Q&A: How SAT's move to digital format will impact test-takers

Posted at 1:41 PM, Jan 27, 2022

The SAT is going digital.

In January, the College Board announced it would move the standardized test to an online format in the U.S. in 2024, following a pilot program in 2021.

"The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant," a College Board spokesperson said in a written statement. "We're not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform."

Robert Franek, the Editor-in-Chief of the Princeton Review, answered our questions about the changes in the test.

This transcript has been lightly edited for tone and clarity.

Q: Why now?

Robert Franek, Editor-in-Chief, Princeton Review: I think it is time to modernize the SAT and make it as relevant as possible to current students, their families, and their counselors.

There's a pretty big coup here for test-takers: The exam will now be two hours rather than three hours, which is a substantial time saving for the student. It also lessens fatigue that is so inherent to the SAT.

A couple of other things are going to be changing. Students can use calculators built into the platforms starting in 2024, so students can use calculators on all math questions. Right now, they're prohibited on some sections.

There are going to be more straightforward reading sections as well. It's going to be speedier for students, but also more accessible.

The other big difference is that now it will be an adaptive test. That accounts for some of the time savings. There's going to be fewer questions, but it's not going to be, 'You got these questions right and these questions wrong.' It will be based on the weighting of those questions based on their level of difficulty.

Q: Is this decision, in part, because of how many students take the SAT in school? (2021 data shows 62% of test-takers took their exam during a school day.)

Franek: That has been a big part of the market share for the College Board: Giving those tests in-school directly. It is probably a pretty significant focus for the College Board that we're going to see more of those tests being done in schools. When 2024 rolls out, students are going to likely have a choice to do it in a testing center, alone, or an at-school SAT. What they will not be able to do, however, is take that test remote and at home, as they were able to in May of 2020 for the AP exam, which was also created by the College Board.

Q: How will this decision improve equity among test-takers?

Franek: It's really the platform itself that we're seeing the biggest value to students for access and equity purposes. Number one, students will be able to use a laptop that the testing center gives them, or that's supplied by the school. Students can use their own laptop or their own tablet, but they're not obliged to do that. That is going to improve access and equity.

Then there's the idea of the calculator. Students were having to have a graphing calculator of a particular model. Some of those were expensive. So that will level the field as well, with the built-in calculator.

Q: Are there any drawbacks to going digital?

Franek: There's not a lot of testing materials out there yet on how to prepare for that new exam. I do think that will change as soon as the College Board releases more information of what the structure and content of that new exam are going to be. That's what my team does at the Princeton Review. That's going to be a pretty big coup for students.

Right now, we might see some students going to the old version - the known version - of the SAT. Or they may flock to the ACT during that guinea pig year of 2024, the first year that it'll roll out for all U.S. students. But, again, to be seen.

Q: How does this move affect test prep for students?

Franek: It's going to be significant. Any time a new exam happens - and this could be the SAT, ACT, or any of the number of professional and graduate school exams - students need guidance. Their parents want that as well. Counselors want those things as well. A lot of students turn to test prep in order to make sure that students are getting the best of preparation for that new exam. And that's what we've done for now 40 years at the Princeton Review. We'll certainly do it for this new iteration of the SAT.

Q: Should this change be cause for concern for parents of middle school students or students who are early in their high school careers?

Franek: I think there probably will be alarm. I gave a lecture last night, and I told the students there, just remind yourself that you are comfortable on an e-platform more than I ever will be. And that's what the new SAT is going to be. So feel the confidence and prowess that you already have coming out of the gate going into that new exam because you are primed to do well on it.

Q: Are there any other things worth noting about this decision?

Franek: Again, I'd remind students that they are primed to do very well in this new environment of the test. And this rollout over the next two years is a significant rollout. We're not going to see any surprises in the next iteration of the SAT in a couple of weeks. We know that it is going to be a metered approach, and for that, I give applause to the College Board.