The SAT Goes Digital, Decreases Testing Time

The College Board announced substantial changes to the SAT months after its own data showed the number of students that took the test in 2021 dropped by nearly 32%.
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  • The total time to complete the SAT will now be two hours.
  • Students without access to a device to take the test on will be provided one.
  • Reading passages are shorter and will have just one question tied to each passage.

The College Board announced Tuesday a digital overhaul of the SAT.

American High school students will transition to the digital format by 2024; scoring will remain unchanged, although the move to digital will decrease the overall time needed to complete the test from three hours to two hours.

"The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant," Priscilla Rodriguez, VP of college readiness assessments at College Board, said in a statement. "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."

Other major changes to the SAT:

  • Students may use a calculator for the entire math section.
  • Reading passages are shorter and will have just one question tied to each passage.
  • Students will receive unique test forms, decreasing the likelihood of cheating and cancelled scores.

The College Board first experimented with digital SAT administration in November 2021, when it also dropped the optional essay portion of the test.

The new format and shorter test taking time also means more tests can be administered during or just after school hours. According to the College Board, 62% of students in the class of 2021 who took the SAT did so for free at their school on a weekday. Students will now get their scores back within days, rather than weeks.

Students without a personal device or school-issued device will be provided one on test day, the College Board said in the announcement. Likewise, loss of internet connectivity or power will not impact test scores, as work is saved continually and time does not continue to run if connection is lost.

The digital overhaul was announced at a time when many higher education institutions are moving away from requiring standardized tests for admission. In 2020, the University of California System, the nation's largest public higher education system, suspended the use of standardized tests in admissions across its nine campuses until 2024 and promised to eliminate their use entirely for in-state students by 2025. Last May, Colorado removed the standardized test requirement at its public institutions, and this January the Iowa Board of Regents did the same for its three public universities.

That sea change coupled with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a nearly 32% drop in the number of students that took the test in 2021. According to a recent College Board report, 1.5 million students took the SAT last year, down from 2.2 million in 2020.