Overview
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Overview

The College Board offers a digital version of the SAT. SAT is an exam which is taken to test mathematical and language skills for applicants who want to pursue their undergraduate courses abroad. This version of the test is administered on a computer and is much easier than the paper-and-pencil version of the SAT. The digital SAT is administered at test centres around the world, and students can register for the test in the same way as the paper-and-pencil version. ‘College Board’ has announced that the SAT or PSAT exam will be digital by March 2023.

1. Digital SAT timeline: The SAT exam gets updated every 10 years. The digital change proves to be a  major change in the past three decades. Below is a timeline of how the SAT exams have evolved over the years.

i. 1994: Drop antonyms, score recentering
ii.2005: Integrate writing, add the essay, drop analogies
iii.2016: Common core, alignment, vocab overhaul, new Maths
iv.2023 Digital delivery for international students, adaptive, short form passages

2. Digital testing timeline: College Board has been preparing for the digital version of SAT for years. It gained valuable experience by conducting AP exams online to millions of students during the pandemic. The College Board is moving the digital SAT to a completely adaptive testing module. Below is a brief timeline of the digital SAT system:

i. December 2022 is the last paper-and-pencil SAT exam for international students.
ii. SAT becomes completely digital by March 2023, for international students.
iii. For US students, the SAT migration takes place in March, 2024.

In the meantime, College Board has released 4 full-length digital practice tests for students to become familiar with the digital format of the exam.

Application used for digital SAT

Bluebook is the application used for digital SATs. The application also provides practice tests and is fully functional for students to famaliarise themselves with the digital format. 
Bluebook is streamlined and largely intuitive and is the official application for both practice and the official test. The digital tools are easy to find, use and hide. The application also showcases the new features and tools, such as - Desmos calculator, annotation tool, highlight etc., which helps every exam taker adapt and perform better. 4 linear practice tests are available for free. One can Google ‘SAT linear practice test’ to try out the 4 different tests based on various difficulties. 

Why digital testing? Advantages of digital testing over paper

The main reason for digital testing is it has more advantages over the traditional SAT exam format. Following are the advantages of digital SAT: 

  1. The test is more consistent and reliable
  2. Avoids the error of mis-grading
  3. Easier to schedule school day tests or offer SATs on demand
  4. Increases test security
  5. Improves accommodation - available for students with learning differences
  6. Results are available within days, rather than weeks (i.e. results are faster)
  7. Test is more efficient - saving students time and helping them to focus more

Digital SATs main advantage is its security. Why?

  1. Paper tests have an issue of item exposure, i.e copy of test, paper leak etc.; This leads to cancelling the paper in many countries. 
  2. The College Board will create dozens of baseline sections for verbal and maths sections, while also creating dozens of sections for the adaptive module. Thus, involving thousands of questions and problems for every paper.
  3. In a test room every student will have different baseline sections. No longer fixed test format for students.

Digital SAT: Changes, similarity, timing & structure

The digital SAT has gone through some changes but is also in a way similar to the existing format. While the timing and structure have some change,  let’s take a look at all the changes and similarities in the digital format.

1.Changes:

i. The test duration is shorter - 2 hrs: 24 mins
ii. More time to answer questions, therefore less emphasis on speed
iii. The reading passages are shorter, covering a wide range of topics - 1 question per passage
iv. Calculator is provided throughout the maths test. No non-calculator section
v. College Board is adding 2 international testing dates.
vi. Schools will have more flexibility in scheduling, thereby expecting more in-school testing.
vii. Scores will be returned faster than before.

2.Similarities:

i. Test content is largely unchanged
ii. Maths is testing the same material with less word problems
iii. Reading and writing will test the same material with shorter reading sections
iv. Scoring stays the same

3.Timing:

i. Total time is 2 hrs: 24 mins (inclusive of break-time)
ii. Verbal time is 64 mins
iii. Maths time is 70 mins
ii. Break time is 10 mins (applicable between verbal and maths)
iii. Amount of time per question has been increased on both sections of the test

4. Structure:

i. Verbal: 54 questions - 27 questions each for reading and writing baseline + adaptive module
ii. Maths: 44 questions - 22 questions each for baseline + adaptive module

College Board is embedding experimental items within sections to gauge the difficulty and reliability of the items for future administration. 8 out of the 98 questions will be experimental. Overtime, more baseline and adaptive questions will be created and in circulation. The College board has ensured that each student will receive a highly comparable but unique version of the test.

