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The SAT is going digital! Here’s what we know so far.

This morning, the College Board announced sweeping changes to the SAT, headlined by the fact that it will be administered digitally via a secure testing platform. If the College Board follows through with this plan, it will be a massive win for students around the world, reducing the socioeconomic barriers to entry and the psychological barriers associated with taking a dense, three-hour test. Our team has spent the morning poring over the announcement and the associated FAQs so we can break down exactly what was announced and how it might affect students in the coming years.

What We Know So Far

The Digital Rollout Begins in Spring 2024 for U.S. Students, Spring 2023 for International Students

The College Board will reportedly release online practice resources in the new format starting in the fall of 2022. Though we have been let down before, we expect the College Board to follow through on this promise in order to give international students ample time to adjust to the new format before it is implemented in March 2023. Students in the U.S. will get their first crack at the digital format in an official capacity on the October 2023 PSAT.

The Digital Test Revolution is Nearly Complete

Starting in the spring of 2024 in the U.S., and the spring of 2023 internationally, the SAT will be exclusively administered as a digital test (unless a student’s accommodations dictate otherwise). Students will be able to take the test on their own laptops or tablets and will have to download a “custom-built digital exam application” prior to their test date. 

The SAT is the last major standardized test to adapt to the digital world. The high-school entrance exams (ISEE, SSAT) and graduate school exams (LSAT, GMAT, GRE) have all either completely or partially switched to digital testing, mainly due to the logistical issues caused by the COVID pandemic. Internationally, students have been taking the ACT as a computer-based test since September 2018. The only holdout left, for now, is the ACT for students testing in the United States, and we expect that to change sooner rather than later.

While the test is going digital, it will still be administered in test centers and schools (and not at home).

The SAT Will Be Adaptive

Adaptive tests adjust the difficulty of questions based on the students’ performance on previous questions. The SAT does not look to be doing this on a question-by-question basis (which the GMAT does) but rather by splitting each test section into two parts, called modules, and adjusting the difficulty of the second module based on a student’s performance on the first module (similar to the GRE) . Students will be able to see this in action in the fall of 2022 when the College Board releases the new digital adaptive format for practice.

Test Format Changes: Shortening to Two Hours, Only Two Sections

The test will now be two sections—Reading & Writing and Math—and only two hours long compared to the current three-hour paper test. Despite the shortening of the test, students will actually have more time per question on the digital SAT. Students will be able to use a calculator for the entire math section, and a graphing calculator will be built into the digital exam application.

In addition to the timing changes to the actual test, the overall test day experience will likely shorten significantly. Students will no longer have to bubble in all of their personal information and write that annoying pledge of ethics in cursive before the test, as most preadministration activities will occur in advance of test day on the app.

Test Content Changes: Shorter Reading Passages!

Gone will be the days of long, dense reading passages with 10 questions per passage. Instead, reading passages will be significantly shorter (1-2 paragraphs, we would guess), and there will be only one question to answer per passage. While the College Board touts that this change is to keep the test relevant, it is most likely a necessary change to make the test adaptive. Between this change and the combination of the Reading and Writing & Language sections, students may very well have to switch between reading comprehension and grammar concepts on a question-by-question basis.

Scores Will Be Available in Days, “Not Weeks”

In reality, most students were receiving their scores to the current SAT thirteen days after the test, so this change isn’t as seismic as the College Board has made it seem. However, only having to wait days will allow students to review their test when the content is still fresh in their minds (assuming answer services will still be available) and maintain momentum as they prepare for their next test.

Next week, we’ll be back to discuss some of the biggest questions that we have surrounding this announcement and its impact on the testing landscape. In addition, we’ll be sure to update you as we receive more information surrounding the digital SAT.