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The New Digital SAT FAQ

As you likely have heard by now, the SAT is going digital in March 2023 for international students and March 2024 for US students. In addition to the change to a computer-based format, the SAT will also change its test content and scoring system. As with any major SAT overhaul, this means a period of uncertainty and potential misinformation. Below, we clarify questions and concerns that students and parents may have about the new test.


What are some similarities and differences between the digital SAT and the current SAT?


First of all, students who are currently preparing for the SAT need not worry that their efforts will go to waste: the knowledge and skills necessary for success, such as close reading, math concepts, and grammar, will largely remain the same. The way in which knowledge and skills will be tested, however, will change dramatically.


The current SAT is what is known as a linear test, where test takers need to answer predetermined questions laid out in a paper test form. In contrast, the new SAT will take a “branching” or “adaptive” format. This means that the difficulty of each question will depend on whether a test taker answers previous questions correctly or incorrectly. Thus, the test will “adapt” to each student’s performance and every test taker will end up with a different set of questions.


Furthermore, the passages for the reading and writing sections will be much shorter and correspond to one question each. Some new passage types will be introduced, such as poems and bulleted lists of notes. While the questions seem to ask about the same passage elements (e.g., meaning, purpose, etc.), the ways in which questions and answers are phrased is markedly different, meaning students will need a new set of strategies and techniques. Since the reading passages are so much shorter and the adaptive scoring system is (theoretically) more efficient, the digital SAT will be much shorter at 2 hours and 14 minutes, compared to the current test’s 3 hours and 15 minutes.


Should students take the new SAT or the ACT? How reliable is the digital SAT?


Though the shorter format of the digital SAT is appealing to many because it may feel less stressful than the current format, it probably makes sense to avoid being one of the first students to sit for this new test format if possible. The US held pilot programs to test the digital SAT in the US throughout 2022, but there are wildly divergent reports on student experience with the new test format, with some saying that it was very easy and others that their score was much lower than their actual score from the current SAT. (In all likelihood both reports are probably true: the test felt easy because students answered questions incorrectly and therefore received easier and easier questions, resulting in an easy test experience but a very low score.)


Additionally, historical trends show that when a new SAT is introduced, the average score takes a slight dip. For these two reasons, college admissions officers may not know exactly how to judge the new SAT digital score against the pre-2023 SAT, the ACT, and other standardized tests, which may not work in a student’s favor. The ACT, on the other hand, has not changed much since its inception. Though it is also in a computer-based format, the ACT is a linear test and is well-respected by universities around the world.


As a result, we highly recommend that students take the digital SAT only if they do not mind being part of this “experimental” cohort. Otherwise, students should seek to take the ACT, as it is much more stable than the SAT and is well-regarded by top US universities.


What are some resources that can help students prepare for the new SAT or at least see what it’s like?


There are several linear tests and four adaptive tests available for use on the official CollegeBoard website. The linear tests will help students familiarize themselves with the new style and format of questions, but since they are not adaptive tests the scores students receive will not be accurate. The four adaptive tests are available via a free application, but be careful: 1) there are only four tests as of now, so it may be wise to save these until closer to the test date, and 2) the SAT has historically changed quite a bit from its first sample tests to its mature form (e.g., compare Practice Test 1 of the current SAT with a 2022 QAS and you will see major differences in question format and topics tested). The website also provides comprehensive documents on how the new test is similar to and different from its predecessor.


What should students do next?


Students currently in Grade 12 or Year 13 have no choice but to stick to the current SAT as US application deadlines are two months before the first digital SAT. They should focus on getting the best score they can on the December SAT or ACT.


Students currently in Grade 11 or Year 12 have three options. First, they can consider trying to achieve their target score before the current SAT changes – this means they should prepare as much as possible for the December SAT or consider flying to a US territory to take the paper test in 2023. Second, they can choose the ACT, a test that is stable and beatable. Although students are not big fans of the ACT’s computer-based format, Dragon Prep students score 34 on average on the computer-based ACT (roughly equivalent to SAT 1500) and 35 on the paper-based ACT (roughly equivalent to 1530). In addition, we have seven students who have earned full scores of 36 on the ACT. Finally, adventurous students may plan to prepare for the Digital SAT, in which case they should proceed very carefully. Dragon Prep will be offering a Digital SAT Foundations course over the winter break and a full Digital SAT Boot Camp during the summer of 2023.


Meanwhile, students in Grade 10 or Year 11 and younger should focus on building strong academic foundations, especially in close reading across a range of genres, mathematics topics (especially algebra and geometry), and grammar. They should closely monitor how the Digital SAT unfolds in Spring 2023 so that they can plan their first attempt in August or October of 2023, or switch to the ACT should they wish to.


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Want to arrange a free diagnostic test to decide SAT vs. ACT? Not sure how to prepare for the new SAT, wish to start studying for the ACT instead, or need more help with your college admissions profile or strategy? Call or WhatsApp 9835 8011 or visit www.thedragonprep.com to learn more about how we can help you reach your full academic potential!

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