What does ‘adaptive’ mean?

The new SAT will be highly section-adaptive. Students will see both sections, reading and writing and maths, twice. Section 1 will be set and section 2 will vary based on how the student performs in section 1. 
The second section will adapt based on two criteria - it will be either easier than the baseline module or harder than the baseline. In adaptive testing there’s no single, set test form. The only challenge is earlier questions can affect the student’s scores more than later ones.

Your baseline section acts as the anchor. Points you scored or missed can not be altered. Your adaptive section is thus crafted based on your baseline performance. You’ll be sent to a section with a fixed level of difficulty, with a fixed score potential.

To advance into the harder module, one must score 15/22 correct answers in the first section to advance into the harder maths module, while 18/27 correct answers for the verbal section. 
Every question has the same weightage for each section and the level of difficulty is randomised in the verbal section, while it increases in the maths section.

Understanding the maths section

1.Structuring:

The maths section has seemed to become easier for students with a major advantage of the reading time being reduced. There are 44 total problems, down from 58 on the current SAT. The maths questions have fewer words per problem. The digital SAT will consist of 30% science, social studies or real-life based problems. The remaining 70% will consist of pure maths problems.The goal is to make sure that the digital SAT is testing the maths skill and not the reading skill.
The digital SAT will increase the weightage of geometry and trigonometry to 15%, i.e. 7% more than the current SAT.

2. Desmos Calculator:

The Desmos graphing calculator is the major game changer for the new test format. This will fundamentally change the experience for test takers. The calculator can be opened, closed or run in the background during the test and proves to be very convenient for solving the test.
The Desmos calculator can be used by plugging in equations and identifying where functions intersect on the graph. It is basically considered a passport for solving a number of mathematical problems and has made the easier adaptive module much easier.

3.Math Content Distribution:

Within a section questions do not appear at random, allowing students to be in a rhythm. In the maths section there are 6 consecutive graphing questions. The format is structured in such a way that the students have a problem-solving mindset and can learn the type of the questions.

Understanding the reading & writing section

1.Structuring:

The reading and writing section is a blended section with the difficulty level being random. The vocabulary question ‘words of context’ come all at once followed by a block of questions focusing on craft, structure and purpose later followed by a group of grammar questions. 

2.Reading section:

The passages are shorter and only 1 question per passage is given. The shorter passages can be tough including Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Shakespeare’s sonnet and other challenging scientific passages.Switching to a new topic, voice and style every question requires a bit more mental agility. Grouping questions together helps students follow a mind-set for a stretch of time.

The grammar emphasis is potentially less and the vocabulary emphasis is a bit high. There is an elimination of idioms with an inclusion of diverse ideas and tones. There is a massive increase in humanities passages (survey of artists, musicians, dabble of poetry) and a bigger emphasis on logical transitioning. A new addition to the test is the rhetorical synthesis question. Students will be given bulleted information and will be asked to use the information to accomplish a specific task.

How will the digital SAT work?

When the application is downloaded, they will be able to click through a quick demo to get a feel for digital testing. Below are few things to keep in mind while appearing for the digital test:

i. At the official test centre the proctor will read a start code, which when entered will start the test.
ii. WiFi must be available to start and end/ submit the test. 
iii. Students will be able to access section-specific directions from any testing screen. 
iv. Between sections students will have a break. 
v. The timer will let them know when the next section starts.
vi. The reading and writing section and the maths section will both feature multiple choice questions.
vii. Maths section will also require students to enter their answers directly onto the app.
viii. Students can use scratch papers during the exam and can bring their own pencil or pen for the examination.
ix. Score reports will have information on performance and areas to grow and improve.
x. Very easy to keep track of progress and flagged items.
xi. Reference sheets for commonly used formulas can be opened, closed and moved anywhere on the screen.

Conclusion

The pilot study suggests that administrators and students prefer the shorter, streamlined digital tests. 8% of test takers reported a better test taking experience with digital SAT. Administrators prefer the simplicity in proctoring the test without paper. Students prefer the digital format as shorter tests are less cognitive endurance, shorter passages mean less skimming and scanning texts, more time per question is relatively helpful and presence of an onscreen calculator means less hand calculations.