Digital SAT Update

The College Board just released the test specifications for the new digital SAT. Here is the most important information about what is changing on both the SAT and PSAT as they switch to digital formats in 2023 and 2024. The most important change is that the SAT and PSAT will now be adaptive–the difficulty of the later sections will change based on the performance on the first sections.

Reading and Writing

  • The Reading and Writing sections will be combined–students will see both Reading and Writing questions on the same test section.
  • Each question will be on a single passage that ranges from 25-150 words.
  • There will be new genres of passages presented, along with the continuation of fiction, historical documents, science, and social science. Students will now have some poetry and drama selections.
  • There will be two Reading/Writing sections, each taking 32 minutes, each having 27 questions.

Math

  • The topics covered in the math will remain virtually identical to what is covered on the current SAT and PSAT.
  • There will still be multiple choice and student-produced response questions.
  • The math test will be broken up into two sections of 35 minutes, each having 22 questions.

Takeaways

The SAT and PSAT are largely staying the same. Even the evidence-based questions on the reading, which I though might go away on the digital format, will remain. The grammar and math concepts will overlap with what is currently tested. The new digital SAT and PSAT should be less intimidating to students–the time constraints are quite generous, and students will need to stay focused for just over two hours to complete the exam.

I would encourage you to check out the sample questions available from College Board to get a taste of what is to come.

Please visit our blog for further updates on the new digital SAT and PSAT.

–Brian Stewart

The New Digital SAT and PSAT

The College Board announced that the SAT and PSAT are updating to a digital format over the next 2+ years. Here is anticipated timeline for these changes:

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Source: The College Board

For current sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the United States, these updates will have no impact on their SAT test experience. Freshmen are scheduled to take the digital PSAT in the fall of their junior year–that will be their first experience with the updated digital format. These same freshmen would then be on track to take the digital SAT in the spring of their junior year–over two years from now.



What will be different on the digital SAT and PSAT?

  • The test will be adaptive. Students will take one Reading/Writing question module, and the second Reading/Writing question module will be different depending on the performance on the first section–the math section will also have this two module format. Students who performed well on the first module will receive more difficult questions in the second module, and those who did not perform as well will receive less difficult questions.
  • The digital SAT and PSAT will be shorter. Instead of taking around 3 hours, the new digital SAT will take around 2 hours. As with other adaptive tests like the GRE, the College Board hopes to obtain the same information about students’ skills in a shorter amount of time.
  • Calculators will be permitted throughout the math section. The digital SAT will have a built-in calculator program (apparently much like the one found on the Desmos website). Students will still be able to bring their own approved calculators if they prefer. Roughly a third of the current SAT math is done without a calculator.
  • Students will take the test on a laptop or desktop computer. If students do not have a computer, they will be given one to use. The computer will have a testing program that will lock down other parts of the computer, so students will not be able to surf the web or chat during the SAT. Students will be able to download the testing software on their personal devices prior to test day.
  • Schools will have more flexibility as to when they offer the in-school SAT. Currently, there are a handful of designated days allowed for test administration. With the digital SAT, schools will be given a month or so over which time they can administer the SAT to different groups of students over different days.
  • There will be shorter reading passages. At this point, we do not clearly know if the new SAT Reading will continue to have longer reading passages. We do know that the digital SAT will have at least a few shorter reading passages that have one question tied to them. I personally am skeptical that the SAT will retain its predictive validity unless they continue to have longer reading passages–after all, students read longer materials in college. I hope to get more clarity on this issue soon and I will update you as soon as I can.
  • The test should be more secure. It will no longer be possible for cheaters to obtain copies of the questions and passages they will find on their test, since the test will be adaptive. This change is especially important for international SAT testing, which has been plagued by test score cancellations because of test security issues.
  • Students will receive more helpful career and college information. The College Board is making a concerted effort to connect students not just to four-year college programs, but to vocational and trade programs. So even if a student is not planning on going to college, the SAT will still provide targeted and relevant career guidance.
  • Scores will be available more quickly. Currently it takes weeks to receive SAT test scores; digital scores will take less time to be available.

What will be the same on the digital SAT and PSAT?

  • The SAT and PSAT will still test the same fundamental skills. Unlike the last major test revision in 2015, this is not a complete redesign of the SAT; it is principally a change in formatting. Students will still need to demonstrate skills in reading comprehension, grammar & editing, and mathematical problem solving.
  • Scores will remain the same. The SAT will still be out of 1600, giving colleges the same metrics they have relied on for several years.
  • Minimal changes to test preparation should be required. The SAT will continue to provide its free resources on Khan Academy, helping students bolster their skills in reading, grammar, and math. As a tutor, my recommendation to current freshmen would not change–do not worry about full practice tests at this point; focus on taking rigorous classes in school, and reading widely outside of school. When the GRE shifted from a paper-based to a digital/adaptive format, very few test preparation changes were needed; I would anticipate a similar situation with the digital SAT.
  • Colleges still want to see your test scores. Please see my post on 5 reasons to take the SAT and ACT for more details.

