PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 191 | The Digital SAT Is Here. Now What?

The new digital SAT is here. Should I take it or not?

Show Notes:

In this episode, I go over what you need to know about the new digital SAT that rolls out in March 2024 (and the digital PSAT in October 2023).

If you are a rising junior (Class of 2025), you MUST listen to this podcast.

Here's what I cover:

  1. What's going on with the PSAT & SAT?
  2. When does it happen?
  3. Why is it happening?
  4. Differences between paper and digital?
  5. Who benefits most and least?
  6. What about accommodations?
  7. Which test should I take? when? why?
  8. How should I prepare?
  9. What about the PSAT and ACT?

Rising juniors are the guinea pigs in this new roll-out. If you're not paying attention, you may be forced to take a test that you don't want to.

Please listen to this entire podcast and come up with a plan.

I'm here to help if you have questions.

Show Transcript:

00;00;24;29 - 00;00;51;15

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to walk through what's happening with the rollout of the digital PSAT and the digital SAT. And I'm going to go through this slowly so everyone really understands and appreciates what's going on. This episode is especially important for rising juniors. That's the class of 2025.

00;00;51;18 - 00;01;14;17

If you are a rising junior and you're about to start school or you're a parent of a rising junior, you really need to pay attention to what I'm about to go over. If you are a rising sophomore or freshman, I would listen as well because it's great information and you should be informed, but it won't be quite as relevant for you because you won't be taking the SAT for about another year.

00;01;14;19 - 00;01;35;06

And a lot of this turbulence will have settled down by then. Let's get back to the rising juniors. Here's what I want to cover today. What's happening with the PSAT and the SAT? When does it happen? And for whom? International versus domestic students. Why is it happening? What are the differences between the paper based and the digital S.A.T.?

00;01;35;09 - 00;02;04;04

Who benefits the most in the least? What about accommodations and what should my strategy be? Which test should I take? When and why? And how should I prepare? So let's start off with what is actually happening. In case you haven't heard, starting seven months from now, the traditional paper based S.A.T. that we all know and love will no longer be an option.

00;02;04;07 - 00;02;33;11

It will be fully replaced by a digital S.A.T. forevermore. Let me repeat that. As of March of next year, 2024. That's about seven months from now, depending on when you're listening to this. If you plan on taking the S.A.T. as opposed to the act in the United States, your only choice will be to take a digital SAT. Now, for international students, this is already happening.

00;02;33;13 - 00;03;03;16

The paper based SAT has already been replaced by the digital S.A.T. internationally since March of 2023. So the train internationally has already left the station. And by the way, the PSAT has now gone 100% digital already. As we will soon learn. So let's go through the timeline of each test. Once again, the PSAT, the one all of you rising juniors will take in October.

00;03;03;18 - 00;03;33;21

That's two months away. Yes, the big one, the important one, the one that determines whether or not you will qualify for national merit recognition. That upcoming PSAT will be 100% digital. No paper based test at all, period. So don't be surprised by this. I'm letting you know right now there's no choice in the matter. And while we're here, let me make a quick caveat, which I won't repeat over and over again during this episode.

00;03;33;23 - 00;04;02;24

There will, in fact, be a paper based option for those with very specific accommodative needs. But it's going to be very rare, so let's not count on it. So let's now move to the real S.A.T. in this spring. Call it March of 2024. That's six or seven months from now. The actual S.A.T. will be offered in digital format only, and they will no longer offer a paper based test ever again.

00;04;02;27 - 00;04;26;04

Let me repeat that for now. The third time. Starting in the spring March of 2024, six or seven months from now, depending on when you're listening to this, If you take the SAT, it will be in digital format only. Okay. With that out of the way, let's briefly discuss why this is happening. This may sound cynical, but in my view and by the way, I'm not alone here.

00;04;26;06 - 00;05;03;03

The College Board made this switch to digital to avoid bankruptcy, period, because since COVID and the near unanimous switch from test required to test optional, the number of students registering for the S.A.T. and the ACT for that matter, has plummeted for a host of reasons, which we're not going to detail here. And if a college board didn't make a move, the S.A.T. would have become more and more irrelevant, more and more of an afterthought until it faded away completely with all of its millions of dollars of income.

