The SAT goes digital

This year, the junior class took the first fully digitized SAT. This version of the SAT has a few major differences to the paper tests of past years. Firstly, it’s a significantly shorter test due to adaptive testing. The SAT has shifted to a multistage adaptive test, which means that the second module of the writing and math sections is determined by the test-takers’ score on the first module of the subject. The College Board assured test-takers that adaptive testing won’t have consequences for their scores in an article on their website. Test-takers are promised that their scores will be accurate, and that adaptive testing scores are based on the same “principles” as paper testing. 

“Think of it this way: to get a 1600 on the paper and pencil SAT, you must answer every single question correctly…The same principle applies for multistage adaptive digital assessments. If you get a couple questions wrong on the first module, scoring an 800 for the section won’t be possible even if you get every answer right in the second module…Your score will be accurate, and you won’t get a lower score just because you saw a lower difficulty set of questions,” reads the College Board website. 

Along with this change comes another that, although not listed in the changes they’ve made, was significant when I took the test. With adaptive testing, questions are distributed more randomly. On the paper PSATs I’ve taken, as well as the paper SATs of multiple students I’ve spoken to who took the test before it went digital, the questions proceed largely from easiest to most difficult. That makes testing easier, at least for me, because the you receive a few “warm-up” questions to get into test-taking mode before you’re hit with the really difficult ones. It also makes it easier to not waste time, since the most difficult ones that you’d otherwise have to go back to after you’re finished are already at the end. 

Over the years the SAT has been changed several times, each time seemingly as a consequence of the test being threatened with obsolescence with universities. This time it’s coming on as a wave of universities are becoming test-optional. However, universities started to return to using the SAT this year, even though the College Board’s modernized, hip version hadn’t yet been released, because it was found by several admissions boards that the SAT does actually prevent discrimination instead of increasing it. In the past, to adapt the SAT the College Board removed wrong-answer penalties that were used to prevent guessing, removed the essay section, as well as the vocabulary section. 

Instead of responding to concerns about standardized testing from students and parents, both universities and the College Board respond reactively. The College Board cuts down its test to make it less challenging and calls it modernization and colleges throw it out. Even though data has shown that the SAT does decrease bias, many universities have remained test optional because of the negative response from both students and parents that accuses standardized testing of being the devil behind the chaotic and unfair university system in America. Even though the College Board can’t give a straight answer about the grading of their adaptive testing, they have switched to it because they believe that if they appeal to students by shortening the test, they will prevent the prestige of the SAT from fading. 

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