Welcome To Digital Testing – The New SAT

The PSAT and SAT soon will be taken by college-bound students only by computer. The  transition from paper-based to digital testing affirms the continuing relevance and usefulness of standardized tests in the test optional, post-pandemic era. 

There is likely to be a significant increase in the number of SAT-takers when conversion to the digital model is complete. According to a survey taken by the College Board as part of its pilot program, 80% of test-takers indicated that they preferred digital tests because they found them to be less stressful.

Although less than perfect, standardized tests are a pragmatic means of leveling the playing field for the students of nearly 27,000 American high schools, ranging widely in curriculum options, academic rigor, and grading systems. The tests enable students to demonstrate their ability beyond what’s indicated by their GPA and curriculum — the most important factors in admissions. Although submitting test scores is now optional at many colleges, most still use standardized test scores as a way to identify promising students. 

  1. Facts About the Digital Tests

The pandemic caused students and educational institutions to adapt to learning and testing in a digital environment. The College Board is taking advantage of this fact  by adopting digital testing. Below is an overview of their digital PSAT/SAT products:

  1. Who Will Take the Tests

Students now in tenth grade, the high school Class of 2025, will be the first to take the digital PSAT in the fall of this year with the same three variations that are offered in the paper-based test: PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9.

Most high school students take the SAT for the first time in spring of their junior year. The first digital SAT, set for the spring of 2024, will be taken by current tenth graders as well as students in lower grades who wish to take it. Students can take only the paper SAT through the end of 2023.​

  • How and Where Students Will Take the Tests

Digital tests will not be taken by students in their home via the Internet. They will only be taken in a test center. Students may use a Chromebook, a MAC or Windows laptop, or an iPad tablet. They may use their own device or one provided by the test center​ if they make a request in advance through the test registration process.

An Internet connection is required for the test. Test-takers will need to connect to the test center’s Wi-Fi with their personal or test center-provided devices in order to allow for online communication to and from College Board.

Students will use the center’s network link to download and install a personalized software program from College Board for the test. The program prevents the test-taker from using other features of their device while working on the test.

Because each test-taker receives their own personalized program for the test, security and privacy are better in the digital system than the paper-based system.   Question #10 on one student’s test is different than Question #10 on another student’s, making cheating more difficult and testing more secure.

A calculator integrated within the downloaded program will be available for the duration of the test. There will no longer be a Math subsection that prohibits the use of a calculator. A hide-able integrated timer will be displayed at the top of the page on which the student is working. If there is a disruption, the timer will pause and can later be reset by the proctor so that the test-taker does not lose time. A set of annotation tools will be included within the program so students can take notes and highlight or cross out text.

  • Scoring Range Remains the Same but Test Timing Changes

As in the current system, PSAT scores will range from 320 to 1520​ points and the SAT from 400 to 1600​.

The time allowed for the PSAT and SAT digital tests will be 2 hours and 14 minutes, which is more than an hour less than what the current tests allow.​ There will be two distinct Verbal subsections, each lasting 32 minutes and having 27 questions. Only 25 of the 27 questions will be scored. The other two are experimental questions used for research purposes by College Board in developing future tests. There will no longer be a break between Reading and Writing in the Verbal section.

There will be two separate Math subsections—each will last for 35 minutes and have 22 questions. Only 20 of the 22 questions will be scored with the other two being experimental. Grid-in questions, which call for student-produced responses, will be mixed in with multiple choice questions, unlike the current SAT in which there is a distinct subsection for grid-in questions.

  • Question Formats Will Change Slightly

In both the PSAT and SAT, the subject matter of the Math and Verbal sections will remain the same. The full range of problem-solving and data analysis topics that are covered in the Math section of current SAT will be on the digital test. However, there will be fewer problem solving and data analysis questions (which cover percentages, probability, organizing data, and basic statistics) than there are on the current test. 

In the Verbal section, there will no longer be long passages with multiple questions to answer about each one. Each question will have its own short passage, and the question will be for that short passage only. Passages will be standard prose comprehension with poetry and logical completion items. In the latter, students will read a short passage, the last line of which has been left blank. The student will then choose from among four options the one that best completes the passage​. Reading and writing items will be clustered—several reading, followed by several writing (either grammar or expression).

