SAT Drops #2 Pencil and Moves Online
Credit: Jeff Selingo The third major overhaul of the SAT within the past 20 years will be the one that does away with pencils. ️Are you tired of all the references to No. 2 pencils yet? It seems the ubiquitous yellow writing instrument has made its way into every news story about the College Board’s announcement this week that the SAT is going fully digital.
What’s happening: The new SAT will not only be all-digital starting in the spring of 2024, but it will be shorter—shrinking from three hours to two.
The curtailed testing time is the result of its adaptive nature. Each section of the test (reading and writing and math) are broken into two modules. How students answer questions in the first module will impact what questions they get in the second.
Students will take the SAT on a laptop or tablet, but will still take the test in school during the week or at a testing site on a weekend.
Neither the knowledge the test measures nor its current 1600 scoring scale will change.
Calculators will be allowed on all math questions in the digital version.
“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,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of college readiness assessments for the College Board, who joined a panel with ABC News Now.
How it works: The “section-level" adaptive model that the new SAT will use is easier to design and deploy for the College Board. It will also have less of an impact on test takers compared with an “item-level” adaptive model, an expert in designing high-stakes assessment told me.
In an item-level adaptive test, every next question might be different based on the test taker’s previous response.
In this new SAT model, “the test engine really only makes one ‘decision’ about which subform they get per section,” said the expert who requested not to be identified because he doesn’t speak on behalf of his employer (which isn’t the College Board or its competitor, the ACT).
While the 1600 scoring scale will be the same, I asked if the current SAT scores will be comparable to those in the new test come 2024. “They should be,” the expert said. “We might see scores go up because the biggest difference in the test is time and the fatigue effects of the current test mean those scores might be a little lower.”
What’s next: The College Board said new digital practice materials will be added to its official free partnership with the Khan Academy by this fall (when full-length practice tests will also be available).
“Any new test comes with the challenge of finding adequate preparation materials that truly reflect the upcoming test,” Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest, stated. “So for many students the challenge will be finding good representative practice materials.”
One beneficiary of the transition to all-digital might be the ACT, as high school students try that test out for a few years while the kinks are worked out in the new SAT.
Bottom line: The biggest threat to the SAT has been the hundreds of selective colleges that have suspended or eliminated testing requirements during the pandemic.
The all-digital SAT isn't likely to stem the tide of colleges remaining test-optional. But a shorter test might persuade some students to take the SAT who otherwise would have skipped it for the test-optional colleges on their list.
The College Board was clear that the new SAT isn't envisioned as an at-home test. They tried that with the AP tests during the first spring of the pandemic and it was a disaster.
But it doesn't mean the all-digital SAT will never be an at-home test. You need to crawl into the digital age before you run into it and the College Board started to crawl this week.