New digital format coming for SAT testing

Bella Varghese is enrolled in a rigorous SAT prep course in Albany. The Capital Region high school sophomore has dreams of going to the University of Southern California.

“I have to aim high. I’m ambitious. I’ve always been,” Varghese said. “So I want to keep that going, especially when it comes to my studies.”

She spends hours a week practicing for the SAT, well aware that the standardized assessment tests are about to undergo a big change.

“The SATs are doing a total re-haul starting next year,” said Cat Schwartzbeck, a SAT prep expert at Sylvan Learning Center.

She is helping her students transition from the last “pen to paper” exam this fall to a completely digital format starting in the spring.

“The students will be taking a test that looks very different from the one they are currently doing,” Schwartzbeck said.

The digital test will still have a reading and writing section and a math section. Each section will have two modules. The first has the same questions for everyone. The second is adaptive and based on how a student is doing, the computer will select easier or more difficult questions.

“What that does is it gives you a true view of what that student can do, and they are not just bogged down on the types of being questions asked,” Schwartzbeck said. “You can actually measure their knowledge.”

The test will be solely offered on a laptop or tablet starting in the spring – but paper and pen for scratch work is allowed. The test is shorter, down to two hours instead of three. The reading passages are smaller and built-in calculators are allowed for the math section.

Students are allowed to use their own computers. The digital format makes it extremely difficult to cheat, according to Global College Advisers, and the students still have to register for the test well in advance.

The test still measures knowledge and skills required by colleges; is still scored on a 1600 scale; and still given in schools or test centers with a proctor.

Free practice resources are still offered along with accommodations for those in need.

Schwartzbeck believes the changes are more concerning to the parents than the students.

“I think a lot of people get a little nervous with computers, particularly parents but not students,” Schwartzbeck said. “Most of their tests now are the computer and a lot are adaptive already, so they are used to this, so parents are a little more hesitant.”

Varghese is a bit worried about the change but believes students will quickly adapt well thanks to the pandemic.

“We transitioned from going to school in person to suddenly being all virtual, and then back to school in-person, so we got a lot of experience going from paper and pen to digital,” Varghese said.

Varghese plans to take the SATs in the fall and the spring in both formats, hoping all the practice makes perfect.