As we wrote a while back, the College Board is converting the PSAT/SAT from a “paper and pencil” exam to a digital exam. No more #2 pencils. No more bubbling in answer sheets. The entire exam will be administered online. There will be some comparatively subtle changes to the content, but nothing we see as a dramatic shift. More information about the test itself is here. This affected international test takers in March 2023 and will impact US students in March 2024, with a digital PSAT launching in October 2023.
The strategies may be different for some questions (for example, students may use different will need to get used to techniques for sentence completion/vocabulary prediction, similar to those for vocab-in-context). However, Collegewise’s philosophy and approach to testing remain the same. Read on to learn more about the test and how to approach your prep.
How the Digital P/SAT & SAT will be Organized
|Section 1: Module 1 Reading/Writing
|27 questions in 32 minutes
|Section 1: Module 2 Reading/Writing
|27 questions in 32 minutes
|Section 2: Module 1 Math
|22 questions in 35 minutes
|Section 2: Module 2 Math
|22 questions in 35 minutes
The total testing time under standard time is 134 minutes plus a break, markedly shorter than the current paper and pencil version, which clocks in at 180 minutes not including breaks. Notice that the structure of half Reading/Writing and the other half Math remains the same, as does the scoring of each section from 200-800.
Some highlights of the changes from my experience as a tutor taking a practice test:
- For math, all questions could be done without using a graphing calculator, but there’s an online one accessible during the whole math section, as are the reference sheets, which look the same as those on the Paper & Pencil (P&P) test. Students can also use their own approved calculators.
- The test is meant to be unique for each student, thus more secure, and will be section adaptive. What this means is a student’s performance on each of the first Reading/Writing and Math modules determines what their next module will look like. If they have few errors on the first modules, they’ll be presented with more difficult ones and will have potential to achieve a higher overall test score. Students who don’t do as well on the first modules will get easier second modules and will reach a score ceiling.
- Students who require paper and pencil-based tests because of accommodations can continue to take linear exams, and they will incorporate the same content changes found in the Digital PSAT/SAT, meaning they’re not the same as the current or “old” paper and pencil tests. These linear tests do take 3 hours, not the shorter 2.5 hours, since they do not have the algorithms that the digital tests have.
When Will the PSAT & SAT Go Digital?
For all US students, the PSAT will convert to its digital format in October 2023, the SAT in March 2024 .
- Class of 2024 students will likely be done with testing before the digital SAT makes its launch, although there may be some exceptions.
- Class of 2025 students may take both paper and pencil SATs and digital tests, since the last paper and pencil SAT will be offered in December of 2023.
- Class of 2026 students were probably not exposed to a paper and pencil test, so the digital PSAT/SAT will be all they know.
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Where will the tests be taken?
Students will take the test at schools or designated testing sites (testing will not be done at home).
How will the test be taken?
Students will be able to use their own laptops or tablets, or use computers provided to them by their school or the College Board for this testing purpose.
What's the Collegewise Tutoring Take?
We’re going to jump on the soapbox for a second. It’s important to remember that the College Board is not an educational institution; it’s a business, and the SAT is its best-selling product. People buy the product when colleges require applicants to submit SAT scores (no student we’ve ever met takes the SAT just for kicks).
For some time now, colleges have been questioning if standardized tests—the SAT and ACT in particular—help admission committees make more informed decisions about who to admit. And increasingly, more colleges—including some of the most prestigious ones—are coming to the same conclusion—no.
That’s why this is the third iteration of the PSAT/SAT in the last eight years. With so many colleges deemphasizing or outright eliminating the use of test scores for admissions purposes, the College Board is changing their product in the hopes that colleges will reengage with the exam. We mention this because no student who struggles with test-taking should let their SAT scores chip away at their self-worth or their belief that they can succeed in college. It’s a product created by a business, not an assessment tool created by educators.
Change can be scary, and many parents (and students) could be nervous about the idea of their kids facing a newly digital PSAT and SAT. But we expect most teens will be comfortable with the idea of doing something important on a computer. They’re living a good chunk of their lives online, after all. And most spent at least a year during COVID doing all their academic work online. Since the content of the test itself is not fundamentally changing, we do not recommend students plan their testing timeline around avoiding the digital test. In fact, this is where we can help calm families with clear, actionable answers to three foundational questions that are not changing.
To test or not to test?
A digital SAT does not change the increasingly present question: should students even test at all? Most of our students still do, but as the list of colleges that have gone test-optional keeps increasing, the no-testing-at-all option could become more prominent.
SAT or ACT test?
Students who test should still choose between the SAT or ACT based on their testing strengths. A digital format doesn’t change that. An SAT-kid is still an SAT-kid. ACT kids should still stick with the more straight-forward of the two tests. Don’t allow the introduction of a digital exam to influence this decision. Make that choice based on current scores. Students can take SAT and ACT practice tests with Collegewise. The College Board has released 4 digital/adaptive tests on Bluebook, the College Board’s testing platform, as well as four linear tests. Families can schedule a consultation with a member of our tutoring staff to help interpret PSAT scores, practice tests, or Collegewise diagnostics and make the SAT or ACT call.
When should students prep and take the test?
The current wisdom around testing timelines and their related prep should not change. We’re having those conversations as we’ve always had them, using the same criteria to design the right testing and prepping timeline for each individual student. And of course, those students born with the test-taking gene who are already great at their chosen exam might consider not prepping at all. But no matter what the student’s goals or related test-taking abilities, we think it would be a mistake to let a digital shift influence these discussions.
We’re all for adapting to meet changing times. But one of our most important jobs at Collegewise is to help families focus on (1) what they can control, and (2) what matters most. The digital SAT is coming. We don’t control that. But we can control how we react to that news. Focus on the parts that both matter and are under your control. Should your student take the test at all? If so, which test? And what’s the best timeline for testing and prepping? These questions are what’s most important. And the digital exam does not change the correct answers for your student.
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.