Preparing for the Digital PSAT

Schools across the United States will administer the new Digital PSAT/NMSQT for the first time this October. Unlike in previous years, schools have much more flexibility in scheduling the PSAT when it is convenient for their students. Accordingly, some schools will have the PSAT early in the month and some later in the month. What are some specific things students can do to prepare for the Digital PSAT?

  1. Download the Bluebook Application and take one full-length Digital PSAT. Doing this will help students become familiar with the computer interface of the new PSAT, with its built-in calculator, timer, highlighter, annotating features, and more. Students will also become comfortable with the adaptive format and pace for the Digital PSAT. In general students will feel more comfortable with the timing on this test, so they should try to slow down instead of speed up.
  2. Take additional Bluebook SAT tests as needed–there are four available in the Bluebook application that students may try. The timing and format of the Digital PSAT and Digital SAT are identical; the only major difference between the two tests is in the allocation of math concepts, with the Digital SAT having slightly more advanced material. So, by trying Digital SATs, students will be well-prepared for the Digital PSAT.
  3. Practice with the Barron’s Digital PSAT review book. I made four full-length practice PSATs that students can try, along with a wealth of review exercises.

For further free Digital PSAT resources, check our page here. Best of luck to everyone taking the upcoming Digital PSAT!

PSAT, ACT, and SAT Planning for High School Juniors

High school juniors in the United States have a very interesting year of testing options ahead of them. There are a total of four major tests that students will have the opportunity to take: the Digital PSAT, the Paper SAT, the ACT, and the Digital SAT. Who should focus on which of these different types of tests?

Digital PSAT: Administered in the month of October through a student’s high school. Students who are trying to earn National Merit recognition should prepare for this exam. National Merit recognition generally applies to students who score in the 95th percentile or above, and National Merit Scholarships usually go to students who score above the 99th percentile. For students who do not think that a National Merit award is in reach, taking the Digital PSAT is still an excellent way to try the adaptive, digital format they will find on the Digital SAT. Scores for the Digital PSAT will be back in November, so students will have plenty of time to review their PSAT results to prepare for the Digital SAT in the spring.

Paper SAT: Administered in August, October, November, and December of 2023. After these administrations, the current paper SAT will be retired and replaced with a Digital SAT. For students who want to take advantage of the expansive body of existing practice tests and review books, taking the paper SAT before it goes away is a good idea. Results from the paper SAT will still be fully utilized by colleges, so students would have nothing to lose by giving the paper SAT a try before they no longer have the opportunity to do so.

ACT: Administered throughout 2023-2024. In general, students who are faster test takers like the ACT. This is a good test to take if you have taken through Algebra 2 and a bit of pre-calculus. The ACT covers more math material than the Digital SAT: logarithms, matrices, hyperbolas/ellipses, and combinations/permutations. It also has a broader array of grammar concepts than does the Digital SAT: wordiness, idioms, diction, and sentence placement. Fortunately, students who want to take the ACT can use many excellent books and practice tests to prepare for this well-established test.

Digital SAT: Administered in the United States beginning in March, 2024 and continuing thereafter. The Digital SAT will be offered on national test dates, and many schools will offer it during the school day given the relatively short amount of time that taking the Digital SAT requires. Students will have their Digital PSAT results back in November of 2023 so they can evaluate whether the Digital SAT is a good fit for them. There is a great deal of overlap in the content between the ACT and Digital SAT, so if students wish to switch from one test to the other, it should be fairly seamless.

Please contact us if we can advise you as to the best testing plan for this upcoming school year.

National Merit Scholarship Updates for the Digital PSAT

The College Board has released a new Preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT booklet that is updated for the Digital PSAT to be administered in October of this year:

Here are some important takeaways:

  • The National Merit Selection Index Calculation Has Changed: Under the previous paper-based PSAT selection Index, the writing and reading sections were counted independently towards the selection index. Now, the combined reading/writing section counts twice as much as the math. The formula is as follows: [2(Reading/Writing Score) + (Math Score)]/10 = National Merit Selection Index. The Selection Index will be between 48-228. So, students should be sure to do as well as possible on the Reading/Writing sections in order to earn National Merit Recognition.
  • Students Should Review the Bluebook Application for PSAT Practice: In years past, the PSAT/NMSQT has had extensive practice. For the Digital PSAT/NMSQT, the College Board is encouraging students to go directly to the Bluebook Application and Khan Academy to get practice material. There is one PSAT practice test available on Bluebook.
  • Students Can Use the PSAT to Connect with Colleges and Scholarship Organizations: The College Board has a program called “Connections™, a free program that lets you hear directly from nonprofit colleges, scholarship programs, and educational organizations that are interested in students like you.” It is notable that in light of the recent affirmative action decision by the Supreme Court, students have the option of sharing their race/ethnicity in the Connections program. Since the PSAT is not technically used for college admissions, perhaps this will be a way that colleges can bypass the restriction on using race/ethnicity in the admissions process to encourage a more diverse selection of students to apply.