  • Multistage Adaptive ​Methodology

A significant innovation on the digital SAT is its Multistage AdaptiveMethodology, which is enabled by the flexibility inherent in computer systems and software. Students will begin their initial Math and Verbal sections with questions researched to be at an average level of difficulty. The student’s device scores these questions immediately using the College Board’s downloaded program. If the student scores high on them, he or she will be given more challenging questions for the rest of the section. If the student does not perform well, he or she will be given less difficult questions. Performance on the first few questions dictates the range of possible scores that a student can receive​.

  • Accommodations for the Digital Tests​

The same accommodations available under the paper-based system will be available  for the digital tests. Most are integrated within the student’s personalized, downloaded program. When a student signs in at the test center, their program will recognize previously approved accommodations and will provide them for the test. The timer, for example, will be extended for those students who have been granted extra time. A screen will indicate if an extra break has been scheduled. A student’s screen will have larger print if that accommodation has been approved.

As is the case now, students must be approved for accommodations by the Services for Students with Disabilities panel at College Board. This is done in advance through the test registration process so that the Board can include the accommodation(s) in the student’s personalized program.

  • Paper Test Content and Digital Test Content

There are no differences in content scope between the paper and digital tests for either the Verbal or Math sections of the PSAT and SAT. The level of difficulty is equivalent. The only differences are in the media and technology used to take them.

  • Superscoring

College Board is recommending that colleges superscore between and among paper and digital versions until the conversion to digital is complete. For example, if a student takes a paper SAT in December 2023 and receives a higher score in Verbal than in Math and then takes the digital SAT in May 2024 and gets a higher score in Math than in Verbal, College Board encourages colleges to combine the two high scores into one superscore.

  • Practicing for Digital Tests

Four full-length adaptive digital practice tests are available through Bluebook, College Board’s test delivery platform. Students who have downloaded Bluebook will be able to take the practice tests using the same interface, format, and scoring methodology that they will use for the actual digital SAT starting in 2024.

  1. Practice Test Tips

Students should guess on practice tests if they don’t know an answer because incorrect answers will not be penalized. They should refer to the scoring guide after the test because it has explanations of answers and is designed to guide students in identifying areas for study.

In traditional testing on the SAT, the total number of correct answers corresponds directly to a score. In an adaptive test like the digital SAT, scoring is more complex because individual questions have different weights. The term used for differential weighting is Item Response Scoring. This is the method used to score digital tests.

  • Insights on the Math and Verbal Sections

Jed Applerouth, an educational consultant, has researched the digital SAT by administering practice tests to his student-clients. He concluded that the structural changes adopted to make the test shorter, adaptive, and slower-paced will make it more popular with students and educators.

Regarding the Math section, Applerouth’s summary is, “At 44 total problems, down from 58, the math section feels more manageable. There are fewer word problems, which is great for non-native speakers. On the digital SAT only 30% of math items will be in the context of science or social studies or real-world applications. The remaining 70% of items will be pure math problems.”

Regarding the Verbal section, Applerouth summary is, “Reading is shorter, but tougher on the new SAT.Short passages are not necessarily easier passages. The reading level on the practice tests is as high, if not higher, than other SATs in recent years. Switching to a new topic, voice, and style every question requires a bit more mental agility. Counterbalancing this, the predictable grouping of questions by type (all vocabulary at once followed by all craft and structure questions), allows a student to get into a particular problem-solving mindset for a stretch of time.”

  • SAT vs. ACT

For several decades, the SAT and ACT have essentially been different versions of the same thing. Both have measured the cognitive abilities and readiness for college of test-takers. However, this similarity will end with the advent of the digital SAT.

The College Board is advancing technologically in an effort to change with the times. ACT’s strategy is to continue on as a paper-based system. Since almost all colleges that accept tests will accept either one, the divergence in testing technology will afford students the option to choose which approach suits them best.

Best Undergraduate Business Schools

People tend to associate the term “B-School” with MBA programs, especially those at prestigious universities. But it’s the qualitative distinctions among undergraduate B-Schools that are of more interest to high school students planning to pursue business as a major and career.

