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SAT exam moves to all-digital format, universities ditch standardized test requirements

The test has stressed out millions of high school students, amid questions over whether the test is fair or even necessary.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Put your pencils down.

The SAT exam will move to an all-digital format in the U.S. in 2024, College Board announced Tuesday. 

The move, meant to lower student stress, comes as colleges and universities increasingly ditch standardized test requirements.

The new test will be administered on a computer device instead of the traditional paper and pencil. Test-takers will be allowed to use their own laptop or tablet but will still have to sit for the test at a monitored site, such as a school.

The digital format will allow test results to come back faster. The new test length will also be shortened from the current three hours to two hours.

College Board reported 80% of students found the digital format less stressful in a November 2021 pilot of the new test.

Test prep experts said anxiety over the test is a huge factor for students, millions of whom have been stressing out over the SATs and other standardized tests for years.

“It’s such a high stakes test, there’s so much stress involved," said Elizabeth Clippinger, regional director of Sylvan Learning Center. "That’s part of our prep, is breaking down the test so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming."

Clicking a box may be less stressful than penciling in a bubble, but it’s unlikely to change test preparation classes much.

“The content should be the same, the strategy should be the same because it’s still a multiple choice test,” Clippinger said. “It just might relieve some of the stress for the students as well.”

The SAT is scheduled to go all digital in the U.S. in 2024, meaning the first students who will take it digitally are still high school freshmen.

The change comes as the SAT and other standardized tests face criticism that they favor wealthy, white applicants over minority and low-income students.

“The SAT is highly coachable," said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of Fair Test, a nonprofit that advocates for objective and fair academic evaluation of students. "Affluent families can buy the equivalent of test prep steroids to boost their scores 200, 300 points or more and increase their odds for admission and scholarship aid at schools that still rely on the test."

College Board said it was making access to the digital test more equal by providing laptops or tablets to students who don’t have one for the test.

Critics, like Schaeffer, said the changes don’t go far enough.

“They didn’t address at all the high cost of the test and all the associated fees to send scores to schools,” he said.

It’s also unclear how necessary the tests will be for students in years to come. More than 1,815 higher learning facilities—about 80% of schools—already don’t require standardized test scores in student applications, according to Fair Test.

In south central Pa., the schools that don’t require SAT/ACT scores include Dickinson College, Elizabethtown College, Franklin and Marshall College, Messiah University, Millersville University, Penn State University, Shippensburg University and York College.

Schaeffer said universities are unlikely to reverse SAT/ACT optional test policies, even if the tests move to a digital format.

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