The biggest news in the testing world is that the SAT is going digital and getting shorter. But perhaps the most dramatic change ahead is the adaptive testing model the new exam will follow.
For most high school students, the digital SAT will be the first adaptive test they'll take and will require them to adjust their usual test-taking strategies. Here's what we know about adaptive testing and how we expect it to affect students prepping for the new SAT.
What is adaptive testing?
Adaptive tests calibrate to each student's level, measuring a student's performance in the moment in order to quickly zero in on a score. This is how the College Board plans to continue to assign SAT scores on a 1600-point scoring scale despite making the exam shorter and presenting students with fewer questions.
Adaptive tests have been around for a while at the graduate level. Some tests, like the GMAT, are adaptive by question, meaning the difficulty level of the exam shifts every time you answer a question. Other tests, like the new SAT, evaluate a test-taker's performance across a set of questions at a time.
Here's how this will work on the digital SAT:
- Each section of the exam will be split into two "modules" or question sets. You'll start with an introductory module of questions covering a variety of concepts and difficulty levels.
- How you perform on the first module will determine the difficulty level of your second module. If you perform well on the first module, you'll see harder questions on the second module, and your performance on the second module will determine the exact score you end up with.
Keep in mind that the new SAT is section-adaptive. Both sections will be split into two modules, but your performance on the Reading & Writing section will not affect your performance on the Math section that follows.
What does this mean for students?
On an adaptive test, how you do on that first set of questions has a large impact on your overall score. Students who start strong will benefit from this change to the exam. However, the adaptive testing model can be a challenge for students who need time to warm up and find their groove at the start of an exam.
Adaptive tests can also add another layer of stress to test day and cause students to overthink the questions they encounter as the exam progresses. If you’re already stressed by the test, feel like you aren’t doing well, and then the second module seems less difficult, it can be easy to panic or second guess yourself. On the flip side, it can be intimidating to work through a set of the hardest questions—even if that's actually a sign you're doing well.
The good news is that these challenges aren't new and won't require major changes to how students prep for the SAT. You'll still want to study much of the same content and plan to sit for practice tests before you take the real thing. Here's why:
- Although you're not guaranteed to see a question on every topic on an adaptive test, you'll need to be prepared for whatever content might be selected to appear in your individual modules.
- Once digital SAT materials become available, practice tests will be important opportunities for students to become comfortable with the adaptive, two-module format.
Finally, consider working with a tutor if you're anxious about how to approach an adaptive test. Test prep tutors have seen adaptive tests in action for decades and already have well-worn strategies to help students handle the extra stress associated with adaptive testing.
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