Major changes are underway for the SAT college entrance exam, according to the College Board. Recently, the board announced the SATs will soon shift to a digital format, telling future test-takers to ditch those No. 2 pencils. The new exam will also be shorter – two hours, instead of three offering “more time per question,” the board stated in a news release.

Local school officials at Oak Park and River Forest High School and Fenwick High School see upsides to the coming adjustments to testing.

Changes to the exam will fully take effect by 2024 and include shorter reading passages with one question tied to each passage. The board indicated the passages will encompass a range of topics representative of the work students read in college, and test-takers will be allowed to use calculators all throughout the math section. Students and educators will also receive scores back in days rather than in weeks, the news release also stated. The College Board also noted that other standardized tests for high school students, including the PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT, will be offered digitally within the next two years.

Karin Sullivan, a spokeswoman at Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200, said district officials viewed the College Board’s recent changes as positive ones.

“Colleges and universities are depending less and less on one score to determine admission, and more things, in general, are moving to an online platform. We’re happy to see the College Board evolving to adopt practices more in line with what is happening in higher education nationally,” Sullivan wrote in an emailed statement to Wednesday Journal.

Emily Anderson, a test coordinator at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, mirrored some of Sullivan’s thoughts and anticipated the new exams may be easier to administer, and she, like many others, will no longer have to worry about packaging the SAT books on testing day.

“You don’t have to verify how many test scores you have, how many test books you have [and] make sure everything is ordered and packed up,” Anderson said. “As a test coordinator, I might be more prone to do more test dates if they’re offered just because it is easier, and you’re not giving up as much of your Saturday as you would otherwise if it’s a shorter test.”

The College Board’s announcement came in time as a new state law surrounding SAT and ACT scores took effect earlier this month. Under new Illinois law, students now have the option to disclose their entrance exam scores on college applications for state schools. Led by state Sen. Christopher Belt (D-Swansea) and state Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis), the new law served as a way to break down the barriers of the college admissions process for students, especially for those from low-income communities.

Prior to the law and the COVID-19 pandemic, three of the state’s 12 four-year public universities – Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Western Illinois University – already enacted a test-optional policy.

As Sullivan and Anderson reflected on the upcoming changes to the SAT, they also talked about how SATs were administered over the course of the pandemic. Back in March 2020, when the first wave of the pandemic hit, the SATs were canceled that spring and rescheduled later that fall.

“It was by far a challenge,” Anderson recalled, adding the challenges came in ten-fold by the time the rescheduled test took place in September 2020. Anderson told the Journal Fenwick was a national testing site, which meant they welcomed in other high school students looking to take the college entrance exam.

Before entering the building to take the test, Anderson said students were required to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire. Because of social distancing, there were about 12 test-takers in the classrooms, and the school had to provide more proctors, she said. After that experience, Fenwick became a “school only testing site,” meaning it will only administer the college entrance exams for its own students – at least for now.

With the SATs just around the corner, Anderson and Sullivan told the Journal that their schools are still encouraging students to take the test as some universities and colleges have yet to decide on whether they will require scores as part of the admissions process.

“We want students to have that test score,” Anderson said. “Students might find that they test high and that just could help with their admissions.”

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