00;05;03;06 - 00;05;29;28

This became an existential threat that nearly put this multimillion dollar enterprise out of business. So what did they do? And by they, I mean the College Board, which runs the S.A.T., They did anything and everything in their power to stay relevant. What could they offer to students and parents and colleges and universities and to school administrators to keep the gravy train going?

00;05;30;01 - 00;05;56;00

Well, their answer was to go digital. And here's what that digital strategy looks like. Number one, make the test easier for students. So let's say less painful decision to register and prepare for it. For example, and we'll touch on this a lot more and a little bit. The digital test is only 2 hours instead of 3 hours. The reading passages are considerably shorter.

00;05;56;03 - 00;06;21;18

And a few other things that make the test much more palatable for students. Number two, going digital is cheaper and more efficient than paper based tests. They don't have to print, pack, ship, unpack, distribute, collect and grade Millions of printed tests. It's all automated. Reason number three. Digital testing allows students to get their scores back quickly. It's just a few days.

00;06;21;21 - 00;06;48;20

Most parents and students like this. Digital testing is also more secure because no test is exactly the same. Students will have different questions in real time. We'll talk about how that's possible a bit later. And lastly, a digital version of the city is easier for schools to administer. It makes it easier to put on the test during the school days instead of the weekends.

00;06;48;23 - 00;07;12;04

And yes, they really went for broke to keep this thing alive and kicking. And only time will tell how this really all shakes out. Okay, now let's talk about how does the new digital SAT work and how does it compare to the traditional paper based S.A.T. that we all know and love? Let's start with logistics. You're allowed to use your own laptop if you want.

00;07;12;07 - 00;07;47;00

I would recommend using your own laptop, if at all possible, because you'll be much more comfortable and familiar using a device that you know well. If you don't have a laptop or have access to a laptop or you don't want to use your own laptop, you can request one from the testing site. And by the way, as an aside, if you want to go this route, please register at least a month or two in advance and check the box that says I need a laptop because the College Board has to ship your laptop to the testing site and they're asking for at least 30 days notice to do that.

00;07;47;00 - 00;08;14;08

So that means make it 60 days. Of course, before the exam you have to shut down all other applications on your laptop. You actually take the exam on your laptop inside a discrete College Board app, which you will download ahead of time. Once that app is downloaded, you are no longer at the mercy of the internet, which is nice because the test will continue with or without the internet.

00;08;14;11 - 00;08;38;07

So being worried about connectivity, that's not an issue. A power outage should not be a factor either because you are encouraged and told to show up with a fully charged laptop, which by all accounts should last the 2 hours for the test and you are not going to be offered an outlet to plug into. So make sure you show up with a fully charged laptop.

00;08;38;09 - 00;09;04;09

The test will still be proctored at a testing center or your school. You cannot take it at home. You can also bring your own calculator or use the decimals calculator in the app itself or use both. I would encourage you to use and get familiar with the decimals calculator. The internal calculator in the app for the quick and easy calculations and use your own calculator for anything that's a bit more complicated.

00;09;04;13 - 00;09;29;11

And lastly, you can actually download and familiarize yourself with the new digital app and the decimals calculator right now if you like. Okay. What about the content and the format of the new digital test itself? How does it compare to the paper based S.A.T.? Number one, the score is still out of 1600. That's to keep it very familiar.

00;09;29;13 - 00;09;55;15

800 is the max score on the math, and 800 is the max score on the verbal section. Number two, as I said, the length of the exam was cut from 3 hours to 2 hours. A massive difference in the length of time you're expected to stay really focused. Number three, there is more time per question on the digital exam.

00;09;55;17 - 00;10;23;20

Number four, there are only two sections on the digital exam instead of four sections, because on the paper based exam there was one reading, one writing and two math sections. And the new digital version. There are only two sections reading and writing, which is one section and math, which is the second section much more streamlined. Number five, you can use a calculator for every single math question.

