Education

The SAT is now fully digital. Here's what else is changing on the exam

The SAT exam is going to be shorter and more adaptive come Saturday, when the test begins to take place on an app instead of a piece of paper.

A student takes a standardized test.
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Say goodbye to the days of perfectly shading in those little answer circles with your No. 2 pencil: The SAT exam is going full digital.

Starting Saturday, students in the U.S. will begin taking the college admissions exam online, whether it be on a personal laptop or tablet or one administered by their school, at designated in-person testing sites.

And on top of gaining back the time it takes to sharpen your lead or fill in those bubbles on each page, test takers will also gain an hour back from the test itself, with it now taking two hours instead of three. It'll also feature shorter reading passages instead of longer texts, as well as digital tool options, like a calculator, to facilitate a smoother experience.

The digital SAT is expected to cover the same concepts as the paper version, but the format will be different. The College Board, the nonprofit that develops and administers the SAT, says the new exam will adopt a "multistage adaptive design." This means its test sections of reading/writing and math will both be divided into two equal-length, separately timed modules, and the questions in the second module will be given based on how the test-taker performed in the first module.

The College Board stresses this format will tailor each question to a test-taker's abilities while making it "practically impossible" to share answers. It notes there won't be disadvantages or lower scores on the test's 1600-point scale just because the second module had an easier set of questions.

It's likely good news for the more than 1.9 million students who took the SAT last year — an increase from the 1.7 million from the class of 2022 who took the exam.

In announcing the switch to digital in January 2022, the College Board said its pilot program two months prior had resulted in 90% of students saying they found the digital exam less stressful, and 100% of educators said it was a positive experience.

More college admissions are going 'test optional' for SAT, ACT
More college admissions are going 'test optional' for SAT, ACT

More college admissions are going 'test optional' for SAT, ACT

As more colleges do away with standardized test requirements, research shows hopeful students may have a fairer chance of admission.

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"The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant," said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of college readiness assessments at the College Board. "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 College Board faced pressure to change the model of the test in the wake of the pandemic after many questioned the SAT's fairness and ability to gauge a student's abilities. Others argued that basing one's future education on the standardized tests could put lower-income students at a disadvantage if they're unable to get proper equipment or training beforehand.

Yet after many schools previously withdrew their SAT requirements for admissions, some schools have reverted to requiring them again — a sign for the College Board that the tests aren't going anywhere.

"The continued growth of the SAT post-pandemic shows that students value and take the SAT to show what they've learned, to connect with scholarships and colleges, and to open doors to their post-high-school futures," Rodriguez said. "The SAT continues to be a valuable tool for students, educators, and higher education."

In terms of accessibility for the digital SAT, the College Board said it's working to address inequities and will provide devices for students who need them on test day. These will already have the necessary Bluebook app, where students will be taking the exam.

"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."