To Test or Not to Test: That is the Question?

Written by Estero Bay News

December 14, 2023

by Robin Haas, M.A.Ed.

On January 25, 2022, the College Board announced that the SAT Suite of Assessments planned to change to a digital format internationally beginning in 2023 and in the U.S. in 2024. Likewise, ACT has followed suit, announcing its plans to run a pilot of its own digital testing option in the United States this December. Both new digital tests must be taken at an official test site. The main difference is that SAT encourages students to use their own devices whereas students who take the online ACT cannot use personal devices.

According to the College Board, 80% of students who participated in the SAT digital pilot in November 2021 reported that the overall experience was less stressful while 100% of educators favored the new format. Some things will remain the same such as being scored on a scale of 1600 as well as tests being administered either in schools or testing centers only. 

This big change from pencil and paper to an all-digital format may have many consequences, both positive and negative, for neurodiverse (ND) students and those with learning differences (LD) who are entitled to standardized testing accommodations. There is a good chance that for ND/LD students, the changes will be mainly positive. Let’s examine those positive changes first!

For students who struggle with attention issues, a shorter test will undoubtedly prove to be a more positive and less stressful experience. Students faced with fine motor control challenges will have a much easier time because they will no longer have to track tortuous rows of tiny bubbles. Honestly, I think that change will benefit all students. Moreover, students with reading challenges will have access to a highlighter tool which is crucial when note taking as well as the ability to create more space between lines of text.  Other features that will help students with visual processing and reading challenges will be the ability to increase the font, colors, and background. New shorter reading passages will also aid struggling readers because they will be afforded more time to comprehend what they are reading. 

Another positive SAT change will be a text-to-speech feature. By changing the speed of the reader’s voice, students who need it will have more time to process text. To increase focus, students will be able to eliminate distractions by choosing to view one line of text at a time as well as a zoom feature to increase the font. One of the biggest advantages of the new SAT is questions that are dynamic that adjust to a student’s ability. This feature alone is likely to decrease frustration and improve performance. Time management tools such as a countdown clock that provides warnings may prove useful too. Like the ACT, calculators will now appear on screen throughout the test. 

With the new digital version, it is hard to imagine many cons; however, it is possible a student might perseverate on the new adaptive feature which could result in an anxiety attack and/or a lower test performance due to distraction. Some students may not be comfortable using a borrowed computer at the testing site that is different from the one a school normally provides. Nevertheless, these new changes are on the way. Hopefully, the benefits will outweigh the possible negative consequences. One way students can prepare for the new digital SAT is by taking digital practice tests ahead of time in order to familiarize themselves with the new tools.

Perhaps you aren’t sure which test will match your strengths and test taking style. The best thing to do is to take a diagnostic ACT and SAT to compare the process and the results. Whichever test you ultimately decide to stick with, be sure to take that test more than once to have an opportunity to “superscore” your results by combining your highest scores from different sections of the test. Many colleges will allow you to submit your “superscore” rather than individual test results. FairTest keeps an updated list of the schools that are test-optional and test-free, and over 1,800 institutions are on the test-optional list for Fall 2023.

You are probably wondering when is the best time to sit for an official exam? Should I finish testing before the SAT goes digital? Would the ACT be a safer bet? First of all, begin with your top priority: test date or test format. Check out the schedules for the next year. Do any of these dates conflict with an important personal commitment? If possible, you should allow yourself time to sit for 2 – 3 official exams to maximize your point increases and continue to build familiarity with your test of choice over time. Clearly, there is a great deal to consider. While it may not be your idea of a great time, taking diagnostic exams is a great place to start.

Robin Haas, M.A.Ed. is the founder of Haas College Connections and can be reached at Robin@HaasCollegeConnections.com. She is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and earned a Certificate in College Counseling with Distinction from UCLA.

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