FACEOFF: Are The New SAT Exams Better Than The Old?

Samantha Elkins and Gianna Hutton

Yes (S.E.):

Time is up, please put down your number two pencils…or not. Starting in 2024, the College Board plans on administering the SAT exams completely digitally. Most students already take online tests at school, so why is it such a problem for standardized tests to do the same? The answer: it is not. 

Students take a PSAT or SAT exam to measure their academic abilities and for submission to most universities. The three-hour exam tests critical reading, math and writing skills. A digital exam denotes a shorter test, complete calculator access for the math section and shorter reading passages. Students also receive more time in between questions and receive results within days instead of weeks as previously practiced. For students who do not usually find success with standardized testing, this is good news. 

For test-takers who find themselves grazing the same passage countless times only to retain nothing and lose valuable time can find relief in this new method of standardized testing. Additionally, cutting the test from three hours to two allows students to focus better, especially on those tiring last few sections. A digital exam allows for more relevant questions, easier administration processes and less stress surrounding test day.

Furthermore, digital examinations save the hassle from flipping back and forth from the exam to the answer sheet. Repetitive bubble answer sheets will be replaced with the simple click of a mouse. Proctors no longer will have to spend 25 minutes explaining how to correctly bubble in their information sheet before the test even begins. Starting in 2024, students can begin their tests easily and with clear minds.

Digital exams will save automatically and have the same academic difficulty as a printed SAT exam would. Another major positive aspect of going digital is it’s environmental effects; digital exams produce less paper waste, saving more environmental resources. Students will also no longer have to stress about bringing their own wristwatch to time themselves, or worry if it may start beeping. This way, students will view the time easier and pace themselves accurately. 

Some traditional SAT protocols still remain — such as the standard 1600 scale. While standardized testing is still no walk in the park, the College Board’s efforts for a digital exam will take some weight off of students’ shoulders. 

No (G.H.): 

After two years of staring at a screen, students cannot escape the digital takeover. Starting in 2024 for U.S. students and 2023 for international students, the College Board announced the renovation of the SAT: a digitized and shorter exam, including shorter reading passages and allowing students to use a calculator on the math section.

The SAT and ACT are deeply ingrained parts of the American high school experience. Over a dozen states list the standardized exams as a graduation requirement, and pre-pandemic, a total of 10 states negotiated contracts with the College Board to offer the test during the school day for free to students. Simply put, students cannot escape the test. 

Digital testing has been controversial for years with the College Board scraping plans for online testing in the past due to disputes regarding accessibility for students from rural and low-income areas. Despite the new exams being proctored at schools with school-issued devices, digital literacy is associated with higher socioeconomic status, higher age and gender.

In 2015, Massachusetts public schools transitioned half of the school districts to digital exams of their national assessment aimed at measuring student progress the PARCC while the other half took paper-based exams. The American Institutes for Research noted a drop in test scores, with studies showing that students who took the PARCC test in the digitized version scored significantly lower than students taking the same paper-based test, performing as though they had lost the equivalent of 3.4 months of learning in math and 7.3 months of learning in ELA.

This “online penalty” is reduced annually with students, shrinking by two-thirds in math and by half in ELA in the second year. This technological disparity is evident; two students who are equally proficient in a topic can perform wildly different on the same test depending on how adept with computers they are. 

While the College Board tries to sway public disapproval with flashy benefits like shorter reading  segments and calculator usage, a deeper issue remains students face a deep technological divide that increases the inequitable nature of the SAT.