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SAT Exams to Be Digitally Administered in the U.S. by 2024

The College Board, the organization behind the SAT, announced digital exams will run about two hours instead of three, allow more time per question and feature shorter reading passages, with devices provided as needed.

SAT exams will be administered digitally in the U.S. starting in 2024, and internationally in 2023, according to a news release today from the College Board. The announcement comes after the College Board piloted a digital SAT last year, with 80 percent of students reporting that the digital exam was less stressful, and 100 percent of educators reporting a “positive experience” with the format change.

The digital SAT will be shorter, running about two hours instead of three for the current SAT, and will allow students more time per question, according to the announcement. The exam will feature shorter reading passages with one question tied to each, with passages reflecting a wider range of topics that represent concepts learned in college courses.

The transition will also allow students and teachers to receive scores back within days rather than within weeks, according to the news release, and reports will connect students to informational resources about local two-year college, workforce training and career options.

“The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant,” Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at the College Board, said in a public statement. “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 announcement said the change to full digital testing seeks to address digital inequities by allowing students to use their own devices or school-issued devices. If students don’t have a device to use, the College Board will provide one for the test day. The digital SAT has also been designed to ensure that students won’t lose time or work if there are connectivity issues.

According to the news release, 62 percent of students who took the SAT last year took it for free at school on a weekday. The announcement said schools will have more options for when, where and how often they administer the SAT, noting research from the Brookings Institution that said universal school day testing leads to higher college admission rates for low-income and underserved student populations.

"I’m pleased that the greater flexibility in administering the test will expand access to SAT School Day, which research shows increases college-going rates for low-income students," said Ronné Turner, vice provost for admissions and financial aid at Washington University in St. Louis, in a public statement.

While most higher ed institutions made SAT and ACT scores optional for admission during the pandemic, millions of students still took the exam, according to the College Board. The trend has continued with the high school class of 2022, with 83 percent of students surveyed saying they want the option to submit their scores to colleges and universities.

“In a largely test-optional world, the SAT is a lower-stakes test in college admissions. Submitting a score is optional for every type of college, and we want the SAT to be the best possible option for students. The SAT allows every student — regardless of where they go to high school — to be seen and to access opportunities that will shape their lives and careers,” Rodriguez said. “I am one of those students. I’m a first-generation American, the child of immigrants who came to the U.S. with limited financial resources, and I know how the SAT Suite of Assessments opened doors to colleges, scholarships and educational opportunities that I otherwise never would have known about or had access to. We want to keep those same doors of opportunity open for all students.”

According to a report last year from the New York Times, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated existing plans to change how the test was administered. Changes last year included phasing out the optional essay portion of the exam and subject matter tests, in addition to piloting the digital test.

Despite the aim of addressing inequities cited in the College Board's announcement, the National Education Association, a teachers' union, has long criticized the SAT and other standardized tests for grades K-12 due to concerns about racial bias.

Bob Schaeffer, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, told Government Technology that he doesn’t believe the test’s "latest repackaging” will improve its overall value or address concerns about equity in today's test-optional landscape, noting the ACT is already available in digital form for students who choose to use such tests for college admissions. He also criticized the test in a public statement.

"Shifting an unnecessary, biased, coachable and poorly predictive multiple-choice exam that few schools currently require from pencil-and-paper delivery to an electronic format does not magically transform it into a more accurate, fairer or valid tool for assessing college readiness,” he said in a statement. “More than five decades of experience with test-optional policies demonstrate that no SAT — or ACT, which is already offered in computer format — either pencil-and-paper or online, is needed to make admissions decisions that promote equity and academic quality.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.