A Controversy in Business Education

B-Schools are not vocational schools. Some believe it is a mistake to fetishize job preparation for specific business fields. This orientation might demand more hours from students, but it doesn’t provide well-rounded educations, says Henry Mintzberg, a professor at McGill University who is a critic of the traditional approach to business education. He says it’s wrong to offer vocational subjects like finance and marketing to 18-year-olds. Instead, in support of a humanistic, multidisciplinary model of management education, he states that “The object of undergraduate business education is to educate people, not to give them a lot of functional business stuff.”

A report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching praises 10 American undergraduate business schools as models for integrating the liberal arts and practical training. One of the institutions is Babson College in Massachusetts. Its president, Leonard A. Schlesinger, says that concrete business skills tend to expire in five years or so as technology changes. History and philosophy, in contrast, provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable to success in business.

Since 2003, a prestigious business accreditor, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), has driven business departments to set learning objectives and adjust their curriculums to expose students to the liberal arts. AACSB’s goal is for its member B-School’s to provide what employers want. According to national surveys, they want to hire graduates who can write effectively, think creatively, and analyze problems logically, and they’re perfectly happy to hire English, philosophy, and history majors if that what it takes to satisfy their needs.

Rankings of Undergraduate Business Schools

Business and the related fields of finance, economics, accounting, and management are currently among the most popular areas of study among undergraduates, representing about 20% of enrolled students. Many colleges have developed excellent programs to compete for the best qualified B-School applicants.

As part of their research into which school fits them best, aspiring business majors should review the rankings of undergraduate B-Schools published by two sources: U.S. News and World Report (U.S. News) and Poets&Quants, a resource for business students. A comparison of these two sources is beneficial because their ranking  methodologies differ significantly.

  1. U. S. News: “Best Undergraduate Business Programs

The U.S. News ranking is based solely on the judgments of deans and senior faculty at peer institutions. They conduct a survey of the undergraduate business programs accredited by the AACSB. In 2022, they surveyed 842 schools and had a 47.7% response rate.

The survey’s respondents – two at each AACSB-accredited program – are asked to rate the quality of the business programs with which they’re familiar on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). U.S. News then computes an average score for each program. Undergraduate business schools are ranked according to these scores. 

  • Poets&Quants: “Best Undergraduate Business Schools

Poets&Quants analyzed 93 business schools this year. Their methodology is more data-driven than that of U.S. News. It assesses what Poets&Quants considers to be the three core components of a high quality undergraduate business education. These are:

  1. The quality and diversity of students enrolled in a program,
  • A school’s ability to nurture and challenge students, and
  • The response of top employers to a school’s graduates.

In summary, admissions standards, student experience, and career outcomes are the three aspects of a business school education that Poets & Quants measures.

Comparing the Outcomes of the Methodologies

The results of the U. S. News and Poets&Quants methodologies are compared in Table A, which lists the top 10 institutions under each approach. State universities listed refer to the main campuses. Three ties are indicated on the U.S. News list.

Table A: The Top 10 Undergraduate Business Schools in 2022

 U. S. News Poets&Quants
1University of Pennsylvania – Wharton1University of Pennsylvania – Wharton
2Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Sloan2Georgetown University – McDonough
2University of California at Berkeley – Haas3University of Southern California – Marshall
4University of Michigan – Ross4Washington University of St. Louis – Olin
5Carnegie Mellon University – Tepper5University of Virginia – McIntire
5New York University – Stern6University of Michigan – Ross
7University of Texas – McCombs7New York University – Stern
8Cornell University – Dyson8University of Notre Dame – Mendoza
8Indiana University – Kelley9Villanova University – VSB
10University of North Carolina – Kenan-Flagler10Georgia Institute of Technology – Scheller

Key Metrics

A key factor in the ranking of business schools is admission rates. The rates for 2021-22 were extraordinary. Ten schools reported rates of less than 12%. The previous year, only three schools reported rates under 12% — UPenn’s Wharton with 7.6%, Cornell’s Dyson with 7.9%, and the UNC’s Kenan-Flagler with 11.5%. In 2021-22, Cornell’s rate dropped to 5.4%, Wharton’s fell to 6.0%, NYU’s Stern School had a rate of 7.2%, the Washington University Olin School’s rate was 8.4%, and USC’s Marshall School was 9.9%.