What comes next for the digital SAT and PSAT?

The most important thing for any standardized test is to clearly demonstrate that it can make valid, fair predictions. So far, the digital SAT has only been administered in a pilot program to fewer than 500 students around the world. The College Board outlined their extensive research agenda for the digital SAT over the next 2.5 years:

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Source: The College Board

If the College Board cannot clearly demonstrate the predictive validity of the digital SAT, they will have to make adjustments to it or postpone its implementation. Here are some questions they will need to answer before they can pull this off:

  • Will students who bring in their own laptops to the SAT have an unfair advantage over those who are provided one by the test site?
  • Will students who have a specific accommodation that allows them to take the SAT using paper/pencil have an unfair advantage or disadvantage over those who take it digitally?
  • Will students who experience technological outages and interruptions have statistically valid scores as a result?
  • Will the flexibility that the College Board is allowing schools in administering the test lead to a lack of a standardized testing experience?
  • Will the digital SAT withstand efforts by hackers to access the question banks?
  • Will students who live in rural areas have the same access to digital testing as those who live in urban areas? How will differences in Internet speed and availability of computers be handled?

The bottom line is that sophomores, juniors, and seniors do not need to worry about any of these changes. In the coming years, we will know much more about the specifics of the digital SAT as the College Board completes its research trials. If you have questions about the new digital SAT and PSAT, please reach out to us.

When Should You Take the SAT and ACT?

If you are planning on trying to earn a National Merit Scholarship and apply to highly selective colleges and universities, the following general test schedule might be a good fit for you:

  • Take the SAT in August or October of your Junior year–this will help you be well-prepared for the PSAT in October of your Junior year. Since you have one chance to do well on the PSAT for National Merit Scholarship consideration, a “dress rehearsal” with the SAT will be extremely helpful. You may also want to try taking the PSAT as a sophomore for additional practice.
  • Take the ACT in December of your Junior year. This test date has a Test Information Release available so that you can analyze your test questions and answers.
  • Evaluate your PSAT scores and December ACT scores so that you can determine if the SAT, ACT or both tests would be the best fit.
  • Take the ACT, SAT, or both in the spring of your Junior year. Most students improve the second time they take the test, so it is a no-brainer to try the tests at least a couple of times. Consider taking the March or May SAT because of the Question and Answer Service; you can get a copy of your test booklet and answers. Also consider the April or June ACT, since those dates offer the Test Information Release.
  • Take the ACT or SAT again in the summer if needed. If your scores are not quite where you want them to be, try the July or September ACT, or the August or October SAT. Keep in mind that many schools superscore (take the best score from each test section), so you may want to try to improve your weaker test sections. Ideally, if you can have your testing complete by the time you start applying to colleges, you will be much less stressed.

Please keep in mind that the above timeline is a general suggestion, and many other factors should influence when you take the tests. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Does your state offer in-school ACT or SAT tests? If so, you may want to focus on being well-prepared for those test dates. You will get to take the test during the school day in familiar surroundings, possibly giving you an enhanced opportunity to perform well.
  • Is a certain time of year less busy for you because of decreased extracurricular commitments? If you are a fall athlete, perhaps you should focus your preparation on the winter tests. If you have a busy spring, try to get your testing done in the winter.
  • Are you being recruited for sports? Coaches often like to have your test scores as early as possible. You may want to move your testing timeline up a bit if recruiters would prefer that you do so.
  • Are you only applying regular decision? Many students want to weigh different financial aid offers and want more time to consider possible schools. If so, you do not need to have your testing complete until December or January of your senior year.

I hope you found this helpful. If you have questions about the best test-taking timeline for your particular situation, please reach out to us and we would be happy to help.

New SAT Book Complete!

I am very excited to share that after a year and a half of work, I have completed my new SAT book that will come out on July 5, 2022.  The book is over 1,000 pages long, and comprehensively covers all aspects of the SAT.  The book features:

  • 8 full-length practice tests.  One is a diagnostic, 4 more are in the book itself, and 3 are online.
  • Review sections for all grammar and math subjects tested
  • Strategies and tips for every question type students will encounter
  • Advanced practice drills for ambitious students

Barrons SAT Book


The book is available for pre-order now.  I hope you will check it out! 

 

–Brian Stewart

ACT and SAT Similarities and Differences

Should a student take the ACT, SAT, or both? In general, it is advisable for students to try each test at least once to see how it goes. This table outlines the most important similarities and differences between the ACT and SAT so you know which might end up being a better fit.

