Digitalizing the Change: The SAT

The SAT will be conducted online starting in the fall of 2023; what might that mean for students?

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By Joanna Meng

The College Board recently announced that starting in the fall of 2023, the SAT will be conducted virtually. This big change brings smaller changes with it, including a two-hour test-taking window, shorter reading passages, and allowing calculators on all math sections. While this is not unprecedented, given recent technological advancements, students will certainly have to adjust to the new system.

While digitizing the SAT is a major change, many of the features of the in-person SAT will remain unchanged. Both the digital and in-person exams are out of 1600 points and have the same curving system.

The College Board stated that they hope that digitalization makes taking the SAT easier for students. Students will be taking the virtual SAT on the Bluebook app, which the  College Board uses for all their digital testing. They will not have to take it at a testing center, but rather in their own homes.

Since students have never taken a virtual SAT before, it is challenging to know what to expect and how to prepare. However, upperclassmen can use their experiences taking digital AP exams during the pandemic to predict what the experience will be like. Junior Sophia Dasser, who has already taken the in-person SAT, shared that she found virtual AP examinations tedious, especially as they necessitated preventative measures to ensure academic integrity. “And there [were] just all these precautions that they made us answer [...] while we were taking a digital one that kind of messed with my focus since it was in the middle of the exam,” Dasser shared. Dasser further elaborated on the technical disadvantages that the virtual SAT could bring: “There’s this little clock in the corner. It’ll just constantly tell you what time it is. And for me, that intimidates me a lot because I feel like I’m running out of time constantly, and I always feel like I need to rush.”

The College Board has stated that the virtual SAT will have fewer questions, adjusted according to the decreased test-taking window. Though this suggests that the exam will be less draining, students revealed that under such stressful conditions, a shorter time frame isn’t as advantageous as it initially seems. “Two hours is definitely a lot less time, but I feel like three hours and two hours feel the same to me though when I’m taking a test,” remarked sophomore Skye McArthur.

Students also expressed that their discomfort with the prospect of an online SAT stems from confusion and lack of information. Not only are they unsure of how a digital SAT will work, but they recognize that it is somewhat experimental and will likely take College Board years to refine.  Junior Joey Chen shared that she already took the in-person SAT; however, she expressed that she would be upset if she had to take the virtual SAT. “I don’t like to be a guinea pig. So, I would feel really offended that my group, that generation, is going to have to be the first year to do it,” Chen expressed.

Others have similar fears. “I think that creating this new, unprecedented type of exam is very scary [...] for people who just want to study for the exam. I have no idea predicting what is going to be on the exam,” said Dasser. “It’s just going to be insane for the first couple of years, and it’s just going to be very difficult to do.”

The switch to virtual exams is particularly daunting because students’ experiences with test prep have largely been centered around paper exams; they are used to being able to annotate the passages, flip through pages quickly, and complete questions out of order—this is all much more difficult with digital exams.  “I feel like we’ve been trained to deal with exams on paper [...] my exams are always on paper. We never have digital ones,” shared Dasser. “The in-person paper [test] I take allows me to annotate my readings or show my work right next to the problem and highlight specific parts of the problem that I want to focus on [...] And even though you take digital exams and you try to use the little highlight tools and the notes, you never really use them.”

Sophomore Kaileen So shared that the school administration can help students by repeatedly exposing students to virtual testing. “I think it would be really helpful to educate students about what it actually entails, like the similarities and differences to the paper test,” So shared. “I don’t know if this would work for all classes, but having virtual exams could help students become aware of the test. [The] biggest thing is just letting students know about the differences, [be]cause at least for me, I’m not sure what a virtual SAT would be like.”

The unprecedented circumstances of the digital SAT contribute to the test’s already ambiguous role in the college admissions process—many colleges have become entirely test-optional in recent years. Dasser expressed that she would prefer if colleges looked at the virtual and in-person tests separately. “[The] algorithmic curve may be different [...] the test room might be different. You’re surrounded by computers. There [are] just so many factors that are unpredictable. And I guess it’s just not right to compare someone who took the digital [to] someone who took the regular SAT,” Dasser said.

Others believe that though the transition period will be challenging, as time passes and students become better prepared for the exam, the digital SAT may be able to entirely replace the in-person exam. “ I don’t think it’s going to affect [the college admissions process] that much. I feel like the first few years might be difficult because they don’t know what the format is,” shared Chen. “Once they release the digital version online, I’m pretty sure a lot of people are able to study based on that.”

The virtual SAT is brand new to all of us, regardless of whether we have already taken the paper exam. It is not yet possible to predict its impacts on college admissions or the ways it will differ from the traditional SAT. Though all the unknowns may be intimidating for students, it is helpful to know that you aren’t alone in your anxiety.