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.

Latest Changes to the ACT, SAT, and Test Optional Colleges

With so much in the news about changes to college testing and admissions, I have heard the same questions from many clients. I wanted to pass along the very latest and best information that I have about the SAT, ACT, and test optional policies.

How have the ACT and SAT changed their upcoming dates?

• ACT just announced that they will have test dates on June 13th and July 18th. If there is a need to move the test date because of local health conditions, the June test would be moved to June 20th and the July test would be moved to July 25th. Despite much speculation that the summer ACT tests would be cancelled, they are on track to go ahead.

• SAT announced that they are cancelling the upcoming June SAT date, but will have a total of 5 national test dates for the fall with sufficient capacity to test all students who wish to do so. There will be an SAT each month starting in August. Additionally, the in-school SAT that was cancelled in the spring will be offered in the fall.

What if the country is still locked down in the fall and it is unsafe to take the SAT and ACT in person?

• Both SAT and ACT will make online, at-home versions of their tests available this fall should it be necessary. At-home tests have already been made for the GRE, GMAT, SSAT, LSAT, and AP exams. Should they make the online tests available, I believe they would simply keep the test as it is in its current format, but have virtual proctoring, test session recording through a computer’s camera, and browser lockdown to prevent cheating. More details about the precise format of the online tests will be forthcoming.

I have heard that many colleges are going “test optional,” and that my child now has the option to not submit SAT and ACT scores. Does this mean I don’t need to have my child take the SAT and ACT?

• “Test optional” does not mean “test blind”—if you can take the ACT and SAT to improve your application, it is definitely in your interest to do so even for test optional schools. Only 21% of all the 5,300 U.S. colleges/universities are test optional, and only 10% of the top 20 nationally-ranked universities (U.S. News & World Report ranking) are test optional.

• Only two schools in the United States, Hampshire College and Northern Illinois University are test-blind—they will not consider ACT and SAT test scores in any way. All other colleges in the country will consider test scores when making admissions decisions.

• The University of Chicago, the most highly-ranked test optional University, actually saw its admissions rate decline to 6% and its average SAT scores improve after going test optional. Their admissions website encourages “students to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, and to share your scores with us if you think that they are reflective of your ability and potential.” Only about 10-15% of University of Chicago applicants choose to not submit their test scores. https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/first-year-applicants

• For the University of California system, temporarily being test optional this year “does not lower the bar for admission, but accommodates the real barriers students have faced as tests have been cancelled and classes have moved to Pass/No Pass grading. Admissions to UC campuses is highly sought after and will continue to be just as competitive.” Submitting test scores can support students’ “statewide UC eligibility, application for certain scholarships, and help them fulfill some University graduation requirements.” https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/response-covid-19.html

• If you are able to take the SAT and ACT, do so early and often.

o Grades may hold less weight in admissions decisions than in previous years since many high schools are instituting “pass/fail” or no grading for the 2020 spring semester.

o Students who would traditionally have impressive extracurricular accomplishments from the spring and summer will not be able to showcase their talents as they normally would.

o Students may be unable to make college visits to demonstrate interest in schools, and do in-person interviews.

o Accurate letters of recommendation may be more difficult to obtain since letter writers may not have the same level of personal contact with students that they normally would.

o As always, the more objective information you can provide to a college about your solid academic qualifications, the better your chances of admission. Taking the SAT and ACT is one of the easiest ways to make this happen.

–Brian Stewart

Taking the Online Version of the ACT—Pros and Cons

For the past few years, the state of Ohio has paid for all juniors to take one standardized test for free in the spring. Generally, schools in Ohio (with a few exceptions) have chosen the ACT as it is the student-preferred test in Ohio.  Over the past few years, an increasing number of schools have been offering this test only through an online portal.  With this trend increasing every year, it is a good idea to understand the pros and cons for online tests.

Pros:

The first advantage to the online test is that there is a timer on the screen. Since time management is such an issue for many students who take the ACT this is very nice.  However, timing is manageable by any student with a watch, so this is not a huge advantage. Similarly, there is a built-in calculator if a student doesn’t have one of his or her own. However, if the student is unfamiliar with the layout of this calculator, it can be as much a hindrance as a help.

