The SAT is going computer-based.
Starting in 2024 the College Board will be proctoring the SAT completely through computers. The new digital SAT test will also be reformatted to:
- be shorter in time
- allow calculators on all math sections
- and will revise its reading section to be more organic
Additionally, International students will be able to take the SAT test digitally starting in 2023, while US residents will have their first computer-based SAT tests in 2024. In both cases, students will be able to take the exam at their schools or at a testing center.
The College Board had experimented with a digital SAT option for some time, making this revision expected.
The reason the test is shortening in length (from over 3 hours to around 2 hours) is because of a move toward adaptive testing.
Adaptive testing is nothing new and has been in use in the graduate exams (GRE, GMAT) for some time. The format attempts to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge more efficiently, by providing fewer questions in areas where students demonstrate mastery. Conversely, more questions are given when students struggle, in order for them to have multiple options to show their command of a subject.
For example, if the SAT wants to vet a test-taker’s understanding of the quadratic function, it might ask a fairly sophisticated question first–something where students are required to perform an operation called “completing the square.” Students who were able to do this would move onto the next topic, while students unable to complete the square would be shown a simpler question regarding quadratic equations.
We discussed this back in 2018 as well in a related article, Is the SAT Computer-Based?
Implications to Security
The SAT has long struggled with security issues, and a move toward computer-based testing could theoretically enhance security.
A single March test could not be leaked early, because the instance of a test that any one student received would be unique and randomized, based on his or her answering pattern.
Of course, it introduces a host of other security concerns regarding cybersecurity, computer security, and basic human-in-the-loop security flaws.
The Digital SAT – Another Revision
The SAT test has a trend of frequent updates.
In the 2000s alone it switched from 1600-based to 2400-based, to including an essay and then making it optional, from allowing calculators, to disallowing them on certain sections.
And don’t forget the adversity score it tried for a blink of an eye. It updates itself often in response to criticisms.
This latest revision could be seen as an attempt at relevancy in a time when all schools have made the test optional (mostly due to pandemic-induced logistical reasons).
The changes to content seem to be on the smaller side, so far.
The reading section will be more natural. Whereas it currently contains passages from sources like founding documents and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It will shift toward content more integral to students’ daily lives.
The math section will allow calculators on all sections–likely bowing to the false supposition that one would ever be without a calculator.
With the SAT computer based, we expect these changes to be met with gratitude by students who will have to spend less time in testing centers, and with openness by those in the test-prep space who welcome revisions to modernize the SAT. We expect the ACT to follow suit shortly, as the two vie for the most-used test. A spot that changes frequently from one to the other.