No More Pencils: SAT Becomes Digital, Shorter and More Relevant

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SAT scores have been central to college admissions across the U.S, U.K., Germany, Australia and even some universities in India. Since the pandemic hit, SAT and College Board, the not-for-profit organisation that conducts this test have been in the news on and off. So, what’s the story there? What is the latest development? Let’s take a look.

Digitising the SAT

This week, College Board announced that starting next year, the SAT will be taken exclusively on a computer. Their press release said that “The SAT will be delivered digitally internationally beginning in 2023, and in the US in 2024.” Based on a pilot run that was conducted, the organisation has taken into account the fact this generation of students find digital tests a lot less stressful than the pencil-to-paper ones. With this model, students will be able to use their own devices or use the ones provided by their school. College Board is now gearing up to provide devices to those who don’t have access on the day of the test.

Besides going online, the duration of the test will also be brought down from 3 to 2 hours, with shorter reading passages from a wider range of reading material. Students taking up the test will also be allowed to use calculators in the Math section.

Goodbye No. 2 pencils, you will be missed.

Test-optional intakes

After all these years, why now is a reasonable question to ask. Since the pandemic hit, nearly 1,800 universities across the U.S. have made their admissions test-optional. “In a largely test-optional world, the SAT is a lower-stakes test in college admissions,” Ms. Priscilla Rodriguez, the Vice President of college readiness assessments for the College Board said in a statement. “Submitting a score is optional for every type of college, and we want the SAT to be the best possible option for students.”

But was not just the uncertainties of the pandemic. A lawsuit in 2019-20 claimed that despite their claims of standardisation, the tests were inherently biased. These claims were supported by statistical analyses that showed that there is a direct correlation between race, family income, and SAT scores. A major part of this association rests on the test coaching centres which can be as expensive as $1,000 an hour, an amount that many people cannot afford.

Is digitalisation a solution?

Does this technological advancement magically fix things? Will it make SAT equitably uniform? Probably not. But, with the variations that exist in school curricula, College Board adheres to its principle that an SAT score can strengthen the application of a student.

While it is not a solution to the bias issues, digitalisation is the way ahead in today’s world. The sheer logistics of conducting a pencil-on-paper exam in a pandemic-driven world is unwieldy. With SAT going online, each student will receive a unique question paper, making malpractice impossible.

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