The SAT will drop the pencil and go completely digital by 2024

Many still think it should be phased out altogether.

Wavebreakmedia via Getty Images

The SAT standardized college admissions tests will be taken exclusively on computers starting in 2024, The New York Times has reported. The new system will spell the end to tests taken on paper with No. 2 pencils, a right of passage for American high school students since the SAT was first administered nearly a hundred years ago.

Students will instead complete the exams on laptops or tablets, either their own or devices issued by the school. If students don't have a device, the board will provide one on the test day. And if a student loses power or connectivity, "the digital SAT has been designed to ensure they won't lose their work or time while they reconnect," said the College Board, which administers the tests.

On top of the technical changes, the testing time will be shortened to two hours instead of three. It'll feature shorter reading passages with one question for each, reflecting a wider range of topics more representative of what students will see in college. For the math section, calculators will finally be allowed. And students and teachers will get test scores in days rather than weeks, with educators no longer having to deal with packing, sorting or shipping test materials.

It felt a lot less stressful, and whole lot quicker than I thought it'd be.

The College Board said that in pilot testing, 80 percent of students found the digital-only tests less stressful. "It felt a lot less stressful, and whole lot quicker than I thought it'd be," 11th grade student Natalia Cossio told the board. "The shorter passages helped me concentrate more on what the question wanted me to do."

The new testing standard was announced amid a growing trend for schools across the US to drop the SAT (or rival ACT) tests altogether. For Fall 2022, around 1,815 schools (of nearly 4,000 degree-granting institutions) have eliminated the requirement for standardized test scores, according to the FairTest non-profit foundation.

"Schools that did not mandate ACT/SAT submission last year generally received more applicants, better academically qualified applicants and a more diverse pool of applicants," FairTest Executive Director Bob Schaeffer told the Los Angeles Times last year.

Critics have also noted that the SAT tests handicap students who don't have access to expensive test preparation courses or who can't afford to take the $55 test multiple times. The digital SAT shift "does not magically transform it to a more accurate, fairer or valid tool for assessing college readiness," Schaefer told the NYT. The College Board, meanwhile, has said that SAT scores can actually help students who don't have top-flight grade-point averages.

This article contains affiliate links; if you click such a link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission.