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The New Digital SAT

Updated: Jan 2

 Since the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) was created, it has been pressured to undergo changes. Universities measure the knowledge of students every year to help fill their positions. However, some critics claim that instead of testing knowledge, it is assessing the “test-taking ability” of students. With timed sections, strategies for test taking can optimize performance, without any true test of knowledge. Historically, the test consisted of 65 minutes of reading, 35 minutes of writing, 25 minutes of no calculator math, and 55 minutes for math with a calculator. 

Due to Covid-19, SAT centers were not permitted to have a large number of students in close proximity, so the SAT was deemed optional for most of 2021. As time went on, colleges began to examine the value of how the SAT measured students’ academic ability. Those who had the financial means to pay for both classes and expensive tutors were more likely to perform well on the test. It was well-known that through tutors, students learned to navigate questions with key words and strategies to get the right answer, as opposed to using true knowledge. Whereas students who do not have financial means did not perform as well. Due to this discrepancy, the majority of schools have decided to remain test optional until 2026 or 2027. 

Why make such drastic changes in the format if the SAT is staying optional? The College Board felt that with technological advances in school and campuses, they wanted to stay up to date with what would work best for their students. Establishing a digital SAT allows for more flexibility in frequency of test dates and more test site options. 

So what’s new about the digital SAT? First of all, it’s no longer on paper. Students will need to download an application specific to the SAT to computerize the process. Second, the reading passages are shorter, and they eliminated the no calculator math section. With shortening these sections, the test becomes about 2 hours, instead of 3. However, the biggest change is the new multistage adaptive design, where the questions a student receives are based on how they performed on the previous question. One will receive more difficult questions if they performed well on earlier questions -- therefore testing knowledge base. If you didn’t do well on previous questions, the latter questions will become easier -- therefore evening out the outcomes. 

However, with these changes there may also be errors. Although the College Board is prepared for technological setbacks, there are specific functional issues that may arise. For example, during high traffic use worldwide, the system may be overloaded and shut down at the most inopportune time -- during a high stress test for students. This would force students to have to retake the test which is not ideal. Another crucial issue is lag time created because of widespread use of the application. Staring at a blank screen during a timed test is not what every student prepares for. Whatever the issue may be, the digital SAT has been implemented, so let’s hope the College Board is prepared to stay ahead of any problems. 

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