After two years of planning, College Board’s new digital, adaptive SAT (dSAT) arrives in March. While the SAT has undergone other substantial changes throughout its history, the shift from a paper-pencil exam to a virtual and adaptive test might be the biggest. Here’s some information that might be helpful as you consider whether the dSAT may be right for your child.
What You Need to Know About Registering For and Taking the New Digital SAT
The national testing schedule for the dSAT is identical to that of the paper-pencil SAT: the dSAT will be offered in March, May, and June 2024. College Board also anticipates that it will be offered in August, October, November, and December, which again is a similar schedule to that of past years.
The 2023-24 test dates and registration deadlines are as follows. One thing to note: because the test is digital, students are permitted to request a device from College Board. If they do so, they have to register at least 30 days in advance to ensure a device is ready for them at the testing center.
|Regular Registration Deadline
|Late Registration Deadline
|Registration Deadline if Requesting Device
|March 9, 2024
May 4, 2024
|June 1, 2024
Devices and Platform
Speaking of devices, the dSAT is administered virtually through an app called Bluebook, which among other tools includes Desmos, a powerful graphing calculator many students are familiar with. Most students taking the dSAT at a test center will bring their own device and should be sure that 1) it is fully-charged 2) they have Bluebook installed in advance. (More information on Bluebook here.) Also, College Board provides a list of approved devices; one important note is that Chromebooks will not work unless they are managed by a school. Students who do dSAT test prep with Galin will already have Bluebook installed on their devices, as we will administer our periodic practice tests using Bluebook.
In addition to a fully-charged, compliant device, students are allowed to bring a pen or pencil and a calculator that meets the SAT’s requirements (if they prefer to use their calculator instead of or in tandem with Desmos). Students will be provided with scratch paper at the test center. Here is the full list of the items students should bring on test day.
One other thing I should mention, from personal experience: I typically use a PC, and I have run into issues from time to time with Bluebook not loading properly due to “updates.” So in addition to making sure students have a charged device ready to go, I would encourage students to open Bluebook before they go to a test center to make sure it’s working properly; when I’ve had trouble, it has taken my app upwards of 30 minutes to launch. Conversely, when I’ve opened Bluebook on an Apple device (an iPad), I’ve had no such issues.
Structure and Scoring
A quick review of the dSAT structure and scoring to provide context for the rest of this post:
- The dSAT has the same scale as the paper-pencil SAT: a maximum composite score of 1600, 800 in Reading/Writing and 800 in Math.
- Students will take two “modules” in each section: two Reading/Writing and two Math. Within each section, students will advance either to an easier or harder second module based on their performance on the first. That is, if a student does well on the first module, they will get a more challenging second module; if they have more difficulty on the first module, their second module will be easier. This is what makes the dSAT “adaptive” by section in addition to being digital.
- The structure of every exam will be the same, but within each exam, each student will receive a different set of questions.
- Students will not be able to attain the maximum score of 800 on a section if they end up in the easier second module.
When to Test
While the first dSAT is available in March, we are generally counseling students not to take the March exam. This advice comes about for a couple of reasons.
- We don’t know what scoring will look like. The last time the SAT made a major change, scaling on the first exam was funky (for example, missing only a couple of questions resulted in a bigger-than-expected drop in scoring). College Board has made many assurances that the dSAT is statistically sound, but with each student receiving different items within their exam (and with a couple of unscored items per section, too), scoring is a bit opaque. It should become clearer as more tests are administered. This is in contrast to the ACT, for which we have a whole history of scoring data, thus making scores more predictable.
- We don’t know the capacity of dSAT testing centers. Can they handle students starting and finishing at different times? Providing devices to students who need them? Having enough power outlets for students to plug their devices into? Schools already reported technical issues with the digital PSAT this past fall. And logistical challenges might be even more acute for us locally, as there are not many SAT testing centers in Wisconsin to begin with.
On the other hand, it might be inconvenient or stressful for your child to wait until the May or June tests, which fall around the same time as AP exams and finals.
dSAT vs. ACT
Some other trade offs between the dSAT and ACT:
- The dSAT is a shorter exam than the ACT or paper-pencil SAT, clocking in at 2 hours and 14 minutes (compared to a little over 3 hours). No student will be upset about this!
- High schoolers are certainly comfortable with their screens, and many students may prefer an on-screen test to a paper-pencil exam. For others, staring at a test on a screen for over two hours could prove challenging.
- The ACT has a Science section; as with the paper-pencil SAT, there is no Science section on the dSAT.
- The Reading passages on the ACT are long (around 90 lines of text); the dSAT Reading passages will be much shorter.
- SAT math tends to be more advanced, but it also depends on a student’s strengths and the math classes they’ve taken. For example, the ACT tends to have more of a geometry emphasis versus the SAT’s stronger focus on algebra.
The dSAT is an exciting development in standardized testing, even with all of the uncertainty and potential challenges it brings. So far, most of what we know about the dSAT’s implementation is theoretical; while College Board has been administering the dSAT internationally for a while and gave the digital PSAT in the fall, we haven’t yet seen how it works in the wild (i.e., a full national highest-of-high-stakes exam). We will continue to gather information and provide it to you so that you can make as informed a decision as possible about your student’s college admissions testing plan.