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The Hoofbeat

The Student News Site of Northside College Preparatory High School

The Hoofbeat

The Student News Site of Northside College Preparatory High School

The Hoofbeat

Past Articles

The New PSAT/SAT Exams

Goodbye Number 2 Pencils and Scantrons; Hello Keyboards
(Graphic from Revolution Prep, 2022)

For students everywhere, the SAT will look different this spring. While digital testing is not a new phenomenon in the post-pandemic world, the adaptive model, shorter testing times, and new tools are bringing both stress and hope to the Class of 2025 and beyond. 

The College Board announced in August 2023 that all PSAT exams would be taken digitally starting in Fall 2023 and all SAT exams would be taken digitally starting in Spring 2024. This announcement was met with a flood of questions from students, parents, and administrators alike on what exactly this digital switch means for the age-old exam.

For Georgia Foster (Adv 505), the change provoked an immediate response, “It [the test] was more stressful because it got harder as it went on, which meant that there was more emphasis on my answers to single questions.” She also mentioned that it was easier to focus using the paper exam,  “Unpopular opinion—I like the paper one more because I think the screen makes it easier to zone out or get distracted.” Although school administrators had advanced notice of the change, they were also concerned about training proctors to administer the exam and what Wi-Fi outages would mean for exam takers. 

Here’s what you need to know: 

  • The digital SAT will utilize two-part adaptive testing, which means that students will take one module with the same questions at the beginning of the test, but each student will have a unique question order. Their second module will be harder or easier based on how they do on the first one and feature an individualized question order.
  • The test will be shortened by one hour, taking two hours instead of three.
  • Students will get their results sooner, in days instead of weeks. 
  • The test is designed to withstand internet outages, meaning that all answers are saved both locally and in the College Board system. The test is downloaded to the device, so students can continue testing even if the Wi-Fi goes out. 
  • Northside students will use this new format for the spring SAT (April 9th, 2024) and the PSAT (April 16th, 2024)

While the rollout for the digital PSAT here at Northside this fall did experience some challenges, Assistant Principal Barry Smith associates those problems with the tests’ newness, not the actual testing technology,  “You can train and talk about what it’s going to look like and how to problem-solve issues as they come up, but until you actually do it It’s it’s not gonna be the same. So I think any of the issues that we experienced [with rollout]  were things that I sort of expected to happen.”

Some initial issues included a registration in which every student had to be manually uploaded into the “digital classroom” for the test, which this fall was over 250 students. Test takers and proctors also had to contend with older Chromebooks that had difficulty opening or running the testing application.

According to Mr. Smith, despite the challenges, the test is still much easier to administer since proctors no longer have to worry about form codes and loose sticky labels,  “The good outweighed the challenges of it, and I think when we do it in the spring, it’ll be a lot easier.” His statement aligns with existing research by Economics of Education Review that highlights that while students may experience an initial score penalty when using an online versus paper exam, the score discrepancies level out within one to two years as students get used to the format and technology used for testing. 

Another concern was how fully digital testing would impact neurodivergent students, mainly those with ADD and ADHD, who may have difficulty focusing on a screen for a long period. Since this was the first time the test had been taken digitally, no students had an accommodation for a paper-and-pencil alternative in their 504 or IEP yet.

Mr. Smith assured students this is something school administration and the diverse learners team will be paying close attention to, “we’re going to have to look at power-matching scores and comparing them to previous sets of testing for students [with attention deficit disorders]… If we have those accommodations, absolutely, we’ll do them if that will be easier for them  [students]. We want students to have the best opportunity for success.”

So, while the impacts of online testing on neurodivergent students are not yet clear, Northside’s testing team remains committed to supporting neurodivergent students as issues arise.

Although the rollout of the digital PSAT was challenging for students to adjust to and confusing for proctors to administer, the benefits it holds include shorter test times, fewer required materials, and faster score releases.

Whether or not the challenges of the digital PSAT will continue with the rollout of the digital SAT this spring remains to be seen. 

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About the Contributor
Kinsey Weisenberger
Kinsey Weisenberger, Managing Editor (Student Life)
Kinsey is a senior at Northside College Prep and an active member of the school community, running Northside’s Debate Team and acting as co-president of Northside’s Enviropolitics Club. She is passionate about politics and environmental issues and hopes to major in political science somewhere on the East Coast. Outside of school, she spends most of her time working at at her government job where she acts as the policy and communications liason for a State Rep and State Senator. When she's not working, you can find her roaming around the Art Insitute of Chicago with friends or taking her dog on nature hikes in Chicago’s many green areas. #vegetarian