SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A test that only a small percentage of high school graduates take in a three-state area is changing from a paper exam to an electronic-only exam.

In a news release the College Board said the change to the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) will be effective in the U.S. in 2024.

It’s a test graduates use to apply to various universities and colleges. It can also be used for scholarship applications. The ACT is a similar test. Some students take both tests while more opt for one.

But looking back 10 years, only a fraction of the graduates in South Dakota take the SAT.

The College Board said 139 South Dakota high school graduates took the SAT in 2021. That is 1% of the 9,900 graduates.

And switching to an electronic only test isn’t the only change.

“The digital test will feature shorter reading passages with one question tied to each, and passages will reflect a wider range of topics that represent the works students read in college,” College Board said in an Jan. 25 announcement. “Calculators will be allowed on the entire math section. Students and educators will get scores back in days, instead of weeks.”

The SAT changes could mean more students who choose to take the SAT, said Justin Fraase, the vice president of enrollment at Northern State University.

Data shows that accessibility to tests is important, and the changes should make the SAT more accessible, Fraase said.

College Board said in a news release that digital SAT tests will allow students to take it during a school day which increases accessibility for students and can lead to higher college going rates in low-income students.

NSU, like several other postsecondary sites, is test optional which means students do not have to submit an ACT or SAT test score as part of the application.

Fraase expects NSU to be test optional in the foreseeable future.

There were colleges and universities that suspended an SAT or ACT requirement in 2020 because the pandemic caused issues with available testing sites and related concerns. Those institutions included the public four-year institutions in South Dakota. For example, South Dakota State University suspended the requirement through 2022. Even Harvard suspended the SAT and ACT requirements through 2026.

The College Post reported that two-thirds of colleges and universities will not require students to submit ACT and/or SAT scores for the fall of 2022.

Why take an SAT if it’s optional?

David Myers is a high school counselor at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, which is an SAT and ACT administration site.

“There is still a benefit to it,” Myers said. “(Colleges) will look at SAT and ACT scores for scholarships and for class placement.”

Fraase agreed.

“There’s two primary reasons. No. 1, (scores) are very much tied to many of our scholarships…,” Fraase said.

The second reason is SAT and ACT scores can provide NSU with additional information about a student’s skill level, he said.

NSU wants a student in the proper class, so they aren’t struggling with the material or not being challenged by the material, Fraase said.

“We don’t want them to end up wasting their resources and time (in the wrong class),” Fraase said.

NSU also uses a system called ACCU Placer which is a digital test to help determine class placement, he said.

Myers said during the pandemic students flew into Sioux Falls to take the SAT at Lincoln High School because other test sites were closed. Students from Washington, California and Michigan, for example, traveled to Sioux Falls for the test.

“If they are willing to spend a couple thousand dollars to fly here for the test, that tells you there is value in it,” Myers said.

Lincoln was a pilot site for electronic ACT testing

About two years ago, Lincoln High School was a pilot site for electronic ACT testing, Myers said.

“I was super nervous, but it went smoothly and seamlessly,” Myers said. “The students enjoyed it.”

The students also got their test results back in about three days instead of the typical three to seven weeks, Myers said.

Students will benefit if the results of an electronic SAT can be returned to them in three days, Myers said.

Electronic tests are becoming the norm

The Sioux Falls School System uses chrome books in high school.

“Most of student semester tests…are all done on chrome books,” Myers said.

Students are used to electronic tests.

Fraase, too, said students are used to electronic tests. Students will adjust to a change from paper SAT tests to electronic tests.

“I’m thankful the SAT is modernizing the test because I think it will encourage more students to take it,” Fraase said.

ACT more popular than SAT in 3-state area

The number of South Dakota high school graduates who took the SAT declined by two percentage points from 2020 to 2021.

From 2018 to 2020, only 3% of the state’s high school graduates took the SAT, according to College Board.

The percentage is only one point higher in Minnesota where 4% took the SAT during the same time period.

In Iowa, 3% of the graduates took the SAT.

College Board said 1.5 million students in the high school class of 2021 took the SAT at least once. That was a decrease of about 700,000 from the 2.2 million who took the test in the class of 2020.

Inside Higher Ed said 1,295,349 students took the ACT in 2021. That was a decrease of 375,000 students.

Fraase said most NSU students are from South Dakota and other upper Midwest states and most of those students take the ACT.

About 10% of the NSU student applicants took the SAT, he said.

College Raptor, Forbes, and studypoint.com have all reported that the ACT is the more popular test in the Midwest.