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What Will Online Testing for the ACT and SAT Look Like?

The move to digital / online testing for standardized tests was already happening, but the coronavirus response has dramatically accelerated the trend.  Here’s what we know and think is likely to happen over the next year.

Already Fully Online

Amongst major standardized tests, the GRE (graduate school admissions) and TOEFL (test of English language proficiency) are already full available online to take at home.  These tests employ rolling windows of availability, and require specific computers, software, and web cam.  There is a proctor who inspects each test taker and their environment (via the web cam) before admitting them into the test, and then the proctor watches between 2 and 5 test takers at a time for the duration of the test.  The software doesn’t allow other applications to run at the same time.

As a one-off, AP tests for this year are being offered in-home (though not necessarily online, students can submit a photo of written work) as an open book, open-ended question exam.

Online Soon

The ISEE will be offered “soon” in an at-home version, with a testing protocol similar to the GRE listed above.  The SSAT will be offered in-home starting in May.  The ACT will be available “late fall / early winter” at-home, but no information about the testing protocol has been given.  Our best guess is that they will use a similar process as well, utilizing lock-down software and remote monitoring.

Online Maybe?

The College Board has announced that they will offer a digital version of the SAT if schools are not open in the fall.  Otherwise, they plan to stick to paper.  In the past they have been much more cautious about introducing technology than the ACT, but competitive pressure in the current environment may make them more adventurous.

Other Considerations

A major concern for all of these groups is fair access.  For students who don’t have a computer (or the right kind) at home, if paper testing goes away how do you ensure that they can take the test?  As well, some school districts don’t have computers for all students, so simply having it fully digital in test centers could be problematic.  This is one reason paper tests are unlikely to go away in the foreseeable future.

Another huge concern is cheating.  As soon as testing moves out of a controlled environment, it becomes much, much easier to access outside resources.  Given the stakes of these tests, there can also be a powerful incentive to do so.  Colleges are definitely going to be wary of this, and it’s unclear how they will respond to tests taken in different formats.  Will they discount scores from online-only tests?  Trust paper tests more?  Will the testing companies report to them how the test was taken?  These questions remain to be answered.  We’ll continue to monitor the situation and provide more information as updates are available.