What We Learned from the First Digital SAT
As of March 2023, the Digital SAT is now the exclusive format for students outside of the United States. The paper SAT has been retired for international students and this format will launch to U.S. students starting in March 2024.
We spoke with students, testing coordinators, and college counselors on every continent (except for Antarctica), who all had very positive feedback about the initial test. The digital test had been piloted extensively for the last year, and it appears all this practice served the College Board well.
So let’s dig into what we learned from the first Digital SAT!
An informal poll of Testing Coordinators via an international admissions group indicated that proctors and host sites were really pleased. They reported less stress and appreciated the shorter testing time. From a technical-perspective, the testing experience functioned well. One reported issue was lag time on the coordinators’ dashboard but this did not impact the students taking their individual tests on their digital devices.
The ACT’s roll out of the computer-based test several years ago possibly helped with this digital roll out. Tests taken on computer aren’t new (the GRE and GMAT have been using them for decades.) It seems the College Board was able to take note of these experiences, plus those attained in the Pilot test that they have been conducting with the Digital SAT and apply this knowledge to the official rollout this March.
As we’ve shared previously, the new section-adaptive format, embedded experimental questions, and varying weight of questions could possibly present new challenges for students when it comes to testing anxiety. These format and question changes did seem to be on the minds of some students during the actual test, particularly those students who had taken a paper SAT previously. Students do not learn which questions did not count towards their overall score nor do they know which questions may be worth more than other questions. Moving away from everyone seeing the exact same question and with varying points for correct questions are indeed a mindset change for test takers.
During this first digital test, it seemed that the variation in questions that students face can include not only their order, but also the answer choice order. Specifically, it appears that students more or less took the same test on the Reading sections but with varying orders of responses (i.e. for one student the correct answer is choice A while on another student’s test the correct answer is found under choice C). On Math, the College Board swapped out the numbers on questions, but used similar scenarios for the questions.
We found that many students perceived that the difficulty level of questions seemed to be harder than what was found in the practice tests. This reaction can possibly be attributed to the difference between an in-person official test experience and a practice test when the score is an unofficial, mock score.
The section adaptive experience was indeed as the College Board promised. We outline how to handle this adaptive experience here.
While there is an update to question formats on both sides of the test, anecdotally, our students had more thoughts on the revision of topics on the math side. Math curriculums vary not only from district to district in the U.S. but from country to country around the world. These discussions unscored the benefits of working one on one with a tutor who can meet a student where they are and fill in with the necessary content, strategies, drills, and practice to help students perform their best.
Finally, our students (and tutors) have noted that the official score report is rather vague. There is no way to determine exactly how many questions the student got wrong and the College Board is moving away from the Question and Answer service for all test dates.
So is it the same old SAT?
Well, yes and no. Change can take some time (and effort) to get used to but with the late spring tests just around the corner, we are feeling armed with fresh strategies and support that are in line with our foundational beliefs for test preparation. International families can learn more about the test and their options here. We’re looking forward to supporting students with this new version of a well-established test!