Tutoring News Post

The College Board will officially debut its new Digital SAT and PSAT in 2023-24. Here's everything you need to know.


Only a few weeks after I wrote this blog post suggesting that the College Board switch to a digital SAT format in order to protect its SAS exams from being leaked, the Board has done exactly that — shortening the test by approximately one hour, introducing adaptive scoring, allowing approved calculators for all Math questions, and merging the SAT's current Reading (1) and Writing and Language (2) sections into a single Reading and Writing section.  Talk about a quick response!


I'm kidding, of course: the digital SAT has been in the works for years now, but as of today's announcement (1/25/22), it's official.


According to the College Board, the first round of digital SATs will arrive in time for the March 2023 International exams (and beyond).  If you're curious about the real reason for this change: the College Board has encountered huge problems with international exam security, including test leaks, cheating scandals, score delays, and cancelled scores, and the digital SAT promises to be far more secure than paper-based exams.


Next come the Fall 2023 Digital PSATs, the March 2024 US Digital SATs, and the March 2024 School-Day SATs (also digital), at which point a paper exam option will no longer be available anywhere — with the exception of students with accommodations, who will still have the option of paper-based testing.

In some ways, the digital SAT has already arrived: a "digital SAT pilot" exam had been quietly administered since late 2021 by the College Board to select students who received $50 or $100 gift cards for their trouble, but no official SAT score. 

Starting in April 2022, however, digital SAT pilot test-takers — you must be invited to take the test, and then accepted — are in fact being given official SAT scores, as well as the option to keep or cancel the scores after viewing them.

According to the College Board's email, "you can decide...(whether your digital SAT score)...will become an official College Board score at the end of August 2022."  Test-takers will also be given the option to decide between a $50 / $100 gift card, or a free exam registration — a $55 value — for the March or May 2022 paper-based SAT.

Since those who take the new digital SAT pilot will now have the option to delete / cancel their scores after the fact, I would strongly encourage students to seize this opportunity if offered, whether or not they plan to take the digital exam in 2023 or beyond.

The only catch?  In order to receive an official score on the digital SAT pilot study starting in April 2022, students must also agree to take either the March 2022 paper-based SAT, or the May 2022 paper-based SAT, presumably as a way of validating / confirming their scores on the digital exam.


College Board Frequently Asked Questions / Google Slides Presentation


Some highlights:


-The digital SAT will be shortened to 2 hours, 24 minutes, including the 10-minute break — from 3 hours, 15 minutes on the current version of the SAT, or 3 hours, 35 minutes if you include the 5th, "experimental" section that is unscored.  Test times will become more flexible, and test dates will become more frequent.  Students will be allowed to bring their own laptop computers or tablets.  (Loaner devices will be provided for those who request them in advance.) 


-The exam requires internet connectivity, and is designed to pick up right where you left off if your computer crashes, freezes, loses power, or drops internet signal. 


-Despite its somewhat deceptive name, the digital SAT is NOT an at-home exam: you must take the exam in an official College Board testing center, such as your local high school. 


-Given the digital SAT's shorter length, there will only be 2 sections: 1) a combined Reading and Writing section, and 2) a Math section — both about one hour in duration.  Each section will be composed of two modules, and will follow a "section-level adaptive format," where a student's performance on the first module of questions will determine the difficulty level (easy, medium, hard) of their second module of the same type, similar to the GRE.


Early reports from digital SAT pilot test-takers tell us that the 2 Reading and Writing modules will each be 32 minutes long, with 27 questions per module — and that the 2 Math modules will each be 35 minutes long, with 22 questions per module, totaling (64 + 70) = 134 minutes of actual testing time.  There is also a single 10-minute break after the 2nd Reading and Writing module. 


-Scores will be returned within days, not weeks.  Additional features ("Testing Tools") will include a countdown timer and a math reference page with common formulas (same as the current SAT), as well as Mark for Review, Annotate, and Zoom options.


-Unlike the current SAT, which has a Math no Calculator section 3 and a Math with Calculator section 4, a calculator will be allowed for all math questions.  You can bring your own approved calculator, or use the provided on-screen calculator from Desmos (iOS / Android / desktop).  Student-produced responses aka "grid-in" answers will include negatives, and up to 5 digits


The exam content will stay mostly the same.  However, despite the College Board's claims to the contrary, it appears that there will be additional topics and skills tested — such as limits of functions, poetry, and synthesizing information from notes — on the digital SAT, and that other question types will be removed and/or de-emphasized, as has happened every time the SAT has changed exam formats and question types.  The College Board has promised that the first official digital SAT prep materials and practice tests will be available by the fall of this year (2022).


Additional math topics tested will include proportions, functions, systems of equations, geometry, coordinate geometry, number properties, and parabolas.


-Thanks to the wonders of adaptive testing, nearly every student will see a different combination of questions on their digital SAT, making cheating, test leaks, and answer sharing much more difficult. 


-The Reading and Writing section will be altered from the current 5 long passages with 10 or 11 questions each, to shorter passages from a wider variety of sources, including shorter, paragraph-style passages, with only one question tied to each passage.


Am I surprised to hear about these changes?  No, not at all.  I began tutoring the SAT during my freshman year at Harvard in 1998, and this is the 3rd time that the SAT has changed since then.  Historically, the SAT has switched exam formats every decade or so: the test was altered in 2005 (to a 2400-point exam), then again in 2015 (back to 1600) — and now, the big switch to a digital-only format has been slated for 2023-24.


As usual, I'm sure that there will be a rush of test-takers attempting to take the current paper-based SAT before it changes formats, given the huge amount of real practice exams available (68 official SAT exams and counting), versus the dearth of practice materials currently available for the digital exam.


Plus, despite the many conveniences and advantages of digital testing, let's face it: it's often easier to take a paper test than a computer one, so many students will still prefer the paper-based exam, regardless of any difference in length. Staring at a computer screen while taking an SAT for 2 straight hours is an almost entirely different experience from taking a 3-hour, paper-based SAT, which is not only easier on the eyes, but also perhaps easier overall.

Finally, there are likely to be widespread technical problems with the rollout of the digital SAT, as there have already been with the "computer-based" ACT, which is yet another reason avoid the unknown, and to take the paper-based SAT if possible.


-Brian

 

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