00;10;23;23 - 00;10;55;07

The paper based used to have a section where you were not able to use a calculator on the new digital calculators all over the place. Number six The reading questions are considerably shorter. Remember when you had to read ten paragraphs in a row and then answer 7 to 8 questions about those ten paragraphs that you just read and you panicked when you got to the questions because you didn't remember a single thing about the ten paragraph passage you just read.

00;10;55;09 - 00;11;22;00

That's a thing of the past. Now, instead of ten paragraphs to read before the bank of questions, there's only one paragraph to read for every question, and some of the paragraphs are just one or two sentences. Number seven along the reading lines. Gone are the long old Fashion Victoria era passage is that use a lot of old, antiquated language and style.

00;11;22;02 - 00;11;45;15

Yes, that has been deemed too challenging. So they got rid of it and it has been replaced with easier to read passages. Number eight, The question types are also neatly clustered together in the digital S.A.T. Instead of being mixed up as they were in the paper based S.A.T. in the digital S.A.T., you'll get all the same types of questions in a row.

00;11;45;15 - 00;12;19;15

Bang, bang, bang! Five vocab questions. Bang! Bang! Nine Reading comp questions. Seven Grammar questions. Six synthesis questions. That should make it a little bit easier to get in a flow. Number nine One of the biggest changes is in the format of the new digital test. The new digital test follows what's called an adaptive model, meaning that the test adjusts or adapts the questions it gives you based on how well you're doing in order to theoretically get to a valid score faster.

00;12;19;17 - 00;12;43;27

It's one of the reasons they were able to cut an entire hour out of the test. And here's how it works. Number ten, you will start out with a mix of questions, some easy, some medium, some difficult. If you get more than half of those questions correct in the first section, it will steer you toward a more challenging second section, which will then give you the opportunity to get a max score.

00;12;43;29 - 00;13;03;28

If, on the other hand, you get fewer than half the questions right on the first section, it will steer you toward an easier second section, which will then cap how high a score you can get on that section. Even if you crush the second section, it's a little bit more complicated than that in terms of the weightings of each questions.

00;13;03;28 - 00;13;24;06

But you don't have to worry yourself about all those details. The bottom line is you want to do well on the first section to give yourself a fighting chance to score big on the second section. In fact, you can actually lock in a pretty good score if you do well on Section one, even if you don't do so well on Section two.

00;13;24;08 - 00;13;50;18

Now, if you panic and screw up the first section, you will unfortunately limit your upside. In the second section, no matter how well you do. And lastly, number 11. The key here is not to overthink things. Don't try to guess mid test whether or not you made it to the easier or the harder path in section two. Just be sure you're paying attention in the beginning and then let it rip.

00;13;50;19 - 00;14;14;12

Don't second guess yourself. The test is too sophisticated for you to be able to figure out on the fly anyway, so just trust the process. So the two big takeaways in terms of comparison seems to be, number one, the digital asset appears to be easier than the paper based version. I know a lot of people aren't going to say that out loud.

00;14;14;15 - 00;14;45;15

And what I mean by that is not necessarily that the questions are easier per say, but that the test is shorter. There's less reading on the math and the reading sections. There are fewer sections. They are organized more easily. You get to use your own computer and your own calculator at all times. Now, that doesn't mean that everyone's going to get a 1600 on this test, but it does seem like the cognitive demands have been watered down to some degree.

00;14;45;18 - 00;15;07;03

Maybe that's a good thing. I don't know. The big question will be, do the colleges believe that these newfangled digital scores represent the same level of intellect as the old paper based tests? I don't know. Of course, they're claiming that. Yes, they will. I would say probably not, at least for the first few testing cycles until the dust settles.

00;15;07;05 - 00;15;30;07

So one of the questions is, do you want to be part of the tried and true group where everybody knows all the colleges and universities know what a 1500 means? Or do you want to be part of the experimental group or a 1500 on the digital SAT may not mean what it used to mean. The second big takeaway is that the testing format is different.

00;15;30;10 - 00;15;56;06

Everyone doesn't get the same questions. Each test is different and it's up to you to answer the questions correctly. To get on that harder path in order to shoot for that top score. That's certainly a big change. It may not affect you that much and it shouldn't really affect you that much because your sole job is to just answer questions that come at you, even though there are some different things happening in the background.

