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It’s no surprise that teens and their parents have differing views, but on the topic of shaking up the SAT, high school students are decidedly -- and surprisingly -- more “old school” than their parents. In a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey, teens showed an overwhelming resistance to moving the test from paper and pencil, with 81% of teen respondents* against the SAT going digital, while 65% of their parents supported a change to a computer-based format.** (NOTE: The SAT administrator has so far only signaled unspecified changes to the test’s content, not its format.)
Following an announcement from the SAT administrator that major as-yet unspecified changes are in store for the test, Kaplan Test Prep surveyed high school students and parents about whether they think the SAT needs to be changed. Nearly half of parents responded they believe it does (45%), compared to 39% of surveyed high school SAT takers. In contrast, just 19% of surveyed parents think the exam should stay as is, versus a near double percentage (35%) of surveyed SAT takers who opted for no change. Remaining survey respondents were ‘unsure’.
The most notable difference between student and parent views were in the responses to the question “Do you think the SAT should change from its current paper-and-pencil format to a computer-based test?” A strong majority of parents (65%) would favor the change in format, while only 10% of students responded yes. Today’s generation of teens, raised on computers and digital devices, expressed an overwhelming preference for sticking to a paper and pencil test (81%), raising concerns about being able to do ‘scratch work’ on math problems, lack of typing proficiency for essay writing, the challenges of looking at a computer screen for four hours, and potential technical difficulties. A sampling of comments:
“With a paper test, it's much easier to write down your work and thought process on scrap paper, which would be considerably more difficult to do on a computer.”
“It is easier to think with a paper in front of you. Computers, even if you can't do anything else on them, are distracting and make students want to do other things. I like to write on papers and be able to see the whole reading passage, not scroll down a page.”
“Because it's just so much easier to take that way... And its faster. You can flip back and forth pages much easier, and everyone knows that it's much easier to take a test when you can write on it. An online SAT would be a nightmare.”
“Because staring at a computer screen for a four hour test is not healthy for one.”
In contrast, parents believe their kids prefer computer, citing “quicker results” and noting “kids feel more confident at a computer screen these days,” “most kids are used to computer,” “kids are of the computer age and it is more relevant to them.” One parent in favor of going to a computer-based format said, “I think that's the direction this world has taken and it would be easier to make changes this way.” That theme of modernization was common among parents in favor of the switch. Parents who opposed any change expressed concern that without a paper trail, answers and tests could get lost.