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Digital SAT Begins Next Spring


digital SAT test

The SAT will soon be taken by college-bound students only by computer. This is a welcome change that affirms the continuing relevance and utility of standardized tests in the test- optional, post-pandemic era. The first digital SAT was administered by the College Board in Spring 2023 for international students. Nationwide American students will take it in March 2024. Although less than perfect, standardized tests are a pragmatic means of trying to level the playing field for the graduates of the 20,469 American high schools that vary widely in curriculum options, academic rigor, and grading systems. The SAT can affirm a student’s high GPA or enable her to prove that her academic potential exceeds what her mediocre GPA might indicate. Tests may be optional, but the SAT is still useful in identifying promising students.


The Digital SAT


There are no differences in the scope of content between the paper and digital tests for the Verbal or Math sections. Below is an overview of the College Board’s digital SAT product:


a. First Test-Takers


Most high school students take the SAT for the first time in spring of junior year. The first nationwide digital SAT, set for March of 2024, will be taken by current eleventh graders as well as students in lower grades who also wish to take it. Students may take the paper SAT through the end of 2023.​


b. How Students Will Take the Test


The digital SAT will be taken in a test center. A Chromebook will be provided to students at the test center if they requested one during registration. A student may use their own laptop or tablet if it meets the specifications below in Table A.


Table A

Specifications for Digital SAT Devices

Device Type

Software Capabilities

​Storage Space Available

Windows laptop

Windows 10 or later

250 MB of free storage space

Windows tablet

Windows 10 or later

250 MB of free storage space

Apple Mac laptop

​MacOS 11.4 or later

150 MB of free storage space

Apple iPad

iPadOS 13.4 or later

150 MB of free storage space

Loaner Chromebook

Chrome OS 83 or later

150 MB of free storage space

In advance of the exam, students will download an application called Bluebook from the College Board’s website to their device. This is the application that the student will need to take SAT practice tests. Then, one to five days before the exam date, the student will complete a quick exam setup on their device with Bluebook. Bluebook will verify that the device meets specifications and will then download the student’s SAT test and create an admission ticket. The software prevents students from accessing their digital SAT prior to the test date and time.


A calculator integrated in Bluebook will be available for the duration of the test. There will no longer be a Math section that prohibits the use of a calculator. A hide-able integrated timer will be displayed at the top of every page. If there is a disruption, the timer will pause and can later be reset by the proctor so that the test-taker will not lose time. Annotation tools are integrated in Bluebook so that students can take notes and highlight or cross out text. It also prevents test-takers from using other features of their device while taking the test.


Security and privacy are better in the digital than the paper-based system because each test-taker receives a unique test. This means that Question #10 on one student’s test is different than Question #10 for the student sitting next to her, making the testing process more secure.


Scores Remain the Same But Timing Changes


As in the current system, SAT scores will range from 400 to 1600​. The time allowed for the digital SAT will be 2 hours and 14 minutes, nearly one hour less than the paper test.​ There will be two Verbal sections, each lasting 32 minutes and having 27 questions. Only 25 of the 27 questions will be scored. Two are research questions for future tests. There will no longer be a break between Reading and Writing.


There will be two separate Math sections—each will last for 35 minutes and have 22 questions. Only 20 of the 22 questions will be scored with the other two for research. “Grid-in” questions, which call for student-produced responses, will be mixed in with multiple choice questions, unlike the current SAT in which there is a separate part for the grid-in questions. Instead of selecting a correct answer from choices, students will solve problems and the enter answers in grids on the screen.


The Format Will Have Changes​


The Math subject-matter content will remain the same. The full range of problem solving and data analysis topics that are covered in the current SAT will remain on the digital test. But there are fewer problem-solving and data analysis questions (which cover percentages, probability, organizing data, and basic statistics).


In the Verbal section, there will no longer be long reading passages with multiple questions about each one. Each question will have its own short passage and the question will be for that passage only. The questions will test prose comprehension, poetry, and logical completion. In the latter, students will read a short passage, the last line of which has been left blank. The student will then choose from four options the one that best completes the passage​. Reading and writing questions will be clustered — several reading and then several writing (grammar or expression).


Multistage Adaptive ​Methodology


A significant change on the digital test is its Multistage Adaptive ​Methodology, which is enabled by the flexibility inherent in computer software. Students will begin their initial Math and Verbal sections with questions researched to be at an average level of difficulty. The student’s bluebook software scores these questions immediately. If the student scores high, he or she will be given more challenging questions for the rest of the section. If the student does not perform well, he or she will be given less difficult questions. Performance on the first few questions determines how high the student‘s score can be for that section. For this reason, strong students should be very careful on the first few questions of each section as the score penalty can be significant for a careless mistake early on.


Accommodations for Digital Tests


The same accommodations will be made for digital tests that are now available in the paper-test system. They are integrated within the student’s Bluebook program. When a student signs in for the test, Bluebook will know their previously approved accommodations and will make them available for the test. The timer, for example, will be extended for students who have been granted extra time. The screen will indicate if an extra break has been scheduled. The screen will have large print if that has been approved. Students are approved for accommodations by the Services for Students with Disabilities panel at the Board. This is done through registration so that the Board can include the accommodations in the student’s Bluebook software.


Superscoring


The College Board is recommending that colleges superscore between the paper and digital versions until the conversion to digital is complete. For example, if a student takes the paper SAT in December 2023 and receives a higher score in Verbal than in Math and then takes the digital SAT in March 2024 and gets a higher score in Math than in Verbal, the College Board encourages colleges to combine the two highest scores into one superscore.


Practice Tests


Four full-length adaptive digital practice tests are available through Bluebook. The practice tests will have the same interface, format, and scoring methodology that will be used for the actual digital SAT.

Students should guess if they don’t know an answer because incorrect answers will not be penalized. After students score a practice test, they should review the scoring guide. It has explanations of answers to guide students in identifying areas for study.


In traditional testing on the paper SAT, the total number of correct answers corresponds directly to a scaled score. In an adaptive test like the digital SAT, scoring is more complex because questions will have different weights. The term used for the type of differential weighting is Item Response Scoring. This is the method that will be used to score the practice tests as well as the digital SAT itself.


ACT Plans for Digital Testing


For several decades, the SAT and the ACT have been different versions of the same thing. Both measure the cognitive abilities of students and their readiness for college. However, their testing methodologies will diverge with the advent of digital testing.


ACT will offer a limited pilot of a digital exam to 5,000 test-takers in December 2023. The ACT’s plan is to expand its capacity to offer more opportunities for digital testing throughout 2024. However, ACT has not indicated that the paper test is ever going to go away. They have stressed that, unlike the SAT that is converting exclusively to digital, ACT wants students to retain the ability to choose their preferred testing format. ACT will give students an option to choose a paper or a digital test, whichever suits them best.


For this reason, among others, during this transition period College Choice Counseling recommends that students prepare for the ACT unless they have a strong preference for the SAT.


At College Choice Counseling®, our counselors and tutors are here to help you with college counseling, college essay and application help, test prep tutoring, and academic subject tutoring. Reach out … we’ll help you succeed!



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