A Paper Accommodation for the Digital SAT?
As students across the globe are preparing for the transition to a digital, adaptive SAT, which debuts in March for all international students, select students with accommodations may opt to stick with a paper-based, non-adaptive SAT.
We’ve been fielding questions about how the form and format of the paper test compares to that of the digital adaptive test, as well as questions regarding who, if given the opportunity, should take one form over the other.
First, how do the digital adaptive and paper linear forms compare?
Total testing time
The digital SAT has an administration time of 2 hours, 14 minutes compared to 2 hours, 44 minutes for the linear paper test. So digital testers have 30 minutes less testing time. Paper testers have a longer testing experience.
Time per question
Both the digital and linear tests give students 1.59 minutes per math question and 1.19 minutes per verbal question. So the speed on both formats is identical.
Number of questions
The paper test has an additional 10 math and 12 verbal questions. More questions are needed to score a static paper form, whereas Item Response Theory, which powers the digital test, enables a more efficient testing experience.
Students can write directly on the paper test form, annotate passages and lay out their math work directly below each problem. In contrast, students taking the digital SAT will have to annotate using digital tools or write on the 3 pieces of scratch paper provided.
Both test forms allow for calculators, but the students taking the paper test do not have access to the Desmos calculator, built directly and conveniently into the BlueBook testing app.
Score wait time
Digital scores are expected to be released in just a few days after testing, whereas students who take the paper test will likely have to wait longer to receive their scores.
Who will have access to the Linear Paper Test?
When the College Board announced the migration to a digital, adaptive format, many of us in the industry assumed that paper would no longer be an option, given the approach of other testing agencies. For the GMAT and MCAT, no student is able to take a paper test; these test formats are exclusively digital. The GRE and LSAT, in contrast, offer a paper-test-form accommodation for specific disabilities.
Four times in the document on accommodations for Digital SATs, the College Board states: “If a student is unable to test with the digital test, they should contact customer service to request a paper test.” But that is all the direction that is offered.
While the College Board has yet to publish a definitive official statement regarding which students will be able to access the linear paper test, the testing creators did take a position during an invite-only webinar that we attended on October 31, 2022. During the presentation, Maureen Forman, the Executive Director of Digital Product Management announced that any student with an accommodation through the SSD (Services for Students with Disabilities) would be able to access a linear-paper test. It would seem that rather than determining which disabilities would map to a paper test accommodation, the College Board decided to allow any student with a documented learning difference to request a paper test.
While this position has yet to appear in writing, it came from an authoritative source, so it begs the question: If you can take a paper SAT after the digital adaptive test launches, should you?
If you can take the Paper SAT, should you?
For those students who are ultimately eligible to take the paper test, would it serve them to do so? The simple way to get to a true answer is to take a pair of practice tests, one digital, and one paper, with your approved accommodations and find out. Both your scores and your own experience will tell you which test format is a better fit for your learning style.
Four linear practice tests and 4 digital practice tests are currently available for all students. If a student performs similarly on both paper and digital formats, go with the format that feels more comfortable. Some students will prefer the shorter test, while others will prefer the ability to annotate and solve directly on the test form using a number 2 pencil. If all students with a College Board accommodation can, in fact, request a paper-test, we certainly do not advocate that all students do so, unless they’ve done their diligence and made sure that the paper is a better format for them.
Over the coming year, we will learn more about which SAT accommodations are available to which students, and the College Board’s position could change. We will likely know much more as the digital PSAT approaches in October and the digital SAT launches domestically in March 2024. Until then, we will keep you apprised of updates as they arrive.