A second advantage can be that many students might prefer working through a test on a screen if that is the format with which they are most familiar from school. Many schools now use tablets instead of paper versions of textbooks. For students who go to a school like this, an online version of the ACT may be more familiar.

The third and biggest pro for the online test is the speed with which test results come back. With online grading, it is just a matter of a few days before students can access their results. However, even with paper tests, ten to fifteen days is the most the majority of the students wait. I don’t think that is a big enough difference to justify switching to online tests.

 

Cons:

The cons are far more numerous. The biggest con that I see is the inability to write on the test. Many of the strategies that students find the most helpful involve interacting with the test instead of just looking at it. On the science and reading especially, circling, underlining, and writing on the test are enormously helpful. When schools decide to do online tests, they are taking away this resource from the students. When students are exhausted from this test, being able to write on the test so that they don’t have to remember everything can give their brains a bit of a break! While the online test does have some resources to cross out answers and highlight text, this is not going to be as quick or as natural as a paper test and does have limitations. In addition, students can expect a learning curve on the first part of the test until they are comfortable with the tools in the online portal. The best way to address this is to become familiar with the online portal prior to the test. We’ve included a link below that contains more information form the ACT.

Another big strategy that helps students maximize their scores is being able to do the easy questions first or skip questions and go back to them later. While the ACT online does all it can to make this easy, it still is tougher than with a paper test, which means that many students won’t focus on getting all the easy points first. Instead, they’ll do the questions in the order they are presented, often resulting in wasted time. Students may need to be reminded that the best strategy is to skip to the easy questions to start out with. They should practice doing this so that it feels more natural on the test.

The screen itself can also cause issues. Many students associate screens with entertainment. When students study with screens in front of them they are often flipping between what they should be doing and Instagram, Youtube, Reddit, music, and other distractions. While this certainly won’t be possible on the ACT, students have come to associate screens with distractions. Because of this, many students have concentration issues when they are looking at screens.

In addition, technical issues may be an issue for select students. Paper and pencil are fairly impervious to technical issues. In a school where every student is issued a computer, there is going to be a good handful of students who may not have their computer fully charged on test day. There can also be issues with internet connection, power supply, software etc. While some of these issues can be easily resolved, others can’t. Keep in mind that an easily solved issue is still going to cause stress for the student—something that should be avoided at all costs. Students who are bringing their own computer to the  test should do all they can the day before to make sure it is in good working order- an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Another issue with screens is that many school issued computers are chrome books or other similar computers that have tiny screens. This can lead to issues with being able to see all the information at once (on the reading and science) and just overall makes it more difficult to interact with the test. If possible, request to take the test on a laptop brought from home or in a computer lab. The worst that can happen is that they say no!

Finally, as any optometrist will tell you, staring at a screen for three and half hours can cause physical issues. While students may say that “they’re used to it,” they probably don’t often stare at screen for that long. Even if they don’t realize it, they likely look up and around quite often to rest their eyes. On the ACT, all these mini-breaks can really add up to time lost.

In short, if your school is considering an online test you should, if possible, request a paper test. If you absolutely can’t get a paper test, prepare for the difficulties of online testing by using this resource given by the ACT

https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Preparing-for-Online.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0e78F_CW6MhyIFX3835GZf1XWQ1QBt7brJTTc7L4aSeJVMeCVagIJfiP0

 

This will allow you, at the very least, to become comfortable with the program prior to test day!

Best of luck!

Michal Strawn

A Range of Difficulties on Standardized Tests

After taking the SAT or ACT students will often complain that the test was tougher than what they practiced for. They will also often say that it was easier than they expected. However, these observations don’t necessarily mean that student scores will go up or down. On the contrary, a test isn’t helpful to colleges trying to gauge a student’s ability if the test isn’t consistent. In order to ensure consistency in score the ACT and SAT curve scores according to the difficulty of the specific test taken.

So what does the mean for students taking the test? Well, first of all, students should do a wide range of practice from the easiest things they can find to the toughest.  Practicing a wide range of difficulties will allow students to be ready for anything.  This will hopefully allow students to remain calm on the test no matter what is thrown at them.

Second, students need to remember to stick to their strategies regardless of the difficulty. The temptation with easy tests is to zip right through it. However, this leads to simple, small mistakes; the curve on the easier tests makes those mistakes costly. Conversely, students need to make sure to stay calm on the tougher tests. Mistakes on those really difficult questions won’t count against them as much, but panicking will cause more mistakes. Having strategies in place and sticking to those strategies will help students maximize their scores on both ends of the spectrum.

