It’s another one of those “Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water” moments. The College Board has skipped the idea of printing future SAT’s on bamboo paper…and is planning on going all-digital, instead! Heads up, sophomores and juniors – you should be fine… but freshmen and younger students need to be AWARE!
Here’s the latest on what the computer-based test will look like:
1. The new SAT will be adaptive1 – with these special features:
- Built-in on-screen calculator (but you can still use your own calculator!)
- Clock on screen to assist with time management
- Easy movement between questions
- Accessible math formulas all in one place
2. Shorter tests will last about two hours:
- Long reading passages will be gone
- Questions more concise, straightforward
- More time per question, fewer questions
- Calculator allowed for all math questions
- Scores available in days, not weeks!
3. Starts in 2023 with PSAT and international SAT, then in 2024 in the U.S.:
- The U.S. class of 2025 (current 9th graders) will be affected first
4. Tests will be given in schools and other sites, and offer expanded test date flexibility:
- You can use your own device (or request to borrow a device from College Board for weekend testing)
- Cannot be taken at-home
- More school-day testing
5. This news may speed ACT's plans to go fully digital
So, paper-and-pencil SAT testing will be a thing of the past. Here’s what we currently know – and what we can conjecture may come clear over the next eighteen months. We’ll update you as we learn more. Now, to the heart of the matter....
The College Board is sharing the most important facts about the digital SAT but will add details in the future.
The new digital testing debuts outside of the U.S. in 2023. Its first appearance in the U.S. will be for PSAT test-takers in October 2023. The digital SAT will be administered in the U.S. in 2024. Current 9th graders – the class of 2025 – will be the first U.S. cohort to prepare for the new test. As for older students, nearly all students in the class of 2024 will have completed college admission testing by the time the new SAT comes around.
“Adaptive,” in general, means that the order of questions or sections is dynamic, adjusting to the test-taker’s performance on previous questions. Because the digital SAT will be “section adaptive,” not “question adaptive,” the total number of correct responses in the first stage of a section will determine the level of difficulty for the questions in the next stage of the section. Thus, there will be two section stages for Reading & Writing and two section stages for Math. Your neighbor’s screen for the second stage may have completely different questions! You’ll see questions of a wide range of difficulty in the first stage. With the new test’s “multi-stage adaptive design,” each stage within a section will be timed separately. This means that early section stage performance will be vital in determining your potential – only students who receive the most difficult second stage will be able to achieve a top score.
Because test scores will be determined more efficiently, the new test will take two hours to complete instead of three hours. In theory, adaptive digital tests are more secure than static paper tests, though there’s a tradeoff of security concerns. College Board further says that “The digital SAT Suite tests will be multistage adaptive, so they can continue to measure the same core reading, writing, and math knowledge and skills as at present much more efficiently, shortening the overall length of the test while also allowing students more time per question.”
College Board intends to make the test more student-friendly and academically relevant, aligning the digital SAT with state standards. For all math questions, calculator use is allowed (assuming it’s useful!). Also, long reading and writing passages with lots of questions will be replaced by short passages with one question per passage. College Board says those passages will be "richer" (whatever that means). But the skills tested on the new digital SAT will be the same as those tested on the current SAT. The topics covered in the digital SAT Math section will be the same as those covered in the current SAT Math Test and will not be expanded to include topics like logarithms, vectors, conics, matrices, or limits.
More about Reading and Writing – One short passage, one short question
The current tests’ Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section has nine extended passages with multiple questions tied to each. On the digital SAT Suite’s Reading and Writing section, you’ll see about fifty shorter passages with one question associated with each. Some questions will include informational graphics, just as some now do. The shift to shorter passages has several benefits for students. First, it vastly increases the range and diversity of information and ideas that students will be exposed to, making it much more likely that the content they will engage with will be interesting and relevant to them. Second, students who might have struggled with an extended passage and its many associated questions can, on the digital SAT Suite’s Reading and Writing section, simply give their best answer to each question (potentially flagging questions within a stage they want to return to if time permits) and move on, with the understanding that one poorly grasped passage will not have an outsize impact on their overall score. Third, students will spend less time skimming and scanning in search of relevant information and can instead focus on applying higher-order skills and knowledge, such as making reasonable inferences. Students who took the digital SAT during early pilots and research said that this format felt less stressful and helped them to better pace themselves. This was true across groups of students, including English learners.