As more information becomes available, we will be sure to keep you up to date.

Thanks, Brian W. Stewart

Digital SAT Tutoring Myths and Facts

The SAT will be making the most significant change in its history when it switches from a linear, paper-based test to an adaptive, computer-based test in March of 2024 for students in the United States.  Given this overhaul, many tutors and test prep companies may not present the reality of what high quality Digital SAT and Digital PSAT test preparation should entail.  Let’s break down the three biggest Digital SAT Myths and set the facts straight. 

Myth #1:  You can use the same materials to prepare for the Digital SAT as you did for the paper SAT. 

Fact:  The Digital SAT has many never-before-seen SAT question types that require a complete overhaul to current test prep. 

The Digital SAT has many new types of questions:

  • Rhetorical Synthesis writing questions that ask you to integrate information to accomplish a task
  • Targeted Quantitative and Textual Evidence questions that ask you to determine what would support or undermine an argument
  • Poetry, Humanities, and Drama Analytical Reading questions
  • Mathematics questions that allow the use of a built-in Desmos Calculator
  • Individual Digital SAT reading/writing questions accompanied by short texts of no more than 150 words (instead of the current multi-question passages of up to 750 words)

Given all these changes, using the same old books and materials as used with the current SAT will not work.  To make the changes even more significant, a major source of material for many test prep providers will no longer be available.  The Question-and-Answer Service currently allows students who take the SAT in March, May, or October to pay for access to their test booklets and answers.  Many test prep providers make copies of these booklets and use them as the material for their students.  The College Board is putting an end to this practice by no longer having the Question-and-Answer service.  Periodically, new practice tests will be made available online, but there will be far less material available directly from the test makers. Given this lack of material, many test prep providers may suggest that the paper-based Question and Answer services will work to prepare students for the Digital SAT.  While there are some overlaps in the math and grammar content of the old SAT and the Digital SAT, it would be a disservice to students to not have a new body of material ready to go for the redesigned test. 

Myth #2:  The same strategies and methods that worked on the paper SAT will work on the Digital SAT. 

Fact:  The adaptive nature and new interface of the Digital SAT demand major changes to testing strategies and instructional methods. 

The Digital SAT will have a section-adaptive format in which the second module of the Reading/Writing and the second module of the Math will be easier or more difficult depending on the student’s performance on the earlier module of each type.  This means that each question will have more of an impact on the score and that students may feel more stressed when they try to predict whether they are taking the easier or more difficult module.  Digital SAT tutors should be able to help students develop a personalized plan to manage their pacing and test anxiety given these new parameters.

The Digital SAT has an extremely useful Desmos calculator embedded into its interface, enabling students to use new approaches to attack inequalities, systems of equations, parabola problems, and absolute value questions.  A high-quality Digital SAT tutor can show students how to fully take advantage of this new calculator tool, along with other embedded tools like the annotation feature, answer-eliminator, and countdown timer. 

Currently, the strategies for the paper-based SAT reading passages are geared towards helping students focus for longer periods of time to absorb the general meaning of a 750-word text.  Also, students on the paper-based SAT can skip around on questions when they don’t fully understand the meaning of the text, trying more specific and easier questions before attempting broader and more difficult questions on a given passage.  With the Digital SAT reading questions, students will need to think deeply about shorter selections of text and thoroughly consider argumentative evidence on several questions.  There will also be a much greater emphasis on vocabulary knowledge with words-in-context questions, so students should be sure to bolster their knowledge of complex words.  Tutors must update their instruction to reflect the new reading comprehension strategies needed to succeed on the Digital SAT. 

Myth #3:  Everyone should just take the ACT since it is familiar. 

Fact:  Tutors should recommend the Digital SAT or the ACT based on what is best for the student, not for the tutor. 

The ACT has remained in roughly its current form for many years, and there is a wealth of preparation books and released tests available for students and tutors to use.  Since the Digital SAT represents a true revolution in test prep, the business models of many tutors may be at risk—they will no longer have the Question-and-Answer services available from College Board to create their curriculum.  Thus, many tutors may recommend that students steer clear of the Digital SAT.  While the ACT may be better for some students and the Digital SAT better for others, be wary of those who may recommend the ACT simply because it has been around for longer.  Many students will like the new format of the Digital SAT and should not be dissuaded from trying it simply because a switch to this test would be inconvenient for the tutor. 

If you need help preparing for the Digital SAT, we at BWS Education are ready to go with updated methods and materials to help you do your very best. We had the first publication about the Digital SAT to market in August of 2022, a comprehensive Digital PSAT book released in May of 2023, and an upcoming Digital SAT book coming out in August of 2023. All these books have questions and strategies fully aligned with the very latest information from College Board.  We have also compiled a wealth of free Digital SAT Resources for anyone to use.  When you prep with BWS, you will work with tutors who are at the very cutting edge of the transformation of the SAT.  We look forward to working with you.