The SAT is going fully digital in spring 2024, meaning that they will no longer offer pencil & paper testing. I can't imagine who made this decision at CollegeBoard. Let's discuss the digital SAT and why I think it's such a bad decision.
My classmates took the PSAT this Wednesday (but not me!). My school wanted students to start testing at 9am. Unfortunately, the majority of students weren't able to begin testing until 10:30am.
For context: CollegeBoard administers its computer exams through Bluebook, a lockdown testing application that can be downloaded on Mac, Windows, or a school-managed Chromebook. Except Bluebook failed horribly for most students at my school, because of various technology issues, including: software misconfigurations, account logins, and time-tracking software (read: spyware) on our school devices.
The main issue I have with any computer-administered test is that stuff can stop working at any time for reasons that sometimes make no sense. This is a general statement, so here's a list of possible issues with computer-administered tests:
- Internet connectivity (what happens if the internet goes down?)¹
- Hardware (what if the computer or mouse stops working?)
- Power (what if the computer runs out of battery?)
- Software failure (what happens if the computer starts bluescreening?)
- Hacking (what if a student tries to hack Bluebook?)
Here's a list of possible issues with a classic paper & pencil test:
- ??? (I literally cannot think of any)
There is practically nothing that can go wrong with a paper & pencil test. You can't hack a piece of paper. The piece of paper will never run out of power. The piece of paper doesn't need an internet connection. The piece of paper doesn't run on software and doesn't need hardware. Paper already works.
The digital SAT is now adaptive and lasts only two hours. Unfortunately, because CollegeBoard decided to change the test format, currently existing SAT prep materials are now considerably less useful. Students taking the new SAT will have no idea what to expect, and they'll have less practice questions and practice tests to practice with.
The reading section is now trivially easy. According to one of my friends, the digital PSAT didn't have any long passages, like the paper & pencil SAT has — instead, they had a maximum of one short paragraph per question. This means that the SAT can no longer ask questions about inferences or overall themes of a passage — both skills that are invaluable in the real world.
"Won't the shorter test eliminate test fatigue?" Yes, but the SAT is supposed to be an accurate predictor of college performance. Success in college requires intense focus and discipline — and a three-hour test requires students to maintain focus longer than a two-hour test.
Despite what I think, the CollegeBoard is going to continue its plans for the digital SAT. Why? The answer is money. Paper testing is considerably more expensive than computer testing, and even though CollegeBoard is a nonprofit, it is very profitable. CollegeBoard has no incentive to keep offering the paper SAT, because they practically monopolize the American high school exam industry².
I just think the new digital testing will cause headaches for both CollegeBoard and students. If CollegeBoard manages to fix problem #1, I will be very impressed. But I anticipate the digital SAT is going to have a very rocky start.
¹ Thankfully, CollegeBoard has apparently "built the exam application to withstand internet outages. If the internet disconnects during testing, students will still be able to progress through the test with no disruption—all their work will be saved, and they won’t lose testing time." Hopefully this is true.
² I say "practically" because the ACT does exist.