Will there be a separate experimental section?
No, but there will be a small number of non-operational questions embedded within the test that will not count toward students’ scores.
Testing Dates and Locations
There is no word yet on specific test dates other than the fact that College Board is initially planning to offer the test at national testing sites on seven weekends/year, just as they now do. However, there will be more date choices for school-day testing. Starting in 2024, states, schools, and districts will be able to choose their test day or days within a testing window of several weeks to administer SAT School Day. This is especially helpful for schools that need to spread out testing for their students to provide necessary devices or that have space limitations. Currently, SAT School Day is offered in both the fall, with two dates in October, and the spring, with four dates in March and April. The PSAT-related assessments are offered in both fall and spring windows. College Board plans on continuing to offer opportunities in both the spring and the fall and is working with schools to determine longer testing windows that work with their schedules.
College Board will provide technology only for weekend testing at national testing sites; schools must use their own devices for school-day testing. You’ll be allowed to use their own computers or tablets or those provided by the test center. Testing will not be offered at home (unlike those at-home AP exams early in the pandemic). Currently, College Board offers its Question & Answer Service – the opportunity for students to get back a copy of the test they took, their answers, and the right answers – for three national test date (October, March, and May); that will no longer be the case. We mourn the loss of the Question & Answer Service. There is as yet no information on test fees.
The exam will retain the 1600 scale, with the new scores equivalent to the current paper-based test – and still comparable, apparently, to the ACT. The existing SAT-ACT concordance table will continue to be used, as College Board says the changes aren’t substantial enough to warrant a new concordance.
You’ll appreciate getting scores back within days of taking the test. But here’s a rub: you’ll have no choice but to adjust to scoring that will likely weight questions based on difficulty rather than scoring that simply counts right answers no matter the question difficulty. Gone are the current SAT’s fifteen sub-scores (that nobody cared about anyway!).
How can the scores from the digital test and the current test be comparable?
What the SAT measures is not changing: it will continue to measure the knowledge and skills that students are learning in high school and that matter most for college and career readiness. College Board is confident that the digital SAT will remain a valid predictor of college success. Different raw to scale score conversions for the current SAT are a natural outcome of the test equating process, which corrects for minor differences in test difficult from form-to-form. For the digital SAT, similar psychometric procedures will be used to link the digital SAT to the current SAT as well as to maintain the comparability of scores across different versions of the multi-stage adaptive tests. Students taking the digital SAT will get a score that accurately reflects their ability and is comparable to what they would have scored on the paper-and-pencil test.
Free Practice Materials
College Board will continue its partnership with Khan Academy to provide free, online practice exams and prep materials. Promised are a number of full-length practice tests on the testing platform by the end of the year. CB expects to offer a comparable number of practice tests as they do now.
Will PSAT test-takers be able to see all the questions from the test they took, just as they do now when they get their score reports?
You will no longer be able to see all of the specific questions on the test you took for SAT School Day, PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 8/9 after students have tested. SAT Suite Practice tests, example questions, and the SAT Suite Question Bank will provide access to questions that students and educators can use to practice and score reports for SAT Suite of Assessments will help identify areas of strength and areas for focus. Each year, we will release new content that has been used in previous tests, to provide even more opportunities for improvement.
Paper to Digital: No Overlap
Nope, the change will be a plunge into unknown, potentially icy waters – with no transition period. College Board hopes for a clean change from paper and pencil to adaptive computer-based testing. The idea is to make the testing process easier for students, proctors, and school counselors. We don’t yet know the exact date when the last paper-based SAT will be administered.