00;15;56;08 - 00;16;24;11

Before we get into the well, which test should I take questions? Let me just make a mention about some of the accommodations in the digital test. The process to get accommodations for the digital test will be the same as they have always been. Whatever means you use or intend to use to get an allowance for test accommodations will be the same, and the new digital test will accommodate those accommodations.

00;16;24;13 - 00;16;48;22

Meaning if you've been diagnosed with an official condition of some kind, that allows you to get more time or a bigger font or some kind of text to speech enhancement that will be available in the new digital format. The digital format can automatically add longer breaks, increase the font size, incorporate a text to speech tool for those who qualify for these changes of course.

00;16;48;27 - 00;17;20;23

And as I said earlier, if there is a compelling reason that you can't use the digital format as a last resort, a paper based test will still be available. Okay. So now the $64,000 question, which sat should I take digital or paper? Again, this question is mainly for rising juniors, the class of 2025. Because sophomores and freshmen won't have a choice, they will be forced to take the digital version if they choose to take the SAT.

00;17;20;26 - 00;17;46;15

So for all of you rising juniors out there wondering what you should do, here are some reasons to stick with the last few paper based SAT tests given this fall, August, October, November and December. Number one, you've been preparing for the paper based test for months and you want to get it over with. The second reason why you should stick with the paper based test.

00;17;46;17 - 00;18;13;07

You're applying to highly selective colleges and you want to show that you can score well on the old school paper based test because it's more legitimate. Who knows how much colleges will believe in the validity of the new fangled digital scores? You want to show them a score that they can actually believe in. Number three, everybody knows that the paper based test is harder and you don't want to shy away from that challenge.

00;18;13;09 - 00;18;48;17

You think it will lend even more credibility to your application when and if you do well on that paper based test. Number four, you are a recruited athlete trying to go to a highly selective college, and you want to show an SAT score to college coaches as soon as possible to prove that you a viable recruit and that you'd be a good bet with admissions and you don't want to wait until the spring or the summer to take an S.A.T. because in some cases, the sooner you can show a coach that you have a legitimate S.A.T. score, the sooner they're going to be interested in you.

00;18;48;19 - 00;19;14;19

Number five, you know, you have a ton of AP exams in the spring, and the last thing you want to do is start or continue studying for the SAT in the middle of that AP exam period. You'd rather get it out of the way. Number six. And similarly, you play a spring sport and you're going to be swamped with practices and games and late nights, and you don't need the SAT hanging over your head.

00;19;14;22 - 00;19;42;28

Number seven, you want to get an idea of where you stand with respect to standardized tests. You want to start creating a list of target colleges and waiting until the spring or the summer to see where you stack up seems too late. Number eight You don't like the idea of taking a test from your laptop. You'd rather have a test booklet in front of you and your hands that you can hold and leaf through and mark up and fill in a bubble answer sheet.

00;19;43;01 - 00;20;06;03

You're nervous about being a guinea pig for such a consequential test. You want to stick with the old school method. Number nine You're nervous about the whole adaptive model. You tend to start off slowly on tests and need time to warm up. If you do that on the digital test and blow the first section, you're going to limit your upside.

00;20;06;06 - 00;20;29;18

You'd rather take your chances on the paper based test where you can start off slowly, but then warm up and recover and still have a chance to do well. Number ten You're already strong in math and you don't need another five or six months of math study to do well on the math section. Number 11, you want to take the paper based test just to see how you do.

00;20;29;25 - 00;20;50;09

You're curious. And if it doesn't go well or as well as you are expecting or hoping, you can always regroup and take the digital version in the spring. Why not give it a shot now? So if you are nodding your head to any of these reasons, you are not alone. The next few SAT dates are filling up quickly.

00;20;50;12 - 00;21;19;14

Many of the students that I work with have told me that they are already having to travel far and wide to find a seat at one of these testing centers. There is a mad rush to get into a testing site with one of these last few paper based SATs. Now, on the other hand. What are some reasons to hold off until March or later than March to take the digital S.A.T. and skip the paper based tests?

