Lookout! Here comes the new digital SAT
In an effort to combat a number of the noted shortcomings of paper-based tests, including testing fatigue, exam security and scheduling flexibility, the College Board will launch digital versions of its PSAT and SAT in the U.S. during the 2023-24 school year.

While the ACT will stay the course with its “tried and true” paper-based test, the College Board will first introduce an adaptive, digital PSAT in October of 2023, followed by an adaptive, digital SAT in March of 2024.  International students will see the digital SAT in the spring of 2023.
In an effort to keep families apprised of critical developments in the testing and test prep world, Breakaway is pleased to present a look at the new digital SAT and what students in the Class of 2025 can expect.  This article will address the following:

  • What is adaptive testing?
  • What does the digital SAT look like?
  • What is the impact on the test-day experience?
  • How will test content change?
  • How will a student prepare for the digital SAT?
  • How will students with accommodations be impacted?
  • How has the ACT responded?

What is adaptive testing?
Computer-adaptive tests are designed to adjust their level of difficulty—based on the responses provided—to match the knowledge and ability of a test taker. Considered to be on the leading edge of assessment technology, computer-adaptive tests represent an attempt to measure the abilities of individual students more precisely, while avoiding some of the issues often associated with the “one-size-fits-all” nature of standardized tests.

For students, computer-adaptive testing offers a shorter testing session with a smaller number of questions, since only those questions considered appropriate for the student are offered. On the other hand, test developers must create a larger pool of test items so that testing systems have enough questions to match the varied abilities of all students taking the exam. Current forms of computer-adaptive testing are typically administered online, and because the scoring is computerized, students can get test results more quickly than with paper-and-pencil tests.

What does the new digital SAT look like?
With the digital, adaptive PSAT and SAT, each test section (Reading and Writing; Math) will be divided into two equal-length and separately timed stages, each composed of a module of questions. Students will begin each test section by answering the set of questions in the first module. The first module, which will be the same for all students testing, contains a broad mix of easy, medium, and hard questions that allows students to demonstrate their achievement before moving on to the second module. The questions in the second module will be based on how students perform in the first module.  On average, questions in the second module will either be more difficult or less difficult than questions in the first module.

Students will have 64 minutes to complete the Reading and Writing section and 70 minutes to complete the Math section. Each section is composed of two equal-length modules of test questions. Each Reading and Writing module lasts 32 minutes and includes 27 questions, while each Math module lasts 35 minutes and has 22 questions.

Scoring for the digital SAT will be consistent with the current exam, i.e., based on a 1600-point scale. In other words, a 620 on the SAT’s current paper test will equate to a 620 on the digital version and no concordance will be required.

The benefits of adaptive testing, according to the College Board, include the following:

  • Shorter test.  The College Board argues that the shorter test will retain the precision and reliability of the longer, paper-based test because question difficulty in the second module of each section is personalized based on student performance in the first stage.
  • “Freer” navigation.  Unlike most question-by-question adaptive tests, e.g., the GMAT, the digital SAT is “stage-adaptive,” so students can easily navigate through a given stage’s questions, previewing upcoming questions or marking earlier questions to return to as time permits.

What is the impact on the test-day experience?
The College Board, at this time, plans to keep all national test dates unchanged.  Going forward, national testing could offer more flexibility, including staggered start times throughout the day.  Students will need to test at school, and should be able to use a variety of testing devices, such as Macs, PCs, iPads, school-owned desktops and laptops and Google Chromebooks.  Because the entire test will be downloaded to the device in advance of the start of the test, bandwidth requirements will be negligible.  The test will be cached and encrypted, so a disruption in Internet access should not disrupt testing.  The testing module will prevent other applications from being opened or used during testing, helping to keep testing secure.  The computer will track the time, end the test and close the section, preventing students from “bubbling in” after time has been called as can happen with human proctors.

Students testing together in the same room will encounter different versions of the test, as the test will draw from a large pool of questions.  The College Board maintains that each created set of problems will meet the same content standards and provide equivalent experiences across test-takers.

Scratch paper will be provided.  The testing app will include a calculator, and both Math modules will permit the use of the calculator, unlike the current SAT.  The app will include a timer which can remain in view during the entire test or appear only during the final five minutes of a stage.  The app will include a highlighter, answer eliminator, and question flag to help students identify questions to return to for further consideration.

Unlike the current SAT, students will not know which questions they answered correctly or incorrectly and will never know how many questions they got right or wrong.  They won’t know how their score was determined, either.  Students will not be given access to their exams because the College Board will reuse questions on future tests.  The College Board will replace the current Question-and-Answer Service, which provides copies of actual SATs three times per year, with additional sample tests they will roll out throughout the year.

How will test content change?
Perhaps the biggest change between the current SAT and the forthcoming digital SAT will be the reading test.  Instead of having two discrete sections for reading and writing, those sections will now be combined into one section (with two stages).  Reading passages will be much shorter and consist of between 25-150 words versus the current 600-700 words.  There will only be one question per passage.  Questions about graphics, such as tables, bar and line graphs, have been simplified to avoid the trickiness of the current graphics.  In writing, idioms and commonly confused words have been eliminated, as has the “no change” option.

Math will be similar to today’s test, though a calculator will be permitted on both stages of the test.  Imaginary or complex numbers have been eliminated.  Grid-ins or student-produced responses can now be negative.  There are no questions that draw from a common set of information.  Each question will now be discrete and contain all information needed to answer it.

How will a student prepare for the SAT?
While there will be a number of substantive changes made to the SAT, a lot of familiar material will continue to appear on the test.  We are confident that Breakaway instructors will be able to harness their test-taking skills and knowledge and apply it to this new format.  At the same time, we are excited about developing new strategies to take advantage of the testing app’s tools.

The College Board has released something called Bluebook, which is an app that students can use to do simulated problems and, at this time, full-length practice testing.  The College Board has indicated it will release four practice tests in advance of the launch of the digital test in the U.S., similar to what it did prior to the redesigned test launch in 2016.

How will students with accommodations be impacted?
The College Board intends to maintain existing accommodations and provide testing to students with accommodations in the digital, adaptive format.  Students with extra time will not be allowed to end a section early.  For accommodations that cannot be provided digitally, e.g., Braille, students will take a longer, three-hour paper, non-adaptive test.

How has the ACT responded?
Predictably, the ACT wants to be seen as the steady, reliable option, particularly since the digital SAT will represent the SAT’s third version in just eight years.  The ACT is considering developing a shorter test, but there are no concrete plans to roll that out at this time.  Section retesting remains a “no go” at this time.

Writing will remain optional to comply with certain school and international standards.  The ACT is working on making the test less “speed-based”.  Paper-based tests will remain available despite wider accessibility to digital school-administered exams.  The ACT also claims to be open to the possibility of developing its own digital exam with adaptive testing, but has made public no such plans.

Breakaway Test Prep has provided proven solutions for preparation for the ACT and SAT for more than a decade.  Breakaway will continue to monitor developments in the testing space and will keep families apprised of additional information and news regarding the SAT and ACT.

Please free free to contact Ron Michalak, Breakaway’s president, at [email protected] with any questions.