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:
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:
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.