00;21;19;17 - 00;21;41;13

Number one, Well, the digital SAT test seems easier. That seems like a good reason. Shorter, less reading, fewer sections. I can use my calculator for every section. I get to use my own laptop. What's not to love? Number two, I'm very comfortable with technology, and the idea of taking a test from my own laptop is not a big deal.

00;21;41;15 - 00;22;11;04

Number three, the PSAT in October will be digital, and I want to do well on it and maybe get a National Merit award. So I may as well start studying for the digital S.A.T. And if I'm going to do that, I may as well stay on the digital path. Number four, I'm not ready to take any test in the next few months, digital or paper, because I blew off studying over the summer and I need as much time as I can get.

00;22;11;06 - 00;22;35;16

If you're nodding your head at any of these reasons, maybe all of these reasons, I would probably opt for the digital S.A.T., put it off for a few months, but I would still probably skip the very first digital test, the one in March of 2024 to allow for the system to work out any of the bugs. The second and the third digital test will likely run a lot more smoothly.

00;22;35;18 - 00;23;00;15

All right. What about the act? I haven't really talked about that at all. As of now, the act is still paper based, and according to the act, they will always make available a paper based test, even when and if they switch over to a digital format. They allegedly the act that is planned to roll out a pilot digital act at the end of 2023.

00;23;00;22 - 00;23;27;19

So we'll see how that goes. So if you like the act, then stick with the act. However, I wouldn't count on taking a digital act any time in the near future, regardless of what you're thinking right now. Here are some suggestions. Please register as soon as possible for as many test dates as they will allow you to register for extra dates just in case.

00;23;27;21 - 00;23;50;18

You'd be surprised what crazy things happened to mess up your plans on test day. I won't go over all of them. I have in the past have multiple backup days. Even if it's a paper based test and a backup digital test, sign up for as many as possible, especially during this transition period. Please think long and hard about which test to take and when.

00;23;50;21 - 00;24;13;06

And if you're really struggling, please reach out to me. We'll get on a call and we'll figure it out. This is important, especially during this transition period and before you start mapping out a study plan, whether that's an academy or a one on one tutor or some kind of a classroom program. You need to determine what it is you're studying for, which test and which format.

00;24;13;09 - 00;24;42;25

This is not a given anymore. There are a lot of choices now in that regard. The very first step is to take diagnostic tests to see where you stand. You have to do this. If it were me, I would take a diagnostic test for each kind of test. A paper based S.A.T., a digital based S.A.T., and a paper based A.C.T., just to see where I perform the best and which one I like the most.

00;24;42;27 - 00;25;08;22

If you haven't done this yet, please, please do this. Otherwise, you're flying blind. And you very well may leave points on the table. You may find that you do way better on the paper based S.A.T. versus the digital or vice versa. Or the paper based S.A.T. over the paper based acti. Whatever it is you need to know, put in the time now to figure that out.

00;25;08;25 - 00;25;34;23

If you want to take one or all of these diagnostics for free from the comfort of your own home to see how you do, to see how you like them, please email me and I will set you up with my test prep partner who will set you up with any or all of these diagnostic exams. Just email me at Phil at Prep Academy dot com and we'll set you up.

00;25;34;25 - 00;25;57;08

Now, once you determine which test you will take and which format and when, then you can decide how are you going to go from point A to point B, meaning what is your current score? What is your target score and what will it take to get there? I can help you with all these things, but first things first.

00;25;57;11 - 00;26;28;28

Take those diagnostics, decide which test to take and in which format and when. Then formulate your study, strategy and plan. I know this is a lot to digest and it requires a little bit extra planning and thought and strategy. And if you do that, it will serve you well. And if you'd like to discuss any of these issues in more detail based on your specific circumstance is don't hesitate to reach out to me.

00;26;28;28 - 00;26;55;06

We can set up a consulting call and we can hash through all of the gory details. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies, online mentoring program or high schoolers, and their parents receive weekly videos from me where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships.

00;26;55;13 - 00;27;25;04

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00;27;44;02 - 00;28;15;20

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