In the end, students need to remember that they can’t control what is on the tests. They can only control how they react to it. Through careful and deliberate practice, students can ensure that they react in a calm manner which will allow them to live up to their potential!

State Funded Standardized Tests: SAT

Last year, the State of Ohio decided to pay for one standardized test for each junior in the state.  This decision was made after the ACT and SAT were included as pathways for graduation and, in part, to help reduce college application costs for families. Last year (as far as I know) all the schools here in central Ohio chose to have their juniors take the ACT. This year, however, one very large public district and one small private school are choosing to give their students the SAT as their free test.  Many of my students who attend these schools are curious as to why they are being forced to take the SAT: a test that is largely forgotten by most students in Ohio.  For many students who have chosen to focus on the ACT this is a nuisance. It is simply another test on their schedule that they have to study for even though they already have ACT scores that will take them to the college of their choice.  I believe that the school districts, however, have made a choice that will be good for many students.

The ACT and SAT are more similar now than they ever have been before. However, the tests still have differences that make some people more prone to succeed on one over another. For example, deep thinking and algebra strong students tend to succeed more readily on the SAT. Most students don’t realize this. They plan on taking the ACT because that’s what all their friends are taking and what (most) schools have as their standard junior test. By forcing students to try the SAT schools are helping students realize what test they are better on so that they can focus on it from there on out.

If your junior is at a school where they are offering the SAT encourage him or her to go in with an open mind and just do his or her best. Afterword, ask him or her which test felt more comfortable. Then, when scores come out see which one is better and have the student focus on that test moving forward. If your junior doesn’t go to a school where the SAT is being offered, consider signing up for a public test date. After all, you’ll never know if you don’t try!

Should I Take the ACT or the SAT?

I would highly recommend that students try BOTH the SAT and ACT.  While both tests are accepted by colleges everywhere some students find that they prefer one test over another. Why not focus on your strengths? However, you can only know for sure where your strengths are by taking them both.  Once you have taken both tests, you will know whether you should focus on just one of them going forward.  If your scores on both were pretty comparable, you can try both of them again.

Let’s say that you don’t want to take the time and money to explore which test is preferable – you want to pick one and stick with it.  Here are some ways you can make that decision.

  1. Look at your PSAT and Pre-ACT scores.  The PSAT corresponds to the SAT, and the Pre-ACT corresponds to the ACT.  Most students take the PSAT as juniors, and most take the Pre-ACT as sophomores.  The easiest way to compare them is to look at the percentiles that you earned on each test.  If, for example, if you have an 80thpercentile on the PSAT and a 65thpercentile on the Pre-ACT, it would probably make more sense to focus your efforts on the SAT.  If the percentiles are comparable, you should probably do both the ACT and SAT at least once.
  2. Do you qualify for extended time? If so, I would recommend focusing on the ACT.  In my tutoring experience, students who have extended time tend to find the ACT easier than the SAT.   Students find this to be the case because the questions and passages on the ACT tend to be a bit more straight-forward and less “outside-the-box”, making them much more doable for students who have more time to process them.  Much of the coaching I do for students with the ACT is with respect to timing, and if you have extended time on the ACT, you can focus much more on your critical thinking process rather than on how quickly you are doing things.
  3. Do you struggle with timing? You should almost certainly focus on the SAT.  The ACT Math, Reading and Science are all pretty tough for students to finish.  In my experience, few students have difficulty finishing the SAT.
  4. Do you have test anxiety? If so, the SAT may be a better fit because the questions go in order from easiest to hardest on almost every section, so it is much less likely that you will become stuck on a tough question.  Also, you won’t have to worry about time as much.
  5. What is the Superscoring Policy of the College you Most Want to Attend?  Most colleges will superscore the SAT, which means they will take the best score from each section of the test over several test dates.  A few colleges superscore the ACT.  If you are applying to a college that DOES superscore the ACT, you may want to be more open to taking the ACT because you will have more opportunities to earn a solid score.  If the college only superscores the SAT and you tend to be somewhat inconsistent in your performance on test day, the SAT may be a better fit for you.