Tutoring Service of New York: The SAT is Going Digital

The College Board announced yesterday that it will significantly change the format of the SAT for international test takers in 2023, and U.S. test takers in 2024. Going forward, the test will be entirely digital. Students will still need to visit a test center to take the exam, but they will now do so on a computer or tablet, rather than a paper test.

This pivot to digital will coincide with major changes to the exam’s overall length and format as well. The test will now last two hours rather than three, students will be able to use their calculators for the entirety of the test, and reading passages will be significantly shorter on the reading section of the exam.

The College Board is implementing these changes as more and more educators, admissions officers, universities, and students question the value of standardized admissions tests like the SAT and ACT. The inaccessibility of testing sites during the COVID-19 pandemic led to an overwhelming number of schools going test optional in recent years — meaning students had the option to submit SAT scores as part of their applications, but were not required to do so. It increasingly seems that these test optional policies may become permanent, as Harvard has announced that it will stay test optional through at least 2026. The University of California system, meanwhile, has outright prohibited students from submitting SAT or ACT scores at all.

College Board officials report that students find the shorter, digital version of the exam far less stressful. They also claim that these moves will help make the exam more “relevant” to students and to the admissions process writ large.

These changes put students and parents in a tricky situation. Should current high school freshmen anticipate taking the test in 2024? When will the College Board release practice tests and materials for the updated exam? If schools are still test optional in 2024 and 2025, does it hurt students not to submit scores?

The lack of clarity about the future of these exams is frustrating. However, certain facts about the college admissions policy still hold true: sustained academic success, demonstrated commitment to meaningful extracurricular activities, strong essays, and strong recommendations mean far more to the admissions process than standardized test scores. That was true in 2005; it was true in 2015; it will be true in 2025. A strong score can be an excellent way of enhancing an already strong application. For students who are unhappy with their grades, a strong score can also be a useful way of demonstrating that they are capable of doing better academic work than they have done so far in high school. Good scores are not meaningless — but they are not the end all be all of the admissions process.

Students and parents should keep a close eye on news and updates about the exam itself, and should always discuss best practices for admissions with their guidance counselor. We are also happy to discuss approaches to these exams, and to academic planning with parents and students. Simply schedule a free consultation on our website, give us a call, or send us an email. We look forward to hearing from you.



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Andrew Stoughton

Tutor at Tutoring Service of New York, a group of professional educators dedicated to helping students achieve their full potentials.