ACTSimilaritiesSAT
FormatFour Sections: English, Math, Reading, Science

Optional Section: Writing
Both take about 4 hours to complete Four Sections: Reading, Writing & Language, Math Without Calculator, Math With Calculator

No Essay Section
ScoringScored between 1-36. Composite score is an average of the four individual sections.Both tests are graded on a curve.Reading and Writing & Language Section is half the score, and Math is the other half. Each section is scored between 200-800, with a total composite score between 400-1600.
TimingNeed to read about 200-250 words per minute to complete Reading section. Need to do each math question in about a minute. Both tests offer extended time accommodations to students who qualify. Need to read about 100-150 words per minute to complete Reading section. Need about 1-1.5 minutes to complete each math question.
ContentHas a stand-alone science section. Important to memorize math formulas, and from a broader array of topics, like matrices and logarithms. Both test reading and grammar skills, math through pre-calculus, and graph analysis skills. Has evidence-based questions on the reading. Some math formulas are provided. Math focuses more in-depth on the fundamentals of algebra and problem solving. No science section, but graph and data analysis throughout the test sections.
Who Prefers?Students who are able to complete the ACT typically prefer it. Also students who have extended time are usually able to comfortably read all the material. Students who have performed well on the Pre-ACT.Students who have good reading comprehension, grammar knowledge, and math skills tend to do well on both tests. Colleges throughout the United States will accept either the ACT or SAT. Students who like more time to complete their work. Also, students who prefer more in-depth analysis questions (like word problems and evidence-based questions on the reading). Students who have performed well on the PSAT.

Mini Blog FAQ: Why Do I Have to Take the ACT?

The ACT is a test that is currently used by colleges and universities across the United States to judge students’ college readiness. It is one of many criteria used by admissions officers to decide who will be admitted. It is also a graduation requirement in some states and school districts. The SAT is a similar test that is used in a similar way. Colleges and universities that require an admissions test will accept either the ACT or the SAT so students can choose which one is the better fit for their skills.

Read more on figuring out which test is a better fit for you.

The Grade/Test Score Gap

One of the most common comments I hear from parents during the tutoring process is that their students get good grades. Parents are confused as to why ACT or SAT scores aren’t on par with their student’s grades.  I also often hear the reverse from students who talk about friends and classmates who “seem dumb” or “have horrible grades” and yet do very well on standardized tests. The reason behind this is that most standardized tests are testing things that aren’t reflected in grades or directly taught in school. This makes sense though, since if the tests and the grades reflected the same things then colleges wouldn’t require SAT or ACT scores and would just look at student grades!

The issue for colleges is that different schools and even different teachers within schools have different grading criteria. Everyone knows that some teachers are an “easy A” while other teachers really make students work for good grades. How, then, are colleges supposed to compare two different students who have been in different schools with different teachers?

This is where the tests come in. Take the ACT for example. The first two sections of this test are fairly content based. They test how much students have been paying attention in English and math classes. Consequently, a student who does poorly in these subjects can improve their subject level understanding through hard work and thus improve their score (given that they have enough time). Students who have achieved good grades through cramming or other non-long-term learning solutions (like making sure they have easy teachers) may struggle with the content.
Despite being content exams, many people don’t realize that these exams are also testing other skills that are not explicitly taught in school. The math, for example combines many forms of math that students have learned over time forcing them to employ critical thinking skills to solve problems in new ways. Many teachers only test one math concept at a time so this is a struggle for many students. The English asks students not just to proofread for grammar and punctuation but also for understandability and clarity of message- another thing that students don’t often practice in school.

The second two portions of ACT test are not so much content based. They test quick reading comprehension and scientific comprehension. Many students read well enough to get by in school but have to put a lot of effort into all assignments. These students work very hard and long hours to ensure that reading is completed and understood. The standardized tests set a time limit, though, so that students who have good grades through hard work don’t have the time to complete the tests. Naturally good readers- students who have for the past ten years been ignoring classes to read a novel under their desks- excel.

The science has similar issues. When students in school don’t understand scientific information, they ask the teacher who explains it to them.  This doesn’t allow them to develop the skills they need to digest scientific data as required by the ACT. On the test, students are presented with information and concepts they’ve never seen before and, instead of having someone explain it, they need to figure it out by themselves- and quickly! Students who do well in science classes may still not have the skills needed to succeed.

In short- getting good grades does not mean that students have developed the quick critical thinking skills that colleges want and that these exams test for. Students need to take classes that will challenge them to develop critical thinking skills. They need to learn to read and understand complex questions quickly- not the simple to-the-point questions that are often asked in schools. Mostly, they need to read every day from an early age so that their reading comprehension skills are advanced enough for them to quickly understand each passage and every question.  These are the skills that will lead to high test scores.