In January 2022, College Board, the not-for-profit member organization comprised of many higher education systems, announced that the SAT suite of assessments, including the PSAT, will be delivered digitally throughout the world. In the United States, the switch away from the paper-based college readiness tests to a strictly digital format will take place in October 2023 for the PSATs and in March 2024 for the SATs.
With the elimination of the SAT paper-based test that has been the standard since its inception in 1926, the newly announced all-digital version may cause worry for students and parents alike. However, with a bit of understanding of the new format for the PSATs and SATs, families can take comfort knowing high school students of today are far more prepared to adapt to the all-digital format for PSATs and SATs than previous generations in which there was limited or no technology use.
Understanding how Colleges View PSAT and SAT Scores
- First, it is important to know that PSATs are largely a practice test for high school sophomores and juniors. It is meant to help them recognize their strengths and weaknesses in reading and math in a semi-relaxed environment. PSAT scores are never submitted to colleges. Colleges only look at SAT scores as one of many components of the overall college application process.
- Second, a large number of colleges and universities have provided current guidance indicating that students have the option of submitting SAT scores – an effect of the pandemic – whereas historically, SAT scores were mostly required. Families can help their high schoolers determine if their preferred schools require SAT scores as part of the admission process and if so, how best to prepare for the test.
These two facts should eliminate some of the stress students may feel about the tests in their current paper-based format. Another thing that should decrease the worry are the unique differences and benefits of the all-digital SATs.
Unique Differences of the All-Digital SAT Test
The new all-digital SAT is:
- A shorter test, spanning only 2 hours and 14 minutes
- To be taken on a school-provided device or personal computer
- “Multistage Adaptive Testing” using two modules; the first module provides a broad array of easy to hard questions, the second module uses the student’s performance from the first module to adjust the difficulty level of the questions accordingly
- Comparatively easier to take, with its elimination of:
- non-calculator usage in one math section and
- long reading passages altogether
- A more secure test to administer, which allows students to have unique tests and makes cheating nearly impossible
The All-Digital SATs Offer Advantages to Students
The all-digital SAT offers solid benefits that could be a game-changer for students. Administered as a shorter test with fewer questions, the new version gives students the ability to spend a little extra time on each question.
- Previously, the reading and writing section contained 96 questions. Now, it only has 54 questions.
- The old math section had 58 questions, compared to the updated version that has 44 questions.
- Interestingly, even with fewer questions and less time allotted to the all-digital SAT, students can now spend 1.36 minutes per question versus 1.16 minutes on the paper-based version.
- Every second counts and the extra time in the all-digital SATs will be helpful to students.
Should a Student take the All-Digital PSAT at All?
Understanding that colleges never look at PSAT scores and the SAT is the actual test score submitted to colleges as one part of the college application process might tempt students to skip the PSATs altogether.
The question for parents and highschoolers remains: should students still take the PSAT? Unequivocally, yes.
Taking the new all-digital PSAT in October 2023 will give students a successful dry run in preparation for the all-digital SAT coming up in March 2024. The experience will help students learn to navigate the new format and become comfortable with it. It will also help them modify their test-taking strategies. According to College Board, “The PSAT … [is] being offered digitally in fall 2023 so that students who will be taking the SAT as juniors in the spring of 2024 have an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the digital testing experience before taking the digital SAT.”
Besides being a useful test-taking experience for students, the PSAT is also the gateway to the National Merit Scholarship Award program for juniors. Students who score in the top percentile of the PSATs qualify for national merit scholarships which can be applied to college tuition.
Preparing for the All-Digital SAT
While society continues to move at neck-breaking speeds into the digital world and more and more children use technology in many ways, it can be inferred that the switch from a paper-based SAT to an all-digital format will not cause problems to the student.
One of the best ways to ease the transition from paper to digital is through dedication and preparation. Students can access many beneficial paid and free study materials from their high school counselors and career centers. They can also access full-length practice tests online directly from College Board (satsuite.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt/preparing/practice-tests). And they can also review a free comprehensive set of resources online from Khan Academy .
By taking the time to understand the differences between the old paper-based format and the new all-digital PSATs and SATs, both students and parents will feel more at ease knowing they are entering a new environment fully informed and prepared.