The SAT is Going Digital: Everything You Need to Know
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all facets of education. In fact, it has caused the greatest disruption of education systems in history. Among that disruption was the cancellation of many SAT and ACT test dates in 2020. Students were left without options. Colleges and universities across the U.S. scrambled to reinvent the college admissions process to account for the lack of testing availability.
We’ve seen significant innovation in education over the last two years, and the SAT is no exception.
In 2024, the SAT will be fully digital. You’ll find that the structure and content of the test look different than the paper-based version that we know today. No longer will the test be the same for all students on a given national test date. Beginning in 2024, the test will be unique for each student, regardless of when or where the test is taken.
Let’s walk through everything you need to know about the SAT going digital.
When Is The SAT Going Digital?
The first students to take the digital SAT will be international students in the spring of 2023. Next will be students taking the PSAT in the fall of 2023. By the spring of 2024, all students worldwide taking either the SAT or PSAT will do so digitally.
This means that for students on the typical timeline of taking the SAT spring of junior year, the class of 2025 will be the first class affected.
However, some students in the class of 2024 will be affected as well.
If you are in the class of 2024 and find yourself taking the SAT in the spring of senior year, you’ll be forced to take the digital version. This could be quite the issue if you’ve prepared only for the old, paper-based version. Because of this, it’s more important than ever that the class of 2024 completes all SAT testing at the very latest in the fall of their senior year.
Note: If you are in the class of 2025 and you opt to take the SAT any earlier than the spring of your junior year, you’ll likely be taking the paper-based version. The same thing goes for students in the class of 2026 who opt to take the SAT as early as the fall of sophomore year.
It isn’t a huge deal if you end up taking one paper-based SAT and one digital one. But you should consider the implications. If all you’ve studied and prepared for is the paper-based version and then find yourself expecting to get your best score with the digital version, you may be disappointed.
It’s important that your test prep strategy includes adequate preparation for the version (or versions) of the test you’ll actually be taking.
Why Is The SAT Changing?
We’ve known for some time that the SAT was planning to transition the test from a paper-based assessment to a totally virtual one, but it seems that the pandemic has accelerated that timeline.
But what exactly is fueling this change?
Greater Flexibility For College Board
Administering a digital test provides much more flexibility as we move into a new age of digital-first learning. While there won’t be a total free-for-all (no, you won’t be able to take the SAT while lounging in your bed), there will be greater flexibility of when and where students can take the SAT.
This is beneficial for the College Board, as they try to prevent any further test cancellations.
More Opportunity For Rural and Low-Income Students
This flexibility is also going to benefit students in areas that traditionally see less testing equality.
Some schools already host an in-school SAT test day. This provides an opportunity for all students to take the SAT at least once, regardless of their personal situation. Without in-school testing, some students would never take the SAT.
With the move to a digital test, we’ll see more schools opting for an in-school test option as they will no longer have to comply with the very specific national testing dates.
What makes this possible is that each student’s test will be unique, so there will no longer be a concern about students’ sharing test questions or answer sheets.
The security of paper-based exams has been questioned in recent years. An all-digital version eliminates particular security concerns associated with paper exams changing hands and being shipped across the U.S. to scoring centers.
Prevent Testing Fatigue
Many students have expressed concern over the years with the sheer length of the SAT. It’s exhausting. Testing fatigue is real, and this new version of the SAT will help to eliminate at least some of that. You’ll find shorter reading passages and a reduction in overall test time by about an hour.
What Is Staying The Same?
In 2016, we saw the most significant changes to the SAT in history. One of the biggest changes was that the test moved from a 2400 scale to 1600. But rest easy because the SAT is not changing the scoring scale again. The digital test will continue to have a scale of 1600.
In general, testing locations will remain the same; students will either be able to take the test in school or at a testing center.
While the test will be now conducted digitally, it will still require proctoring in a controlled setting. Because of this, students can expect to still have the option to take the SAT at testing centers. However, we may see an increase in schools offering the SAT in school, during school hours, as this new test version provides them greater flexibility in exactly when and how the test is administered by schools.
At this point, we have no indication that the underlying content being tested on the SAT is going to change. We are going to see some structural changes to the SAT (more on that below), but we do not expect to see topics being removed or added to the list of “fair game” material.
The SAT’s goal will remain the same: to provide an indication of a student’s college readiness.
Many students rely on the PSAT/NMSQT to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program. The process for this will not change. The entire suite of SAT Assessments, including the PSAT, is moving to a digital format, so students should expect to take the PSAT digitally as soon as the fall of 2023.
The change in test format will not affect a student’s ability to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship or any other scholarship program using his or her PSAT scores.
Testing accommodations will continue to be awarded to students who qualify. The only change here may be that some students could be awarded the accommodation of using a paper-based SAT rather than a digital version.
The College Board will continue to offer accommodations such as extra testing time, help translating questions, or a separate testing room. Whatever the College Board deems a fair equalizer due to a disability will continue to be awarded to eligible students.
To find out if you’re eligible for accommodations on the SAT, contact your school or a college admissions counselor for a list of proper documentation to send to College Board for approval.
What is changing?
Ditch those #2 pencils. Instead, you’ll need a personal or school-issued device. If you don’t have one, one will be provided for you.
This is a big one. The SAT will be shorter with the digital version by about an hour. It will also provide a countdown on the test itself, so you can keep an eye on the time.
This will help eliminate interruptions from proctors to provide timing warnings.
The test will be shorter because it will feature shorter reading passages and fewer reading questions.
The digital SAT allows the College Board to deliver a unique version of the test for every student. The complications involved in delivering anything other than a single test version are now eliminated by offering the test digitally. Students will be served up unique questions through College Board’s new digital platform.
We don’t yet know exactly what this means for test-takers. However, we do know that the test will still cover the same content areas, so likely we will simply see question variation within the standard content areas.
The SAT math section will now allow the use of a calculator on every question. A calculator will be built into the digital testing experience, or you can opt to use your own physical calculator. Instead of testing arithmetic skills, the focus will be placed on mathematical reasoning skills.
No longer will testing centers have to manually package up and ship physical tests. This will drastically reduce score delivery timelines. Expect to get your scores faster with the digital SAT.
And this is great news. The sooner you have your scores, the sooner you can make some decisions about a retest or whether you want to submit your score to colleges or universities.
The SAT will soon offer an enhanced post-test suite of resources for students. You’ll find College Board will provide relevant resources such as a list of trade schools, community colleges, universities, and even career paths based on your scores. You will also get a more in-depth breakdown of your scores that should help you make a more informed decision about your next steps.
Final Thoughts – The SAT is Going Digital
The SAT will move to a fully digital version by the spring of 2024. While the core purpose of the test remains to provide an indication of college readiness, some changes to the test will undoubtedly affect a student’s test prep strategy.
In addition to the test moving from a paper-based exam to a digital exam, we will see a few key changes to the test structure:
The test will be shorter by about an hour.
Students will be able to use a calculator on every math question.
The test will be unique for every student. There will not be a single version of the SAT for each national testing date.
Look at the calendar and decide when you’ll be taking the SAT. Be sure to account for at least one retest. Use this as a guide for which version of the SAT you should prepare for.
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