Frequently Asked Questions about the Digital SAT for IECs
Ready or not, the Digital SAT is coming – in March 2023 for international students and March 2024 for domestic students. As you begin to work with this year’s sophomore class both near and far, we know you and your students have many questions about how this new test will impact them. Applerouth is here with the answers to your most frequently asked questions – at least as far as we know as of January 2023!
Q: Digital SAT? What? Why?
A: Yes, the College Board is trading in paper and pencil for laptops and tablets. This move to a digital test is part of a larger trend we’ve observed in recent years of testing agencies moving to digital adaptive formats which are generally more reliable and secure, as seen with tests such as the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT. Perhaps most notable about the new test is its adaptive structure: in the new digital SAT, students’ performance on an initial module of a section will determine which of the two second modules they will take. Both second modules will have a mix of easier, mid-range and difficult questions, but one module will be harder than the other. Questions in both modules will be weighted differently, and it is true that students ending up in the easier second module will see their scores capped; a perfect score will only be achievable if a student can make it into the harder second module of a given section – and get most of those questions right.
Q: What if a student gets anxious and has a rough go in the first module as a result? Is it really fair to cap their score because of a few wrong answers?
A: At Applerouth, we work with a lot of students who have test anxiety, so part of our work with students preparing for the digital test will incorporate tools for managing any worries they have since there will be some pressure for them to do well out of the gate. As a reminder, the dSAT will be section (not question) adaptive, so students will have the whole of that first testing period to go back to review their responses to any question before time is called. From what we have seen so far on the practice tests the College Board has released, students who wind up in the easier of the two second modules would have received a similar score if they had taken the test all in one go – which is to say that students who miss enough questions in the first module to be placed in the easier second module would have missed that many questions on the full test as well, thereby similarly limiting their score.
Q: Assuming a student has ended up in an easier module, what’s the highest score they can achieve? What’s the lowest score they can achieve if they’ve ended up in a harder module?
A: The College Board has not yet published details on scaled scoring, but our analysis of the first practice test they released suggests that a student who gets the easier second module could score as high as the mid 600s and, conversely, a student who gets the harder second module could score as low as the mid 400s if they fail to answer any questions in the second module correctly.
Q: When is the SAT officially switching over to digital? What about the PSAT? Which students will be impacted most?
A: International students will all take the digital SAT beginning in March of 2023. Domestic students will take the digital PSAT in October of 2023, then the digital SAT beginning in the spring of 2024, including School Day SATs. In the US, this staggering of roll-out dates impacts current sophomores (Class of 2025) the most, especially those who will be ready to take the still paper-based SAT in the fall semester of their junior year around the same time as the implementation of the digital PSAT. This graphic from the College Board explains the timeline:
Q: Should students faced with the prospect of different versions of the SAT just skip the drama and prepare for the ACT instead?
A: Maybe! As always, we recommend students begin their testing journey by taking a practice SAT and a practice ACT. About a quarter of students score higher on one test relative to the other, but almost every student has a preference! Our Winter Testing Weekend is coming up in February, so please call or email us to help get your students signed up for a practice test. If results suggest a clear preference for the ACT, they have their answer, and if not, they should consider which format of the SAT might be a better fit for their learning style and testing timeline.
Q: Will paper-based tests still be available after the switch?
A: Here’s the College Board’s response: “We are making a full transition to digital, so once we begin administering the SAT Suite digitally we will no longer offer a paper and pencil version of the tests. Though we will continue to support students who test with accommodations that require a paper and pencil test.”
Students with a paper and pencil test accommodation will take a linear (non-adaptive) test the length of the current SAT. For all other students, the only paper they’ll be provided with on test day is three pages of scratch paper to work out problems if they need to. For more on how digital testing with accommodations will work, check out:
Q: I’ve heard of some students already taking the digital SAT. What’s that all about?