What about computer issues?
You’ll download the digital testing application ahead of test day. During testing, you can go back and forth to questions within a given module before time runs out. This is a different configuration than the AP tests in 2021. College Board has specifically designed the digital assessment platform to account for variations in WI-FI strength and continuity. If the internet disconnects during testing, you’ll still be able to progress through the test with no disruption. If you lose your internet connection during the test, you’re able to continue testing without interruption and reconnect when you’re able in order to submit your results. You won’t lose testing time or your work if your connection drops.
How about scrap paper?
You’ll be provided scratch paper and can bring a pen or pencil.
Meanwhile, There’s the ACT
In this period of SAT “uncertainty,” will students migrate in significant numbers to the ACT just as they did in the mid-2010’s, when the College Board introduced their latest SAT? Maybe. A shorter exam may be alluring to some students, but the majority of college-bound students will likely let their vanguard peers test the digital waters first. Data show that students prefer digital, and these streamlined administrations may provide more testing dates. Student confidence regarding the new SAT may be tied to their intangible perception of the “unknown" test format – and may also hinge on the amount of available quality prep materials students can use before they take the new test. And don’t forget the colleges! They have to demonstrate that they’re ready to accept the new digital SAT.
Use It (the “Old” Format) or Lose It
There may be a rush, as there was last time the SAT was about to change format, by students who want to take the current paper test. The summer between sophomore and junior year is a popular time to begin thinking about the SAT and ACT. In the summer of 2023, though, the class of 2025 will have limited experience with the digital exam. That may push them toward the ACT. Other students may rush to take the current paper-based SAT while it’s still being offered. Strong test-takers, for example, would have the chance to score well on the current test with which they’ll be more familiar, in part because of all the great test-prep resources. The downside: current freshmen, who may not yet be ready to take the SAT before the spring of 11th grade, may nonetheless take a test when they are ill-prepared.
- Current 9th graders (class of 2025) probably won’t need to worry about this. While current 9th graders could take the digital SAT beginning in spring of 11th grade, we’d like to advise them to finish prep by December 2023 – or choose the ACT for a consistent experiece! Prep should begin by Spring Break of 10th grade to leverage the summer before 11th grade begins. Since switching formats midway through the process is inadvisable.
- Current 8th graders or younger (class of 2026 and beyond) can consider the new SAT, but there is risk with a new test format before we have ample information to support quality prep for it. We’d advise current 8th graders to plan on the ACT.
Accommodations & Learning Differences
How will students who take the SAT with special accommodations be affected by these changes? It depends on the nature of the learning differences and the accommodations afforded the particular student. In seems as though the digital revolution will also provide new ways to accommodating all students in the adaptive testing process. We’re awaiting guidance from the College Board on this aspect of the new testing.
Here are some IECA colleagues’ (Elizabeth Cooper, Julie Richie, and Ann Rossbach) thoughts on how the new test may impact students with learning disabilities…
- Shorter test benefits students with ADHD
- Computer-based testing eliminates the difficulty some students have with tracking
- More time per question benefits students who process information more slowly
- Shorter reading passages benefit those with reading challenges
- Text-to-speech capability, where a student can adjust the speed of delivery
- Ability to zoom in, alter font size, font type, colors, background, amount of white space between lines of text, isolate one line of text at a time to block out distractions for increased readability
- On-screen calculator (or student’s own) helps those with calculation difficulties
- Math formulas will still be available, reducing need for memorization
- Highlighter tool to mark text or answer options and “strikethrough” to eliminate answers (but scrap paper may be easier/faster)
- Timing administered by computer rather than proctor, ensuring reliable timing
- Better time management with on-screen clock that counts down the time and provides 5-minute warning
- Adaptive testing could cause anxiety/distraction for students who try to figure out the level of questions they see
- Using a borrowed computer could be a disadvantage
Overall, the new digital SAT has the potential to improve the testing experience for students with learning differences.
