The SAT has Changed (Again)

Is your student prepared for the Digital SAT?

College Board, the non-profit organization that administers the SAT, has launched its Digital SAT. Students, internationally and domestically, will take the digital exam in 2024, as the paper exam is phasing out. (Note: International students have been taking the digital SAT as early as March 2023).

Priscilla Rodriguez, Vice President of College Readiness Assessments at College Board shared that “the digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant.”

However, the administration is not the only difference in the digital SAT. The exam structure, duration, and some test features vary from the paper exam. With the changes below, many students have indicated that they prefer digital administration, with 80% of students responding to the College Board’s survey indicating they found the exam “less stressful.” Additionally, 100% of educators indicated they had a “positive experience” with administering the exam.

1) Structure

The previous SAT exams had 4 distinct sections: a Reading section, a Writing and Language section, a Math with no Calculator section, and a Math with Calculator section.

The current exam will merge the Reading and Writing/Language sections with shorter passages than previous exams. Also, the two Math sections are now merged, and students may use a calculator for the entire section.

There are two modules per subject area. The digital SAT is test-adaptive, so how students achieve on the first module, determines the difficulty of module 2.

2) Duration

The digital exam is now 2 hours and 14 minutes rather than the previous 3 hours. The number of total questions has decreased from 154 questions in previous paper exams to 98 exams on the digital exam.

Structure aside, the digital exam is 36% shorter. Some speculate about the compromised integrity of the exam or whether the exam is responding to claims that Gen Z has lower attention spans and reading skills than previous generations. The passages are shorter; Gone are the page-long historical documents to compare, the esoteric science passages that require close discernment, and the line of questioning following one passage. Each question in the SAT Digital Practice Test 1 is a stand-alone question, with an average passage word length of 25 and 150 words.

After reviewing the Digital SAT Practice Exam 1, I am concerned less with the SAT’s new modules and more curious about the ever-oscillating public and research opinion on the predictive qualities of standardized tests.

SAT and the “predictive qualities” of Standardized Exams

CollegeBoard’s site touts pages of research on the validity and accuracy of these exams. Studies track students in 4-year college degree programs and link SAT scores with sophomore-year retention and college GPA. The consensus is that GPA + High School GPA (HSGPA) together can predict students’ return to college following their freshmen year and their cumulative GPA.

A data point overlooked in much of the College Board’s research is demographic information: Highest Parental Education Level. For example, in one study on the validity of the digital SAT in comparison to the paper exam, over 74% of the sample students had a parent who had a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

Another study from the University of California concludes with a similar ambivalent position regarding SAT predictivity and demographics: “Without controlling for student demographics, SAT/ACT scores are a stronger predictor of freshman GPA when compared to HSGPA, but have almost the same explanatory power of graduation GPA, first-year retention and graduation. After controlling for student demographics, HSGPA and test scores have the same explanatory power as the freshman GPA for 2015, the latest year included in this study, but HSGPA is a stronger predictor of first-year retention, graduation GPA, and four-year graduation.

Additionally, by the time students take the SAT–their junior years in high school– they have often experienced over a decade of inequitable educational experiences with disparities in large swathes of the American school system.

Within this discussion, the sociocultural and sociopolitical realities are often more predictive of college success. Countless research often concludes with the following: High School GPA and SAT scores aside, students who have a parent with a college degree are more likely, by a large margin, to gain a college degree themselves.

Pew Research:  Some 70% of adults ages 22 to 59 with at least one parent who has a bachelor’s degree or more education have completed a bachelor’s degree themselves. Only 26% of their peers who do not have a college-educated parent have a bachelor’s degree.

National Center of Education:” A considerable body of research indicates that students whose parents have not attended college often face significant challenges in accessing postsecondary education, succeeding academically once they enroll, and completing a degree.”

Students gain “cultural capital” when they have a parent with college experience. This type of knowledge is often inaccessible to their first-generation college student peers. College retention is multifaceted. Admission and living costs, external responsibilities, support, and many other factors play a role in a student’s promotion to the next academic year.

This demographic discussion is not to undermine the efforts of first-generation students preparing for the SAT. Rather, we ought to examine assessments that universities use to determine which students to invest in to meet their bottom lines with college retention and maintenance of exclusivity.

In terms of accessing digital SAT support and test prep, there are inherent disparities within the form. Read more here on equity gaps for minority students and meeting the technological requirements.

LAS Test Prep Support

The SAT is not going away. While some universities have become test-optional, others still require the SAT. Additionally, some school districts, like those in Illinois, have the SAT as a high school graduation requirement.

LAS coaches have three decades of experience preparing students for digitally administered exams. Using the SAT content outline as a framework, LAS begins with an initial consultation to develop an individualized test prep plan. The LAS Test Prep plan requires a significant practice commitment and includes customized learning goals, pre-testing, post-testing, consistent retrieval practice, and spaced repetition. LAS Coaching and test prep support combined with these ingredients deepen content knowledge and enhance test-taking skills so that students can learn, achieve, and succeed on the SAT.




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