The Courier

The student news site of The Delbarton School

The Courier

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Superseding the Scantron

The SAT’s Transition into a Digital Epoch

December 2, 2023, marked the end of an era for the College Board’s PSAT and SAT exams, as it was the last available date for students to take the paper-and-pencil version.

Back in 2022, the College Board announced their plans to replace the traditional paper exam with a new, digital form of the standardized test.  Starting in March 2024, students will take the SAT exclusively on the Bluebook testing application, as it makes the exam easier to administer and is more consistent with students’ increasingly digital learning.  However, many people question the switch, criticizing it as a “money grab” marketing move for the College Board, considering students will need to purchase new test preparation materials. 

This transition to digital testing heralds a variety of formatting changes to the assessment.  For starters, the exam will be shortened from three hours to around two, while giving students more time per question and reducing the demand for speed.  Additionally, the math portion of the test will be divided into two 35-minute modules, both of which permit the use of calculators.  Regarding English, the reading comprehension and writing sections of the paper SAT will be combined into two 32-minute English modules, and rather than interpreting longer texts, all passages will be shortened to one paragraph.  

The aforementioned structural changes set the stage for the most significant modification to the exam: adaptive testing.  On the traditional paper-and-pencil SAT, students with the same test form have the same set of questions; however, on the digital SAT, students will have different questions, and their performance on their initial math and English modules will determine the difficulty of their corresponding second modules.

Ultimately, this transition to a digital exam presents a variety of benefits and drawbacks.  For instance, one advantage is that scores will likely be returned to students quicker, taking days rather than weeks.  Moreover, the new digital exam will minimize human error while testing, as students will no longer have to transcribe their answers from a test booklet onto a bubble sheet.  Despite these benefits, given the shorter test, students will be penalized more for wrong answers, especially those on the first module, given the adaptive nature of the assessment.  While all questions were weighted equally on the paper-and-pencil exam, a few simple mistakes on the first module of the digital exam can restrict the difficulty of questions and available points in the following section.

Given the lack of data on this new assessment, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the test; however, this new era of digital standardized testing will likely have a profound impact on a variety of aspects of student life, especially college admissions.

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