How often will you be allowed to take the exam? Currently, restraints include the number of national test dates and the one or two weekday test days offered by their school. Crowd-sourcing answers in the question bank is a reasonable concern, so we can expect limits. If more school-day testing allows students to retest right away, such “back-to-back” testing may prove a popular advantage over the current schedule.
Best Laid Plans
We don’t know how well the College Board will stick to its rollout schedule for this considerable change to SAT testing. During the last wholesale test change, there were delays, although the actual content changes turned out to fulfill expectations.
When will more information be available?
College Board will share test content specifications later in summer 2022 and will share technical information as needed. They’ll release detailed preparation information for students, and all practice resources will be available digitally on their digital testing app and through Officially SAT Practice on Khan Academy.
There’s big money involved in the form of market share. And that is inextricably linked to district and state contracts in the U.S. and to international test-takers. ACT has the capability to move to adaptive testing on a an even more aggressive timetable since its test is already administered digitally in some parts of the world. Or, ACT may choose to wait and learn from College Board’s experience. ACT’s current digital test is non-adaptive, the same length and content as its paper exam, and offered only at participating schools. College Board knows that ACT’s digital offering has been rapidly growing in popularity.
Students’ reaction to pilot testing in April 2022
"Before I explain the test, let me quickly state the only problem I had. When I came with my
iPad, you had to connect to the school wifi in order to download the college board app,
download the test, and take the test. Because I am not enrolled in the Palm Beach School
District (as a private student) I did not have a school district account to connect to the WIFI.
After half an hour, they just decided to let me use an administrators account. I actually overall
really liked the digital SAT and thought it was easier, SHORTER, and more CONCISE and to the
point. It only took an hour and a half to take. The first half of the test was reading/writing and
split into two “modules.” Both modules were exactly the same and each were only 30 minutes,
27 questions, and had combined reading with writing questions. The questions were
completely different than a typical SAT. For some of the questions, you would simply read
about 5-6 sentences and explain the 'context' of the excerpt , 'the main idea,' or 'choose an
appropriate concluding sentence for the excerpt.' For other questions, you would get one
sentence and choose what word best fits the sentence or have to edit the punctuation. The last
type of questions would bullet list about 5 facts or pieces of information that were related and
it would then ask you to select the answer option (they were single sentences) that 'best
summarized the information given.' After the two modules of English it gave you a 10 minute
timed break where you could leave the classroom and come back or sit there. Then the math
portion was all calculator with two modules, 30 minutes, and 23 questions each. I would say the
questions in this section were the same as a typical SAT and just all combined. It really felt the
same just much shorter. The end of each module had about three of those 'grid in' kind of
questions. The only thing I didn’t like was that it didn’t indicate when to round or if the answer
was a whole number, so you really can’t know if you are on the right track. Usually in the SAT,
the question will say 'round your answer to the nearest...' if the answer is a fraction or decimal
so you know you are on the right track if you don’t get a whole number. If they don’t write that
then you know you should answer a whole number. After I was done and time ran out it just
submitted the exam and you could then leave. Super simple. Short and sweet. The results will
come out in 'late August' they said."
"Overall I found the test format easy to use and in my opinion the test itself was simpler than
the paper SAT. The test was split up into four sections, two sections of English and two sections
of math. The English sections had no passages longer than a paragraph or so. The majority of
the questions asked about main idea, or asked me to choose a word to fill in a blank space that
best fit the passage. For math, I found the first section somewhat easy, and the second section
a lot harder. All in all, I would recommend a digital SAT and I think it went well. Let me know if
there's any other information I can provide you."
