Last Updated On: March 9th, 2022
Standardized tests have been an important component in college application packets since the first half of the 1900s. There have been many changes in the frontrunning SAT and ACT exams over the years as the designers strive to make the tests more relevant and effective. Each change raises questions on how to prepare best for these important tests. In 2023/2024, the College Board will be rolling out its latest SAT update. To help your student be maximally successful in this test, we have dug deeply into what the changes that we know about mean for test preparation.
First: the basics. There have been many basic announcements about the rolling out of the new digital-only SAT format. You can see the timeline and a brief statement of the changes on the College Board’s official site for the Digital SAT Suite. You will also absolutely want to review the Explore the SAT Digital Exam Application slideshow.
- The new SAT will be given internationally in spring of 2023, allowing international students to access the same number of test dates as American students. Currently there are two fewer international dates.
- The new PSAT will be given to American students in fall of 2023 so that these students can be better prepared for the SAT that they will take.
- The new SAT will be given to American students starting in spring of 2024.
Test and Question Formats
- The test will be given in only two sections: Reading and Writing and Math.
- Each section will be generally longer than an individual section is currently.
- Reading Comprehension will have short passages with 1 question only.
- Math word problems will be “more concise” aka shorter.
- Math problems will still have multiple choice and student produced responses (grid-ins) formatted questions.
- All Math sections will be Calculator Use sections.
The changes in the test format means that students will want to continue to train on long sections of testing. Overall the test won’t be as long, so total endurance sitting will not need to be trained, but an hour section can still be challenging. In the current format, the reading section is 65 minutes, and the calculator math section is 55 minutes. Until the College Board releases new preparation materials, these sections can be helpful for training testing endurance. One thing that could change these lengths is if a break is allowed between the two modules of each section. This has not yet been addressed in the College Board information, but should be clearer by summer of 2022.
Preparing for the reading passages of the Reading and Writing section before official prep materials are released may take some creativity. Even after the official practice materials are released, it will take a while before a large bank of practice materials gets built up. The source material is going to be diverse, like the current test or perhaps even more so. The current SAT passages, however, are quite long. To get a feel for shorter SAT passages, students will do well to review/practice short passages from SATs from before the 2016 change. Prior to the 2016 change, the SAT Reading section contained a mix of short and long passages. This will provide short passages, although without the topic diversity that we will expect from the 2023/2024 SAT.
For the Math section, a possible source of practice could be the ACT. It has long been a difference between the SAT and the ACT that the ACT had challenging but more direct math, while the SAT had more complex math reasoning. If the SAT is adapting their word problems to be more direct, the problems will probably look more like those on the ACT. Students practicing for the Math section should use the Calculator section of current SATs supplemented with ACT word problems. *A note of change for the student produced responses (grid-ins): previously no grid-ins were negative, and a student could use that to catch math mistakes. Based on the Explore the SAT Digital Exam Application slideshow, negative numbers will now be an option for answers in this section.
- The two test sections, Reading and Writing and Math will each have two parts called “modules”.
- Students will take the first module in a section and their second module will depend on their performance on the first module.
- The College Board will be putting up practice for this type of testing in Fall 2022.
Adaptive testing is the reason that the SAT is able to move to a two-hour test. The adaptive testing strategy is useful with digital tests because it lets relative performance be determined more quickly. Many adaptive tests, for example the GMAT, are adaptive by question. This means that the test evaluates the student after every question and selects questions to clarify and confirm the student’s performance as the test goes on. The SAT is not using this format but rather will use a two-stage test, like the GRE does. The computer will not evaluate after every question but only once between modules. Paper and pencil tests do not evaluate at all, which is why they need so many more questions to confirm a student’s score.
Students will take the first module, which we can assume to be of a midlevel range of difficulty, with some questions on the easier and harder sides. The first modules will be different for each student, to reduce cheating that has previously occurred on some SAT tests, but they will be standardized to a similar difficulty level. After the first module, the students will be given a second module that builds off their first module in terms of difficulty. If the student scored very high in the first module, the second module will have a range of questions with higher difficulty. If a student was challenged by the first module, the second module will contain questions of lower difficulty. In both cases the point of the second module is to refine the exact score from the generalized level found in the first module.
Having a two-stage adaptive test allows students to go back and forth within their current module, but students should not expect to be able to go back to problems in the first module once they have begun their second module. Higher scoring students should expect their more challenging questions to come in their second module; although a few may appear in the first one, the second module will have higher level questions to evaluate exactly how high the student will score. Lower scoring students will find that their second module is generally more comfortable for them that the first, unadapted, one was.
Resources During the Test
- Students will be able to flag questions that they want to review again before submitting.
- A clock will be available on the screen.
- An on-screen graphing calculator will be provided.
- The standard reference sheet for math will be available,
The provided materials will, overall, reduce the stress of the SAT. Flags will be available for students to use to mark questions. This will make finding questions that the students want to review much easier, if the student is familiar with the format and comfortable using it. Familiarity is key here, so students will want to practice with this feature in advance of their test day to get the best use of it. Again, these flags will probably not be accessible between modules.
The onscreen clock will be great for students to track their time. This feature will reduce the stress of finding an acceptable watch to bring or hoping to be seated facing an in-class clock that they can see well enough to follow their time. Additionally, the time will be for the section, not standard time, so students will not need to do time translations in their head to figure out what time they need to finish. This clock can be used for students to self-time their sections, but it can also be hidden to avoid time anxiety for students who wish to do that. Students with time anxiety will be able to bring up the clock, check their time, and hide the clock again. For this also, familiarity is key. A student will want to work with the clock to know if it bothers them and, if it does, how to open and close the clock feature.
The on-screen calculator will be fantastic because it will be available for all math questions. Students can, and should, bring their own familiar calculators of acceptable models for the SAT, but it will be a great relief for students to know that if their calculator breaks or runs out of batteries, there is a built-in backup. This will also be useful for students who do not have a graphing calculator or who do not like their graphing calculator.
The reference sheet of math information appears to be the same as is currently provided. The benefit here will be that students can more easily access the information from any question, rather than flipping back to an initial page. As always, students would do well to know what material is on this sheet so that they know during a question whether the reference page would be useful.
- Digital practice material will be available fall 2022.
- Practice tests with adaptive modules will be available fall 2022 as well.
More information about practice materials will be available this summer (2022), but the College Board site is vague so far. We can imagine that they are busy constructing all the new materials for both the test and the practice information. Hopefully you have enough information from this blog (and from previous blogs) to productively begin your student’s SAT studies until the new official materials arrive. Remembering that this is still the SAT, although it is a new format, will help guide preparation efforts. The College Board will still be using the time-refined question basics that have allowed them to standardize test scores through the years. The math, reading, and writing standards that are on the test will also not change with the change in test format.
There are many ways to prepare for SAT success until, and after, the new practice materials come out. Strengthening basic math, reading, and writing skills is always a great investment of time and energy, both for the test and for college success. Standardized test strategies, test anxiety reduction techniques, and college application skills can be strengthened while the College Board prepares new materials. Planning your student’s SAT success in 2024 (2023 internationally) can begin today!
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