Testing the Waters: the New Digital SAT

Eli Schotland, Staff Writer

November 13, 2023

Recently, the College Board—the organization in charge of administering standardized testing like AP exams and the SAT—made the important decision to move the SAT online starting in March of 2024. Traditionally, the SAT has been only paper-and-pencil. Why has the SAT shifted online? What does the digital transition entail? How does this affect students and the College Office at Nobles? This article will answer these questions and more.

Firstly, what is the SAT? The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a standardized test used by many colleges and universities to assess a student’s academic preparedness for college or their eligibility for scholarships. It consists of four sections: Evidence-Based Reading, Writing and Language, Mathematics No-Calculator, and Mathematics Calculator. While the SAT is not the primary factor in determining whether or not a student is admitted into a college or receives a scholarship, it is often an important aspect of the college admissions process. To quote the Princeton Review: “Overall, the higher you score on the SAT…the more options for attending and paying for college will be available to you.” Since nearly every Nobles student applys to college, any change to the SAT has great relevance to the student body. So what changes have been made to the SAT?

After March 2024, the SAT will now only be administered digitally through the BlueBook app, which is free and available on most computers through the College Board website. There are several reasons for this shift. Firstly, the digital SAT will have fewer questions with the goal of shortening test-taking time. A key factor in this decision was the time required for students with extended time to complete the test. Students with extended time often had to split the test into two sessions, increasing their test-taking duration from three hours to six. In contrast, the new test will only take a little over two hours for students with regular time. 

With the digital move, the SAT will also be adaptive, meaning it will respond to how the student scores on the previous section. For example, if a student performs very well on the first reading section, the second reading section will become more difficult in response to the student’s skill level. Another reason for shifting the SAT to a digital format was to make students more comfortable with the layout of the test. Standardized Testing Coordinator Kimya Charles said, “Part of [moving to digital] was meeting students where they are…students who are testing now have grown up in a digital world and are much more comfortable using technology…being able to test in a way or a format that students do a lot of learning…seemed to make sense.”

What are some benefits of the SAT’s digital move? Firstly, students will receive their grades much faster. The original test took a long time to grade and return, whereas the new test will take much less. The shift will also reduce cheating. Since every SAT question will be random, no two digital SATs will look alike. This means that students will not be able to get information from looking at other test-takers’ screens, or circulate answers, which were two major sources of cheating on the paper-and-pencil tests. Additionally, moving away from paper has an environmental benefit—no more cutting down trees. Students will also have access to a Desmos graphing calculator on the math sections, which is easier to use and has more features than the TI-84 graphing calculator typically allowed for the paper test. As for the reading section, there will be a new annotation tool that allows students to highlight certain parts of a given passage they consider important. These shifts were made to modernize the SAT by removing unnecessary challenges that didn’t serve to measure a student’s intelligence well.

However, the new BlueBook system has already presented some difficulties. On October 14, 2023, the Nobles College Office administered the PSAT—a practice version of the SAT—digitally for the first time. The new digital PSAT was very buggy and caused some problems for the College Office. Charles said “there were a lot of kinks that still needed to be worked out”. The problems weren’t catastrophic, just frustrating. For example, the BlueBook app on the proctors’ computers incorrectly reported some students as having moved ahead to the next section too early, or lagging behind by a section. Investigation revealed that all the students were in the right section. Charles spent a lot of time during the PSAT fixing similar issues. Furthermore, she mentioned that college office personnel at other schools reported similar problems. Transitioning from a physical system to a digital one can understandably pose a challenge, and it seems there are still some lingering concerns with the digital SAT. Hopefully, by the time the SAT begins to be administered digitally, whether at Nobles or elsewhere, these issues are resolved.

(Photo Credit: The Princeton Review)

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