Pencils down: What to know about the SATs going digital

The days of filling in bubbles with a No. 2 pencil are done for high school students taking the College Board’s SAT.

“The SAT is going all-digital, and will be available to all students in the U.S. beginning on March 9,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, senior vice president of College Readiness Assessments at the College Board. “The 100-year-old paper test” is being retired.

Rodriguez said the digital test has been available outside the U.S. for the past year.

“Over 300,000 students around the world have already taken it and given us really positive feedback.”

For digital natives, the traditional paper test was a stressor.

“We were hearing from students and educators that students do most of their learning digitally and they really do feel more comfortable taking tests digitally,” Rodriguez said. “They actually told us that having to take a test, especially one like the SAT, using one of those bubble answer sheets, was a real source of anxiety for them.”

Rodriguez said the digital test is taken on a student’s laptop or tablet.

“They take the test using our new College Board digital testing app, it’s called Bluebook,” she said. “They’re able to download it in advance of test day, and they can actually even do practice tests on it.”

One thing that remains the same: The digital SAT will still be taken by students in their school, or an area school, on a weekend, with a proctor in the room.

“This is not an at-home SAT.”

Rodriguez said the digital SAT will require about two hours to complete, instead of three hours for the paper test.

While the paper test “is made up of nine long reading passages, and each of them have multiple questions tied to it, the digital reading and writing passages will be shorter, with one question tied to each passage,” Rodriguez said.

With the digital test, students can use calculators for the entire math section: “We built in a great graphing calculator, right into the digital testing app, so that all students have access to a graphing calculator.”

Students will get their results sooner, which will provide them, their parents and teachers “helpful information that they need and can use to inform their post-high school planning,” Rodriguez said.

Some schools have moved away from weighing standardized test scores heavily in the admissions process.

“During COVID, nearly all colleges and universities went ‘test optional,’ telling students, ‘Submit a score if you want, don’t if you don’t want to,'” Rodriguez said.

She added that students, their families and counselors can decide whether taking the SAT and submitting scores in an application works to their advantage.

“It’s free for lower-income students. So, it gives students a way to show what they’ve learned, especially when other parts of the college application, things like extracurricular activities and essays — and research shows this — are more easily influenced by parental wealth.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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