Digital SAT

Digital SAT: What does it mean for you?

Is the image of a student filling in little circles with their #2 pencil a thing of the past? In January 2022, the College Board made headline news by announcing that the SAT will move away from the traditional paper-and-pencil tests to a fully digital, online version in the spring of 2024. We’ve taken a moment to review the huge amount of information being shared (and noted some nuggets we feel are still unaddressed) to be able to share the details about the digital SAT here with you.

Keep in mind

Before we lay out all the facts, please keep in mind that announcements like these don’t always come to pass. ACT made big news about their plan to allow section retakes. College Board announced plans to allow for at-home testing. To date, neither of these have happened.

And keep in mind, if implemented, US students won’t experience the new test and format until spring of 2024. (The digital PSAT will be offered fall of 2023.) You know we’ll keep you informed but in the meantime, we urge families to keep in mind that this announcement should not impact your testing strategy at this point in time. (Don’t have a testing strategy? Be sure to register for our testing webinar.)

Here are some facts about the new digital SAT testing format:

  • The first group of students to be impacted by this change will be the class of 2025 who will be juniors for the digital PSAT in fall 2023. (It is being launched in 2023 internationally.)
  • The PSAT 8/9 will be delivered digitally in fall of 2023 as well.
  • Remaining the same: scores will still be out of 1600; tests will still be in schools and testing centers; Khan Academy will still provide practice testing; accommodations will still be available to those who need them. (Digital practice can be found here.)
  • The SAT will be taken on a laptop or tablet. Students will be able to use their own or one provided by the school.
  • The test will be shorter–going from 3 hours to 2 hours.
  • The reading sections will be shorter with just one question per passage instead of several. Math word problems will be more concise.
  • It will include two sections (Reading/Writing and Math) with a break in between.
  • A calculator will be allowed throughout the entire math section. (The current paper version of the SAT includes a “no calculator” section.) A graphing calculator will be part of the testing software as well.
  • The application will include ways to flag a question to return to it later, a countdown clock (which students can choose to hide), and a reference sheet for the math section with common formulas.
  • Results will arrive much more quickly–in days instead of weeks.
  • Each student will see a unique version of the test (questions come from a common test bank).
  • The software will include autosave features, so that if a device loses access to wifi, none of the work will be lost. Students can continue to take the exam even if they lose a connection. The application will be downloaded prior to test day.
  • And perhaps the biggest change, the test will be adaptive in nature.

Let’s dig deeper into adaptive testing

Adaptive testing is the key to making the test shorter and still being able to measure the same abilities. Each section (Reading/Writing and Math) is divided into two modules. “Students answer a set of questions in the first module before moving on to the next. The questions that students are given in the second module depend on how they performed on the first module.”

How will students react to this adaptive testing format? It is conceivable that students will get to the second section, encounter “easy” questions, and wonder if they messed up in the first section–sort of a mental challenge that could play with the emotions of some students.

Our remaining questions:

  • Lower income districts may have trouble providing devices for all testers. College Board says they will supply devices to those in need. We hope they will be able to do that.
  • What will the security look like? We’re certain that preventing cheating and test question sharing will be paramount concerns for the College Board. Their FAQ says cheating will be practically impossible.
  • What happens if something goes wrong on test day? The College Board says they are introducing the role of technology coordinator for each test center. The district employees responsible for test administration may have an increased burden.
  • How will colleges view the digital SAT? Will they continue to view scores as they do now? The College Board needs colleges, and colleges need the College Board. (They purchase marketing info from CB.) We would expect colleges will be okay with the change.
  • Will colleges return to preferring one test over another? ACT vs SAT?
  • Will the cost of the SAT change? Go up or down?
  • Does a new format really combat the argument that these tests are not equitable for all?
  • More unanswered questions (if you want more LOL!) can be found in Adam Ingersoll’s blog.

Potential positives

The College Board tested the digital format with students, and the quotes they chose to share from those students were positive. The lack of having to fill in those little bubbles (and making a mistake) was appealing. They appreciated the streamlined aspect of the new format and found it less stressful.

A last, important thought:

Testing agencies work very hard to remain relevant in the face of the public perception that scores aren’t needed anymore. The problem with that perception is that it ignores the fact that having a strong test score is still an important piece of a college application. Even at test-optional colleges, many applicants provide a test score (and those colleges will receive and use that score as the application is reviewed. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have not released figures on how many admitted students did not submit a test score. You have to wonder, “Why not?”

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! We realize this is a long post with lots to share. We’ll continue to monitor the changing world of testing and sharing our findings with all of you. As a reminder, our testing webinar is a deep dive into the many considerations that go into creating an effective testing strategy for your child.


Published 2/2/2022

Enjoy this post? Don’t want to miss any future blogs about education, college, or careers?