The Digital SAT: Advantages

I recently attended the annual National Test Preparation Association conference in Atlanta, where Angela Delbrocco, Executive Director of Strategy at the College Board, spoke about the upcoming Digital PSAT/SAT. In the US, the first administration of this new product will be the PSAT in the fall of 2023. Paper-and-pencil SAT testing will conclude at the end of 2023.The first Digital SAT will be administered in March of 2024, and all SAT tests will be digital from then on.

The Digital SAT may seem like a big leap for the College Board, but the SAT is in fact one of the last adopters of the online format among major standardized tests (GMAT, GRE, SSAT/ISEE). The digital test has several major advantages over the paper-and-pencil version.

The Test Is Adaptive
Each section, Math and Verbal, will have two parts as they do now. The first part of each section will contain the same questions for all students. But, for each student, the second part of each section will differ based on how that student performed on the first part of the section. So, a student who performs well on the first part of a section – which will be the same for everyone – will receive a more difficult second section, and a student who performs less well on the first section will receive an easier second section. This type of testing is called section adaptive.

Adaptive testing is more efficient, precise, and secure than paper-based testing. Particularly at the higher-end, adaptive testing allows for finer distinctions in scoring.

Cheating Becomes More Difficult
Because the test forms are no longer physical items, but rather secure digital documents, test leaks become much less likely. Furthermore, since there are no bubble sheets, answers are no longer recorded in front of the student, vulnerable to an unscrupulous eye.

And most importantly, since the test is section-adaptive, students will nearly never be working on the same problems at the same time. Even within the sections that are “the same,” the order of the questions will be randomized. As such, no two tests will be exactly alike.

The Test Is Significantly Shorter
At 1 hour and 55 minutes, the Digital SAT is over an hour shorter than the current, 3-Hour version. Students reported that the shortened time made the test less stressful.

Furthermore, the Digital SAT only takes about 10 minutes to get started, much less than the current 40-60 minutes currently required to enter one’s personal information. So, overall, the time required for the complete testing process has been cut by more than a 1/3, saving students about 1.5 hours per test.

Scores Are Available Faster
Right now, scores are released about 12-14 days after an SAT test date, longer for June (~40 days). But with the Digital SAT, scores will be available in “just a few days.” Students also reported that this decreased wait time made the testing process less stressful.

There’s a Calculator on The Screen for Math
The No-Calculator section, which had few fans, is now a thing of the past – the calculator is allowed for all Math problems. Not only that, the College Board has partnered with Desmos, the best online graphing calculator platform, to provide an online graphing calculator to all students on the screen during the test. No longer do students need to worry about the “right” calculator, whether their calculator runs out of batteries or breaks, or any other similar mishaps.

Flexible, In-School Testing Improves Access and Equity
As Priscilla Rodriguez from College Board states, “states, districts, and schools will have more options for when, where, and how often they administer the SAT—rather than adhering to a fixed schedule.” So, students may no longer either need to take the SAT on fixed Saturday dates or scramble to find testing locations. Furthermore, since schools can provide testing technology to students, they can ensure that students are working with technology with which they are comfortable.

School day testing is a major leveler of access to the test, improving fairness for all students.

Uncertainty of course remains about how the Digital SAT will perform as a predictor of college readiness, whether the technology will function properly (especially at first), and how colleges will view the Digital SAT. Nonetheless, with the advantages presented here, the prospects of the Digital SAT are promising, as it appears to be an easier, fairer, and more precise testing instrument.