The Ivy Coach Daily

November 24, 2022

The New Digital SAT Is Coming Soon

This isn’t a political map of red states vs. blue states. It’s a map of majority SAT vs. majority ACT test-taker states for high school students who graduated this past year (photo credit: Erik Jacobsen).

Just as the seasons go round and round, the SAT is morphing again — yet another of life’s constants. It seems like just yesterday when we had a Verbal section of the SAT with analogies and sentence completions, an essay open to free ranging interpretation. And then, whoosh, a revamped SAT rolled out in 2016, designed to better compete with its upstart rival, ACT, Inc.’s ACT. The College Board, the maker of the SAT, made significant changes back then, too. By copying the main charm points of its competitor — no error penalty, 3-hour test length, English grammar test cloned wholesale, and STEM elements woven into every section of the test –- The College Board regained its seat at the head of the table, convincing key states (a.k.a high-population states) to offer the SAT to all of their juniors as a measure of academic achievement and college readiness. The College Board was back on top.

International Students Will Take New Digital SAT First

But those at the top know that to stay at the top, they’ve got to adapt or die. So the SAT has evolved anew and now the rollout of the digital format of the SAT is right around the corner for international students, with the first exam scheduled for March 2023. The new test is digital for most students and adaptive — and thus shortened to just two hours. There’s no essay, no more Q&A dates, and everyone will see different questions, so no more cheating (hooray!). Thus far, The College Board has only released a single set of practice questions and just four full online digital exams. This is tough on international juniors, as there are no textbooks yet published for this test. But, alas, this student population has no voice to air their discontent and so they will, naturally, serve as guinea pigs for The College Board and its planned roll-out of the test in the U.S. in March 2024 (with a compatible PSAT offered in October 2023).

Changes to the SAT Prioritize College Board, Not Students

The digital format does have some appeal, including a built-in Desmos calculator for math, shorter reading passages, no more evidence pair questions, assorted tools for mark-up, and faster scoring turnaround time. Overall, however, this is a win primarily for The College Board — and not for student test-takers. Why’s that, you ask? Because the digital format’s tools are inherently clumsy and time-consuming and reading on screen cannot compare to reading and notating on paper. For math, calculations may be made on scrap paper, but then students have to transfer their answers to the screen.

New Digital SAT’s Adaptive Format Is Its Biggest Downside

The biggest downside of this test, however, is its adaptive format. In our experience, while students who have taken the practice tests have perceived them to be easier, they’ve then been rather shocked by their scores: just a few errors can knock their score way down (the 1600 scale remains the same, with an 800 maximum score each on Reading/Writing and Math). So how does that happen? It’s the adaptive system. The first of each section in Reading/Writing and Math is easier. As students make over a threshold of errors on the easier section, they will be fed easier questions in the second section — questions that count for fewer points. It’s like losing a couple of early games in a round-robin tournament. No matter how well the team performs thereafter, they’ve got a ceiling.

Adaptive Format Penalizes Students Who Commit Early Careless Errors

For the new SAT, no longer do all questions count for the same number of points. The computer algorithm assigns values to each question and so a few careless errors on an easy section can thus doom one’s score. This method of testing is in line with typical graduate school exams such as the GRE and GMAT and this is certainly the direction testing has been going. But for high school students, it’s certainly no win.

How Students Can Prepare for the New Digital SAT

So, how can international students prepare for this brand-new test with no testing materials? Current study resources for all sections of the test except for Reading are still useful, though the new Math section has revived more focus on geometry than the current test and upped the number of basic Trigonometry questions. In Writing, grammar, usage, and punctuation are still key, though the format has changed.

Reading Section Will Be Biggest Question Mark

The big question mark, of course, is the Reading test. Passages are single, generally long, and paragraphs followed by a single question. So, there’s a whole lot of reading for each point. Studying current textbook materials or real SATs will not give students a strong foundation for this type of question, but such resources are still better than nothing. We at Ivy Coach recommend students focus on comprehension, using current materials with less focus on timing and soon-to-be obsolete question types.

It Will Be Toughest for International Juniors to Prepare

For international juniors, this is a tough test for which to prepare. The only ones who will have it tougher? College admissions officers. It’s these folks who will have to compare the test results to those of U.S.-based students who are still submitting the current tests in the current format. Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball hereby predicts it will be a case of apples vs. oranges.

While you’re here, learn more about Ivy Coach’s SAT tutoring to get a head start on adapting your preparations for the new digital SAT.

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