Another important metric is the percentage of students who find suitable employment within three months of graduation. The University of Richmond and Marian University both reported placing 100% of their 2021 graduates into full-time positions. The Miami University of Ohio’s Farmer School and the University of Miami’s Herbert College reported employment rates of 99%. The sky-high rates at these and other schools were boosted by full employment in the U.S. economy.

Starting salaries is also a key measure of a B-School’s efficacy. Wharton led in salaries at first jobs with an average for their graduates of $85,345. Georgetown reported an equally impressive $85,213, making it #2. NYU’s Stern School was #3 with average starting salaries of $81,669.

Finding a Major or Specialty

Students considering a bachelor’s degree in business must not only identify the right school for them, but the right major or specialization as well. The best business schools offer programs that build upon a comprehensive set of survey courses, including liberal arts, and then focus on majors in specific subject areas.

The University of Connecticut’s undergraduate business program, for example, includes majors in Accounting, Business Administration, Business Data Analytics, Management, Finance, Financial Management, Health Care Management, and Management for Engineering & Manufacturing. Other majors commonly available to B-School undergraduates include Marketing, Sales, Human Resources, International Business, Information Systems, Supply Chain Management, Entrepreneurship, Health Care Administration, and Project Management.


As an experienced Certified Educational Planners and Independent Educational Consultants, the professionals at The College Planner, LLC understand the new landscape of college admissions. We guide our students through the maze of admissions all the way to enrollment in the college that fits them best. The College Planner, LLC has helped students place in a wide range of excellent schools including Tufts, Northeastern, Catholic, UConn, Skidmore, Boston University, Boston College, Brown, Fairfield, Fordham, Holy Cross, Colby, George Washington, William & Mary, Penn State, Villanova, Wake Forest, UPenn, Bates, and many others.

The College Essay

Amid the stress of application season, one task gives seniors more anxiety than any other — their essays.  Unfortunately, some level of anxiety is justified. After an applicant’s academic record, essays are one of the most important factors in admissions, often serving as a tiebreaker among applicants with similar records. But the anxiety is manageable if applicants treat the essay as an ally in their campaign for admission. For this to happen, they need to understand its true role.

Self-Focus is Essential

In writing an essay, applicants should be self-focused and be in tune with what is important to them and what they are passionate about. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s the right way to approach the task. To write a strong essay, students need to look inward. They must tell a story that has their inner thoughts as its core. Admissions Officers (AO)s evaluate essays for what they reveal about the student’s maturity, character, personality, and motivation.  It’s an opportunity to learn something about the student that may not be evident anywhere else in the application.

The essay is a way for applicants to introduce themselves to a college as a person rather than merely a set of numbers. But applicants need to be aware that AOs also expect essays to be intriguing, entertaining, and persuasive rather than erudite. In an essay, applicants are subtly selling themselves through the power of their message. If the message forms a gut-level connection with the reader, the applicant may have an advantage over the competition.

Essay Readers Seek Authenticity  

Applicants should understand that the majority of AO’s are recent graduates only a few years older than they are. They have a similar frame of reference and the same cultural touchstones as applicants, so informality is appropriate.

Essays are not necessarily grammatically correct. Leeway is granted in the use of creative sentence structure and euphemisms. AO’s want to see that the applicant is genuine and is speaking in their authentic voice. The essayist should write as she speaks.

Sometimes, the applicant needs to disregard the conventions of proper English to ensure that their true self is communicated. Remember “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee”?  OMG! A double negative! But it might be the most successful tag line ever written.

An AO for Tufts who contributes to the university’s blog has this to say about authenticity.

“As the admissions officer reading your application, I need proof – in the form of a written tone that matches your spoken one. As I read through your essay, I am crafting an image in my head of the person who will arrive on our campus in the fall if admitted. Your job is to arm me with examples of who this person is. Do this not just in what you say but how you say it.”

The best essays are often based on the student’s ordinary life experiences and point of view. Just as Seinfeld was famous for being “A show about nothing”, a student essay about nothing is more apt than an attempt at something profound.

Will Geiger, a former AO, has this to say.

Essays don’t have to be about fancy, expensive programs. Often, students write great essays about unimportant everyday things. A strong essay reveals the student’s authentic voice and unique perspective through storytelling.”


