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The College Board has made changes to one of its most notable standardized tests to make the experience easier for students and educators. 

Starting in 2024, students will trade their scantrons and No. 2 pencils for a computer when taking the SAT standardized test.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, the U.S College Board announced that the SAT, formally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, will be taken digitally starting in 2023 for international students and 2024 for U.S.-based students.

"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, in the press release. "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."

Removing barriers for students, educators

The decision comes after a 2021 study piloted by the board that found the digital test is easier for students to take, and less demanding for educators to administer. The study found that a majority of the students (about 80%) who took the digital test were less stressed, and 100% of educators reported a positive experience overall, according to the board.

Although some aspects of the standardized test will stay the same (students will still be scored out of 1,600 and must take the test in an administered testing center), the new digital test will now only be two hours instead of three. The digital test will also offer shorter reading passages and test takers will be allowed to use calculators for the entirety of the math section.

"We believe this is a positive change, since offering a shorter test digitally should increase access. We view well-constructed tests as an opportunity to learn and to demonstrate achievement. The more opportunities students of every background have to demonstrate their academic potential, the better," said Gus Mattammal, director of Advantage Testing.

Students will also be permitted to use their personal or school-issued device. For students who do not have a device, The College Board will provide one on test day. In its initial announcement, The College Board said it was "working to address inequities," especially for students who may not have access to technology.

For educators, The College Board said the changes will improve students' overall test experience and also make cheating more difficult.

"With the current paper and pencil SAT, if one test form is compromised it can mean canceling administrations or canceling scores for a whole group of students … going digital allows every student to receive a unique test form, so it will be practically impossible to share answers," the press release stated.

A boost in efficiency

The digital test will also have quicker turnaround time for students receiving their results. Students will receive scores back in just a few days, rather than weeks.

Faster results will also be an advantage, according to the board, as students who performed poorly due to stress or anxiety can retake the test faster without losing the rhythm of their testing prep, said Brian Bills, founder of AcerLogic Educational Services, a Lake Oswego tutoring company that specializes in standardized test prep. Bills also serves as a member of the Lake Oswego School Board.

"In those instances (where a student has a bad test day), we try to get those students back in front of the exam as quickly as possible. Obviously, that puts them positioned as closely to their prep cycle as possible and they retain those benefits and are operating at their peak performance levels," Bills said.

Bills said the way AcerLogic prepares students for testing will be altered slightly due to the change. Although most of the content will remain the same, the tutoring center will make adjustments to how they administer their testing prep to an online format.

He also said that the switch to digital testing will make it easier for schools to administer SAT days during school hours.

"I think that will streamline the process for students as well. Taking the test on a random Thursday, with all their other students, sort of demystifies it and takes some of the ominousness away from SAT day," Bills said.

Evolving with the times

The new changes also intend to be more inclusive to students without plans to take the four-year college path. Score reports will connect students to resources about local two-year colleges, workforce training programs and other career options.

"This is a big win for students, who increasingly conduct all academic tasks on a computer or tablet and find the paper-based SAT outdated and stressful," Scott Clyburn, founder and director of North Avenue Education, a Portland tutoring company, said to Pamplin Media Group.

The decision also comes at a time when a rising number of colleges have dropped their standardized test requirement. According to Fair Test, an educational organization that addresses fairness to student test taking, more than 1,800 colleges no longer require students to submit ACT or SAT scores for admission.

In 2020, seven public universities in Oregon, including University of Oregon and Oregon State University, announced they would no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores.

"In the era of test-optional admissions policies, when students don't need to take the test, becoming more student-friendly is the SAT's best chance at staying relevant," Clyburn said.

Bills said although a lot of universities now are test-optional, he still recommends students take up any opportunity "that indicates a student's academic preparedness."

"If you have two candidates, each of which have a 3.85 GPA, was a high school athlete and participated in a relatively similar level of extracurricular activities, but one of them also submits a top 10% SAT score … the student with the additional data points would obviously be the preference," he said.


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