"Yesterday I completed the SAT Pilot. About the test in general: It was divided in 4 sections: 2
sections of Reading/Writing, break, 2 sections of math. Yes, people can start the test at
different times; it depends on when you press the button 'start.' So the break will be at
different times as well. In my case, I started my test 1 minute later, so in the last minute of my
test people were already leaving the room. The sections start automatically right after the
other, and so do the break. About the math sections: The math sections had 27 questions and
around 31 minutes (but I'm not sure if it was exactly that time) to complete. As the test is
different for each person, the difficulty varied. For me, the first math section was very easy and
there was much time left. However, although both of the sections have the same number of
questions and the same time, the other math section was tough and I didn't have time to
complete it. I have friends who said they experienced the inverse: the first math section as
hard, and the second very easy. So it varies. All content of the math section was in the older
SAT versions. At least in this pilot I took, there wasn't any more advanced trigonometry, or
limits of functions, or anything that wasn't tested before. About the reading section: The
questions are much more straightforward than in the older SAT. There was a series of questions
that were repeated – usually something like choose the most logical and precise word to
complete the sentence. What I didn't like much is that there were many questions on
vocabulary (that seemed very formal/fancy/specific: college-level) and, as a Brazilian student,
some of them I haven't ever heard in my life. It seemed that there were some 'writing and
language' type of questions in the end of the reading section. There were also many writing
questions the same, like vocabulary, choosing the most logical and precise word to complete
the sentence, usual W&L questions of grammar, and there was also a new type of question.
They provided us with many phrases about a topic, and they asked us to choose which phrase
(in the alternatives) uses the information from the text to highlight a specific idea. What you
need to remember is that they don't only want a phrase that's correct about the text; they
want to emphasize that idea! That's it! I hope it will help someone.
When is the First Digital Test?
Most students take the SAT for the first time in spring of junior year:
All students will take the digital PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10 & PSAT/NMSQT in fall 2023
Colleges on Board with the Board?
The SAT is used by colleges because it levels, somewhat, the playing field for college applicants no matter where they attend high school. Test changes must maintain this leveling effect if colleges are to continue to use test scores as part of admissions consideration. So, how will colleges take to the adaptive SAT? If questions about the test or ambivalence grows among admissions offices, will Test Optional/Test Free voices grow louder? If it turns out to be a welcome improvement for test-takers and colleges alike, the new format may help the College Board shore up eroding reliance on its test. Admissions officers at test-optional schools will still look at submitted scores – and the CB wants to ensure that what those officers see is as valid as it may have always been. The College Board is walking a bit of a tightrope because naysayers will be ready to pounce on any testing flaws, while admissions folks in general will want a seamless transition. We’ll see who gets what. In the meantime, we have these data points:
According to Priscilla Rodriguez, VP of College Readiness Assessments at College Board, the SAT continues to play a vital role in college admissions. In fact, 83% of students they surveyed want the option to submit test scores to colleges. Today there are 25,000 high schools in the US – many with unusual grading policies and scales – and colleges can’t possibly know each of those high schools. In 2021, 55% of US students graduated high school with an A average or better. So, to consider every student fairly, colleges look at much more than just grades. Clubs, sports, academic activities can be costly or inaccessible for many families. The SAT, by contrast, is widely available to millions of students to help them stand out on their applications. And most students take the SAT for free in their own schools during the school day. Students take the SAT to show what they know; the test opens doors for so many colleges. The digital SAT will be an even better way for them to do just that. To learn more, go to SAT.org/digital.
Pressures continue to grow for wholesale reconsideration of admissions testing, so making the SAT digital is a critical step in the College Board’s future if the SAT is to remain a key element in college admissions. If you have any questions about the upcoming changes, please contact us!
 Adaptive testing, officially known as Computerized Adaptive Testing (or CAT for short) is the latest development in test administration. In adaptive tests, the test's difficulty adapts to the responses of the test-taker, getting harder or easier following a correct or incorrect answer (or series of answers). A famous example of an adaptive test is the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), typically used for entry into graduate business schools.