A: College Board quietly rolled out their digital testing pilot program for juniors–by invitation only–across the globe starting in the fall of 2021. The earliest participants were not provided official scores, but since at least spring of 2022, these pilot tests have yielded official scores giving students the option to submit results from the dSAT to colleges if they wish.
Q: Should I encourage my students who have been invited to take an early digital SAT to sit for the test?
A: Yes, they should definitely seize the opportunity! Students taking these pilot tests have the option to cancel their scores after they receive them, so they will have nothing to lose or hide. If you do have students who have tried the dSAT, we would love to hear more about their experience.
Q: How will the new test differ from the old one?
A: In a nutshell, the dSAT will have:
- Shorter reading passages, with just one question each
- Some higher level reading material, including a bit of poetry, and the addition of some vocabulary-in-context questions (though not so much as to warrant the dusting off of old flash cards!)
- Fewer reading-intensive word problems in the math section
- The return of more geometry and trigonometry questions, which represented 8% of all questions on the paper test but around 15% on the digital test
Q: What are universities saying about their acceptance of these scores when students take both formats?
A: Here’s the College Board’s response to that question: “We’ve consulted with groups of higher ed enrollment leaders throughout 2021 to get their insights and feedback on the development of the digital SAT, and they’ve indicated they’ll continue to use SAT scores from the digital test as they do now, as one part of their holistic admissions process. We’ll continue to listen and engage with our members as we move toward launch in 2023.”
We know colleges will accept scores from both formats, but so far, we haven’t seen any colleges or universities address the looming question of whether they will superscore results between the paper and digital tests. Scoring will remain on a 1600 point scale, and the College Board has maintained that concordance between the digital SAT and the ACT will remain the same since they consider scores on the two formats interchangeable.
Q: Can you share more about the tech requirements and digital testing app features? How will students take the test if they don’t have access to a device? What if a test center loses internet connectivity during the test?
A: Students will be able to use either personal or school-provided laptops or tablets and students without access to a device will be able to request one from the College Board but need to do so at least 30 days in advance. They will be required to download the Bluebook digital testing app, which will allow students to take the test on their devices, even if they lose their internet connection. The user experience will be similar to that of the computer-based ACT which has been administered internationally since 2018. Here are some key features:
- Ability to annotate
- Answer eliminator
- Countdown clock
- Desmos calculator
- Ability to flag questions for later review (within each section)
Q: What are three things about the dSAT to be excited about that I can share with a concerned family, in three bullet points or less?
- The digital test is shorter–by an hour!
- There is significantly more time allowed per question than that on the paper test, which itself provided more time per question than the ACT
- Questions grouped by type can help students build momentum
Q: What are three things to remain cautious about, in three bullet points or less?
- Shorter passages don’t necessarily mean easier passages and do mean having to switch from topic to topic more quickly
- The number of correct answers a student has will not clearly indicate overall performance, due to the differently weighted questions, so this uncertainty may lead to some anxiety
- The Desmos calculator is a powerful, easy-to-use tool available for all math questions, but it’s not always necessary, so students may run out of time if they rely too heavily on it
Q: How is Applerouth preparing to help students prepare for this test, especially if those students are in a position to take both paper and digital versions?
A: For over 20 years now, we at Applerouth have been adapting our approach to meet the needs of our students as both the SAT and ACT have evolved in both structure and content. We’ve weathered big changes–like the SAT re-designs of 2005 and 2016 and the introduction of the computer-based ACT internationally in 2018–and subtle changes–like the steady creep of higher-level math content quietly introduced by the ACT over the years. Our Instructional Design team has diligently updated–and will continue to update–our curriculum, adding new content to our ever-expanding digital library of colorfully animated lessons and practice problems, building lessons ‘beyond the content’ to help students boost their confidence and overcome anxiety so they can do their best on test day, no matter what format they choose.
For a deeper dive into the content, structure, and scoring of the dSAT, check out Jed’s First Impressions of the Digital SAT, Digital SAT Coming into Focus, and our Deep Dive on the 4 Digital SAT Practice Tests.