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  • Jill Madenberg

The New Digital SAT

What Will the Digital SAT Look Like?

● The digital SAT will be substantially shorter than the current SAT and ACT. The new test is a little over two hours; current versions of the SAT and ACT are both 3+ hours, and they usually include an unscored experimental section.

● The reading passages are significantly shorter, too. Instead of five long passages with 10+ questions on each, students will read many short paragraphs and answer a single question about each one. This means that one difficult or boring passage might not have such an outsized impact on a student’s test score.

● Students can use their own personal devices – laptops or tablets – or can request to borrow one from the College Board.

● The content tested in grammar and math sections will not be changing (according to the College Board).

● Calculators are allowed on the entire math section (There’s no longer a “no calculator” portion of the math).

● Students can bring their own calculators, but all students will also have access to an on-screen graphing calculator. On the sample tests, there are a number of questions that can easily be answered with Desmos technology. Good test prep should include instructions on the calculator and the various question types where it can be helpful.

Potential Concerns With the New Format:

● Adaptive scoring is a big concern. If a strong student makes a careless mistake early on, they will not be able to achieve a top score. See below section.

● The technology platform will take some getting used to. The annotation system is not intuitive and it can be frustrating to cross out answers. With practice, however, it shouldn’t be a major issue come test day.

● Vocabulary is back! The practice tests all start with vocab questions that resemble the sentence completions from the old 2400 version of the SAT. The vocabulary might not be as esoteric, but students looking for top scores will need to demonstrate strong vocabularies.

● Shorter definitely does not mean easier. The test is still challenging! It’s misleading. When an essay is one paragraph, it can still be very difficult.

● College Board continues to poke holes at content gaps in student knowledge. The test should still do a solid job of assessing the college readiness of students.

● The reading passages now include different sources, like poetry and notes, in addition to more classic SAT texts pulled from literature and newspapers. These may be extra difficult for some students.

How Is the Test Scored and What Is Adaptive Scoring?

● The scoring system will continue to use a 1600 point scale – 800 points for Evidence Based Reading, 800 points for Math – and colleges have indicated that they will continue to accept the digital scores.

● College Board says that scores will be directly comparable to the current version of the SAT.

● Scores will be available faster (days, not weeks).

● The scoring on the new test is section adaptive, i.e., A student’s performance on the first section determines the difficulty level of the second section. All students will have the same content for the first module for Reading/Writing and Math. But the second module for each content area will depend on the number and type of questions that a student answers correctly.

● Scores are driven by how well a student does on the first section. If you do better on the first part of the test, you will receive harder questions on the second portion of the test. Advancing to the more difficult second module gives a student the opportunity to achieve a score up to 800, while students in the easier module will see scores capped at a lower number (like 600 or 650).

● The adaptive scoring system potentially allows College Board to assess students on the correct level of difficulty and not waste time or questions on topics that are below a student’s current level of performance. The adaptive nature of the test supposedly enables College Board to achieve the same level of confidence in its scoring while reducing the overall length of the test.

Can I super score between the paper and digital SAT?

● The College Board is recommending that schools super score because they believe the tests are equivalent, but like everything in college admissions, it will depend on each institution.

How can you prepare?

● College Board has made four practice tests available – access them by clicking here.

● Khan Academy has practice available – access it by clicking here.

● Read a boring NYT article (or something of that level) every morning before getting onto your phone or tablet.


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