep courses much.

“The content should be the same, the strategy should be the same because it’s still a multiple-choice test,” Clippinger said. “It could also relieve some of the stress for students.”

The SAT is set to go fully digital in the US in 2024, which means the first students to take it digitally are still high school freshmen.

The change comes as the SAT and other standardized tests are criticized for favoring wealthy, white applicants over minority and low-income students.

“The SAT is very coachable,” said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of Fair Test, a nonprofit that advocates for objective and fair academic assessment of students. “Affluent families can buy the equivalent of test prep steroids to boost their scores by 200, 300 or more points and increase their chances of admission and scholarships to schools that still rely on the test.

The College Board said it was making access to the digital test fairer by providing laptops or tablets to students who didn’t have one for the test.

Critics, like Schaeffer, have said the changes don’t go far enough.

“They didn’t address the high cost of the test and all the associated fees to send the scores to the schools at all,” he said.

It’s also unclear how much testing will be needed for students in the coming years. More than 1,815 colleges, or about 80% of schools, already do not require standardized test scores in student applications, according to Fair Test.

In south-central Pennsylvania, schools that do not require SAT/ACT scores include Dickinson College, Elizabethtown College, Franklin and Marshall College, Messiah University, Millersville University, Penn State University, Shippensburg University, and York College.

Schaeffer said universities are unlikely to reverse SAT/ACT optional testing policies, even if the tests move to digital format.

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