The SAT is Going Digital, Enough to Keep it Relevant?

Kara Miller, Staff Writer

In an education system built on burning out teenagers by the time they graduate, taking the SAT exam marks millions of kids’ coming-of-age.

There is truly no feeling quite like sitting down on a cool Saturday morning, a pack of Goldfish and a #2 pencil in hand, to take an exam that will determine the fate of your college applications.

The experience itself is so grueling it is almost laughable. No matter how impressive one’s grades are, how dedicated to after-school activities one is or how perfect an essay one writes, if a student’s SAT score is not in the range of their dream college, they’re fresh out of luck.

However, this trademark of the American education system may be headed toward extinction, thanks to COVID-19. The proof lies in a statement released by the College Board this past Tuesday regarding the future of the SAT. 

According to College Board’s Newsroom, the SAT will have some “Student Friendly Changes” launching in 2024, which include moving the SAT to a fully virtual exam, shortening the exam time to two hours instead of three, shorter reading sections with fewer questions as well as a fully calculator-friendly math section.

Since March 2020, the SAT has been administered by the College Board either fully or partially online. With the future of the pandemic still highly unpredictable (especially after the most recent Omicron surge), College Board’s decision to move the SAT completely online seems like an obvious one.

Yet, because many students did not have access to SAT testing or normal education during the pandemic, many universities across the country have decided to become test-optional, which has drastically impacted the annual figure of students taking the exam.

The Class of 2020, though impacted by COVID-19 near the end of their senior year, mostly took the SAT pre-pandemic and reported about 2.2 million students having taken the exam at least once.

However, for the Class of 2021, only 1.5 million students were reported to have taken the SAT.

Villanova was one of many universities to offer test-optional applications for the classes of 2025 and 2026, with 44% of students in the class of 2025 applying test-optional.

Despite this, Villanova was still able to hit its target class size of 1,675 (with an extremely competitive 25% acceptance rate for the Class of 2025) while enforcing the test-optional policy.

The University’s Executive Director of Undergraduate Admission, Michael Gaynor, about the future of standardized testing with Villanova admissions.

“We are extending our test-optional policy through at least next year’s cycle (Villanova Class of 2027),” Gaynor said.

“There are ongoing conversations about the future of standardized testing in our admission process beyond our 2022-23 admission campaign.”

If universities like Villanova continue offering test-optional applications, which save students time and stress from taking the SAT, the exam has the potential to become obsolete within the next decade.

Gaynor’s mention of “ongoing conversations about the future of standardized testing” within Villanova’s admissions processes seems to acknowledge that this may very well be the case.

This threat is most likely what triggered the drastic SAT exam tweaks. The College Board may be able to win test-takers back by making the exam more accessible and easier.

The question remains: if universities have proven that they can offer test-optional applications successfully, what is the advantage of taking the SAT at all?

Although the main argument in favor of the SAT is that there is no other way to equally gauge students’ academic capabilities across the country besides standardized testing, there is clearly no “equality” when it comes to the SAT.

Success in this exam is largely based on acquiring a certain set of skills or techniques with respect to reading comprehension, grammar and mathematics, not to mention that the exam itself costs $52.

  Students from wealthier families have an obvious advantage here, as they can hire tutors to teach them such techniques, purchase costly SAT practice workbooks and afford to take the exam multiple times.

In addition, all school districts do not have the same curriculum or quality of teaching, so a lower SAT score does not indicate lower capability for college success, but rather larger inequalities in our education system.

Overall, the infamous SAT taken for generations will never be the same. Is the transition from paper to digital a necessary consequence of modern times? Or is it a last-ditch effort to keep the exam relevant for the profit of the College Board?

Only time will tell. However, we must also consider whether the way we as a country distribute opportunity, such as with standardized testing, is even equal from the start. Test-optional college admissions is a step in the right direction for a bigger movement for equality within the American education system.