Updated Mar 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

The first U.S. digital SAT is coming up. Here's what you need to know

Illustration of a standardized test answer sheet with a cursor

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Put the pencil sharpeners away. The SAT is going digital starting Saturday.

Why it matters: Standardized testing is already losing relevance for college admissions. These changes make the most popular entrance exam shorter, easier to administer and offer more flexibility for students who opt to take it.

  • The 1600-point scale isn't going away, and the exam will still be administered at schools or test centers, now almost exclusively on laptops or tablets.
  • The test time is down to 2 hours and 14 minutes, compared to 3 hours with the traditional test.
  • The digital SAT was piloted for students outside the U.S. last spring, while U.S. students took a digital version of the Preliminary SAT in the fall.
  • Students who need accommodations are still able to request them, including anyone who may need a paper-and-pencil option.

What is changing?

Students will take the exam at their own pace, so everyone's timing and breaks won't correspond.

  • Digital testing application Bluebook will manage the test. A built-in calculator will be available for the math section.

How it works: The exam will use "adaptive testing."

  • Each student will have the same first module in each section (math, reading and writing) with a mixture of easy, medium and hard questions.
  • The second module will include questions tailored to each student's performance on the first module.
  • "You can be confident that you're going to end up with an accurate score," per the College Board. "Your score will reflect your achievement and skills based on your answers to questions in both modules."

Results, eventually, will come in about 5 days, the College Board said.

  • During the transition period, turnaround times will be about 13 days.

What technology can I use?

Students can take the exam on Wifi-connected devices such as school-managed Chromebooks, personal or school-managed Windows or Mac laptops or tablets.

The fine print: Just make sure there is enough available disc space for the exam, and bring a charger.

Students without access to a device can request one from the College Board at least 30 days before the test, which will be shipped directly to test centers.

  • An adult reference like a teacher, counselor or advisor is required to borrow a device.
  • Submitting a request doesn't guarantee a device.

Lots of schools are test optional. What does that mean?

By the numbers: More than 80% of four-year colleges and universities won't require fall 2025 applicants to submit SAT/ACT scores, according to FairTest.

  • That amounts to at least 1,825 bachelor-degree granting schools.
  • In the current college application season, just 4% of Common App member schools are requiring test scores, down from 55% in 2019-20.

Threat level: Daaiyah Bilal-Threats, a spokesperson for the National Education Association, said overusing standardized testing to assess student aptitude leads to less diverse cohorts.

  • "No test can really predict a student's potential and the school system's effectiveness," she said.

Reality check: Research shows that SAT performance correlates to wealth.

  • Some elite schools are returning to test requirements as they drop pandemic-era test-optional policies.

Go deeper: Some elite colleges are rethinking SAT requirements

Go deeper