On Jan. 25, the College Board announced that the SAT Suite of Assessments will soon be going online. Starting in 2023 for international students and in 2024 for domestic students, the digital SAT will have a shorter duration of two hours, abridged reading passages with only one question per passage, and a built-in Desmos calculator for the math section. Educators and students will also see reduced turnaround time, receiving their scores in a matter of days rather than weeks.
Despite the digital transformation, the SAT will still have to be taken at a school or testing center. Students will be given the option to test on a school-issued device, a personal laptop, or a personal computer. This choice is in response to concerns about students having varying abilities to access three hours of high-quality Internet and power.
This decision follows students’ and educators’ positive response to the digital SAT the College Board piloted globally in November last year. According to the College Board, students reported finding the digital SAT less stressful than the traditional physical format, and educators responded that the tests were more convenient to administer.
In a Jan. 25 press release, Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at College Board, lauded the new SAT’s relevance and improved test-taking experience.
“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,” Rodriguez said. “With input from educators and students, we are adapting to ensure we continue to meet their evolving needs.”
However, the benefits Rodriguez touted do not seem to be distributed equally amongst all students. According to the College Board’s 2019 report comparing students’ performance on the SAT Suite of Assessments across pencil-and-paper and computer-based modes of administration, Hispanic students tended to perform better on the pencil-and-paper test than they did on the computerized version. Students whose first language was not English also scored better on the physical reading tests.
The College Board’s shift online arrives in time with a growing discussion among educators and students alike about equity in and access to higher education, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spotlight higher education’s entrenched inequities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the widespread cancellations of standardized tests have influenced colleges to re-evaluate their admissions processes and prompted more colleges to abandon standardized testing. According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, more than 1,800 colleges have decided to forgo mandatory standardized testing.
More recently, the UC Board of Regents unanimously decided to halt the use of SAT and ACT for admissions decisions within the University of California. This is due to evidence that such testing has led the UC system to further marginalize students of color and low-income students during the admissions process. Given that the UC system received around 250,000 applications last year, this decision will likely lead to a large reduction in demand for standardized testing.
The impact of eliminating the examination requirement can already be seen at UC San Diego: the Fall 2021 cycle marked the highest number of applications in UCSD’s history, and more than one-third of first-year and over half of transfer students admitted for Fall 2021 were first-generation students.
However, Rodriguez believes the College Board still has a role to play in improving access to higher education, and said they are committed to serving students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“The SAT allows every student — regardless of where they go to high school — to be seen and to access opportunities that will shape their lives and careers,” Rodriguez said. “I am one of those students. I’m a first-generation American, the child of immigrants who came to the U.S. with limited financial resources, and I know how the SAT Suite of Assessments opened doors to colleges, scholarships, and educational opportunities that I otherwise never would have known about or had access to. We want to keep those same doors of opportunity open for all students.”
Yet, when speaking to The UCSD Guardian, Sixth College freshman Hieu Pham explained that there were numerous factors beyond students’ control that could influence their SAT scores.
“There were people who were put at a disadvantage because of their school’s academic fundings, [their] focus on extracurriculars, and even financial needs[,] which is just disappointing to think about…[The SATs] don’t entirely measure the determination and individuality of each student, [so] I don’t find them relevant,” Pham said.
Pham also spoke on their experience taking the SAT, and asserted that they believed it didn’t accurately reflect one’s character and individuality.
“[I] spent most of my time studying for my AP classes and working[,] so I never really set time apart to study for the SAT…I definitely felt like I was put at a disadvantage,” Pham said. “Standardized tests like the SAT/ACT are designed in a way that if you study how to take it, you’ll get better scores. I didn’t get the time to really study any online material or go to any boot camps…Once I heard that the UCs were dropping/making admissions SAT/ACT optional, I felt completely relieved. The SAT never tested what I knew and was passionate about as a unique individual, but rather, [whether I was] a good test-taker.
To find out more information about the digital SAT Suite of Assessments, students can visit the College Board’s website. Students can also find out more about the UC System’s admission process by visiting the University of California’s website to learn more.
Artwork courtesy of Nicolas Regli for The UCSD Guardian.