We recently attended the College Board’s annual forum, in which CB members, who are in charge of creating the SAT, AP exams, and other college application resources, detail the current status and plans for these assessments and services, as well as discuss issues in college admissions. The forum was hosted in Orlando, Florida, and it marked the 10th anniversary of the College Board’s CEO and leader, David Coleman. Below is a summary of what we learned.
Digital Adaptive SAT
A Peak Under the Hood of a Mysterious Machine – With the announcement of the new digital SAT, the College Board has left some key details out, especially regarding how the exam will be scored. The typical message has been somewhat dismissive, assuring us that the scoring is handled by their finely tuned algorithm and that “it’s complicated.” Through our own analysis of the new SAT’s scoring, we determined that each test question is weighted, with some questions having a greater impact on scores than others do. Although the College Board hasn’t officially provided the criteria for this weighting (which they refer to as “item response scoring”), they explained to us that it is based on a variety of factors including the skills involved in solving the problem, how well those skills differentiate students, and whether students can simplify the problem by eliminating answer choices. Complicated indeed! The College Board is not yet providing official data or insights to evaluate test questions on these criteria, but we were assured that information such as basic difficulty ratings for questions will be available eventually. We spoke to College Board’s lead Psychometrician, Tom Proctor, who expects to release a technical manual explaining the new SAT’s complex scoring systems at some point in 2023-2024. In the meantime, we at Summit are currently studying the new test to better understand its complexities and will continue to make our own analyses and share our insights. If you are interested in learning some more technical information that we have not covered in this overview, please contact us!
Many Variations – If you have taken the new SAT practice tests (we understand if you haven’t been as eager to take the test as we’ve been!), you may have noticed that the test forms are fairly standardized. For example, every time you take Practice Test #1, you will always receive the same first Math module, and your performance will place you into one of two forms of the second Math module. On official test administrations, there will be much more variety, as each student will receive a unique assortment of questions. The SAT’s new system aggregates test forms from a vast collection of questions, which are each given categories and “weights,” as mentioned earlier. The digital test system uses this data to build a unique test form for each student while ensuring each test form aligns to standards of content and difficulty. This variety should discourage cheating among students on official tests.
More Practice Tests and Complications – College Board expects to release a new edition of their physical “blue book” of practice tests in summer 2023. They plan to have more than the 4 tests currently available in the digital testing app. To provide tests in the physical book, a few compromises and complications are unavoidable. For example, students may need to evaluate their own performance after their first modules are completed so they can determine whether they should be placed in the higher or lower second modules. In this way, the test would still be adaptive, but the process would be manual. Further, the scoring of these tests will be less precise, particularly at the top and bottom of the score ranges for both the higher and lower modules. This lack of precision is due to the scoring system being simplified to allow for easier calculation since students will need to determine their scores on their own rather than rely on the complex scoring algorithm that manages the digital version of the test. College Board officials are still discussing the best ways to deliver their digital SAT in a physical format, so we’ll need to wait for more certain plans.
AP Upcoming Changes
New AP Courses – College Board is preparing several new AP courses, including Pre-Calculus for the 2023-24 academic year, and African-American Studies for the following year. The Pre-Calculus course is designed to replace standard precalc classes in schools, rather than serving as an additional, Honors-like program. Other new AP courses in development include Anatomy & Physiology, and Business Principles (an AP course focused on economics and entrepreneurship).
Digital APs – The development of digital options for AP administrations is picking up pace. For the 2023 AP testing season, these tests will be available digitally: English Literature & Composition, English Language & Composition, U.S. History, World History, European History, Computer Science Principles, and Seminar. These digital tests are the same length and format as the pencil-and-paper tests. College Board hopes to eventually make all AP tests available digitally, but some are particularly challenging to adapt to a digital format (such as math-based tests that require complicated equations in answers).
AP Score Considerations (Possibly) Limited to 5 – College Board is recommending that colleges only use up to 5 AP scores for admissions decisions. They suggest that further AP scores may be used for college credit but not for acceptance. College Board CEO David Coleman’s call to “stop the madness” harkened to recent years’ discussions among admissions folk who struggled with issues of AP offerings and equity. All too often with AP scores, more is better. This can be a disadvantage for students whose schools lack funding to offer AP programs, and it pressures other students to deal with extreme workloads if their school offers many APs. Coleman called on admissions offices to limit their considerations to 5 scores, citing a recent study that shows students see diminishing returns of academic improvement after 5 AP programs.
For colleges that heavily rely on APs as indicators of academic success, particularly for Honors colleges and similarly rigorous institutions, the limit on AP score considerations would likely mean these colleges will place more importance on particular AP scores. For example, a score from the upcoming AP Pre-Calculus exam may carry less weight in their admission decisions than a score from the more advanced AP Calculus BC exam would.
The call to limit AP score considerations is a recommendation, not an official standard. The College Board cannot reinforce this limitation. We will need to wait and see whether college admissions officials decide to heed the advice.
Big Future Updates – Big Future, a tool developed by College Board as a one-stop shop for college planning, payment planning, and career planning, has more developments in the work as well. David Coleman announced that starting next year, Big Future Scholarships will be expanded to high school sophomores. Currently, the scholarships, which range from $500 all the way up to $40,000, are given out monthly but are only eligible to older students. The scholarships are an exciting way to motivate students to begin their college searches, no matter what their background is. Students need only sign up and begin their college searches through the tool to become eligible for these scholarships (no test scores are even necessary to submit!). By February 2023, a total of 3 million dollars of scholarship money will have been rewarded through the program, offering some relief in the current landscape of ever-increasing college costs.
Digital SAT Research and Studies – Rest assured that College Board has now years of data to back up the validity of their new digital, adaptive SAT. Several studies have already concluded, while others are still underway, all with the purpose of verifying the test’s fairness, comparability to the old test, and validity in measuring college-readiness benchmarks.
The Reading and Writing Pilot study, a study that looked closely at the design of the Reading and Writing section of the SAT, was piloted in February, 2021. The goal was to evaluate the new verbal items of the test and ensure their comparability to existing verbal questions on the current paper-and-pencil test. A timing study followed in Fall 2021, which was used to determine the ideal time allotments for digital SAT sections to ensure students were receiving enough time to finish the new tests. A Spring vertical study (conducted in the spring of 2022) was used to establish an initial vertical scale of the SAT Suite of Assessments. A Spring Concordance study conducted in April of 2022 on approximately 6000 students has the purpose of establishing a straight-line concordance between the digital SAT and the current test. A larger fall concordance study is still underway to finalize this straight-line concordance. Finally, a Fall/Spring Vertical Scale will begin in November and will conclude in early March to finalize the vertical scale of the new digital assessments as well, all in time for the first official administrations of the exam to International students.
For those looking to dig deeper into the studies’ outcomes, some initial (and promising!) results are already available and published. More details can be found at https://research.collegeboard.org
Summit is Ready to Help
We’re in the process of reviewing and overhauling content so we can offer the most accurate and effective SAT and AP prep materials. We will also remain in contact with College Board officials to ensure we stay informed on all updates to the new SAT, and AP class offerings. Stay tuned for more details.
Questions? Please contact us at (800) MY-TUTOR or firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to talk to you!
Joshua White – Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Training
In his role as Director of Curriculum, Joshua oversees the development implementation, and oversight of Summit’s curriculum, instruction, and training. Prior to his role, Joshua spent 3 years as a Summit tutor and classroom teacher, preparing students for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, and essay-writing. With over 10 years of tutoring experience, Joshua has taught students from kindergarteners to senior citizens in everything from cooking to computers.