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Digital SAT on Track for Spring 2024 Launch in U.S.

In Europe, where the SAT’s new format was implemented this year, schools reported smooth sailing with test administration and proctoring. Tests will still be administered on-site, and only on approved devices.

Closeup of a white keyboard with three keys in the middle of the image colored blue with the letters "SAT" on them in white lettering.
In the weeks and months to come, U.S. high school students will forgo pencils and bubble sheets to practice for the SAT on laptops ahead of the test's official digital launch in March 2024.

Based on recent feedback from European schools, where digital SAT testing already takes place, the expectation is that this new format will allow for greater convenience, accessibility and inclusion, as well as a better testing experience for students, an industry expert said Wednesday.

“They [European schools] are reporting that the proctoring and administration of the tests went really, really smoothly,” said Tim Levin, founder and CEO of Bespoke Education, a tutoring and standardized test-preparation company. He previously worked for Kaplan Test Prep and also serves as an adjunct professor in the science department at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

In January 2022, the College Board, which oversees the SAT program, completed a pilot program on small samples of students and announced the move to the digital testing format in Europe in 2023 and the United States in 2024. In addition, the test will be shorter in duration and number of questions, and vocabulary questions will be included on the test after a multiyear hiatus. Moreover, test scores will be provided to students within days, not weeks.

All SAT tests will still be administered and proctored on-site, but the move to digital allows for greater flexibility in scheduling dates and locations, which benefits lower-income students who otherwise might have issues getting to regional or centralized testing locations beyond walking distance from their neighborhood schools, Levin said.

He added that the redesigned test, in terms of the questions asked, is more closely related to what students are learning in class than what they have traditionally found in test-preparation resources, which are more affordable to some students than others.

“The test will be offered more often and in more places,” Levin said. “And the content now is more similar to the ACT [test]. It’s more academically focused, and less about game planning for the test.”

The College Board has not announced any plans for remote testing. Approved laptops would either belong to the test taker or the school, but in any situation, functions not related to the test must be turned off. With that type of closed network and monitored environment, privacy shouldn’t be a concern, Levin said.

Still, Levin added, the digital format does involve a learning curve that includes use of the Desmos calculator built into the testing platform. He advises students to study and prepare using the same tools that are required on test day.

“You want to be comfortable using it under time pressure,” he said, adding that adapting to the new technology is a valuable learning experience in itself. “You don’t want to walk into that cold.”

Levin said 2019 marked the SAT’s highest-ever participation rate, but the number of test takers plummeted the following year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though colleges are increasingly choosing to make admissions test-optional, there has been a renewed interest in the test from schools and students. And at least a dozen states, he added, require the SAT for high school graduation anyway.

“From a college perspective, yes, high SAT scores help with the most selective schools,” Levin said. "But even for moderately selective ones, a good SAT score can help set an applicant apart.”

Levin anticipates that essay questions will eventually be returned to the SAT because, with generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT being used in the classrooms and at home, the proctored testing environment would be the only place where a student is assessed on their ability to write without technical assistance.

In October, the College Board concluded a study involving college freshman. These students previously took the paper SAT to get into their respective schools, then months after that test and with no preparation, they took the digital SAT. According to this research, which was published in April, the mean score for paper tests was 1327 compared to the digital mean of 1292. Scores with either method correlated with first-semester grade point averages, indicating that those who did better on the tests also had better GPAs early on in their college careers.

“Current SAT score users should feel confident in the value of digital SAT scores for understanding student readiness for college and for use in admission, course placement decisions, scholarship decisions, and identifying students needing academic support,” the study said.
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.