There is no magic answer when it comes to topic of the main college essay.  The same topic can produce both a great essay and a lackluster one depending on who is writing it.  The key to success in choosing a topic is finding one that is meaningful to the writer and allows the writer to showcase his/her personal style and what’s important to him/her.

In the case of college specific supplemental essays, it is important to spend the time understanding what a prompt is asking.  It is critical to formulate a response that answers the question in a way that is clear and also reflects the personal style and voice of the student writing it.

Is Humor Appropriate?

Essays are serious business. Even so, an applicant can include a humorous bit; a sentence or two that gets a smile. The AO may remember the line and it will help set a genial tone. Self-deprecating humor is safest. It’s the least likely to be considered offensive to someone, somewhere.

Though it can be beneficial to include humor, it’s not for every student or every essay.  If a student is naturally witty than humor will likely work in getting a point across in an essay.  If not, the humor may seem forced or at times inappropriate. It must also fit well within the essay. If the essay is about a grave topic, it’s best to skip the humor. The applicant must be confident that the bit will help their case and not harm it. If there’s any doubt, it should be omitted.

Who Should Edit?

An applicant can use a copy editor without concern about a breach of ethics. A copy editor proofreads for errors in spelling, punctuation, and word usage. Even the best journalists and authors use a copy editor.

But who should an applicant rely on to critique their essay’s theme, message, and execution. The advice of the Tufts AO is as follows.

Show your essay to two people, and no more: Often the worst thing that can happen to an essay is editing. When you have many different people giving you feedback, you often lose your own voice. You’re hidden behind perfect grammar, sterile language, and phrases thrown in because ‘It’s what admissions officers want to hear.’ Let me demystify something for you: I hate the things you write because it’s what admissions officers want to hear. They’re boring. And forced. And misguided. Show your essays to only two people — one who is a strong writer, and one who knows you very well.”

Start Early

Starting early is a good idea for essays and, for that matter, all tasks related to admissions. The end of junior year is about right for essays. This gives ample time to brainstorm ideas over the summer and to make sure that the chosen theme is consistent with the core message of the entire application.

Most of the colleges’ supplemental essay prompts are not available until August so it is great to have the main essay done by then so students can use the month of August to begin work on college supplements.

Procrastination is especially disastrous in essay writing. No semi-decent essay was ever written during an all-nighter before a deadline. The writer needs sufficient time to be able to walk away from a draft and return to it later, maybe even much later, with fresh eyes. Another great way to see if the essay is ready is to read it out loud – it’s amazing how different something can sound when listened to rather than read.


As part of our comprehensive consulting services at The College Planner, LLC we coach applicants through their essays from brainstorming, theme development, drafts, and editing to final versions. Laura Cubanski is our Essay Specialist who helps students with their main college essay. Laura is highly qualified and truly enjoys assisting seniors in all stages of the essay writing process.

Reviewing the 2021-22 Admissions Results

In only two years, the long-established patterns of college admissions have been completely disrupted. This is widely considered to be a result of the pandemic, but the pandemic only accelerated trends that had been building for a decade.  

A notable effect of the last two admission cycles is that, while the majority of colleges struggled to reverse declining enrollment, top-tier institutions enjoyed a sharp rise in demand. Two distinct models of admissions have evolved — one for top-tier colleges and another for all the rest.  As admission season approaches again, we at The College Planner,LLC advise that high school seniors and their parents understand and plan for the new status quo in admissions.

The Boom in Applications to Top-Tier Institutions

Although college enrollment is down in general, the most highly selective institutions are thriving. Since colleges accept about the same number of freshmen every year, the rising volume of applications submitted to these schools has resulted in plummeting admission rates. As evidence, the number of colleges that admitted less than 10% of their applicants rose from 9 in 2019 to 28 in 2022.

A main cause of this rise in applications is the shift to test-optional admissions policies. The test-optional movement was well underway prior to 2020, but the closure of test centers caused by the pandemic prevented students from taking the SAT and ACT exams that year. This forced even the most prestigious colleges to drop standardized test scores as a requirement for admission. Most colleges have indicated that they will retain their test-optional policies at least through 2023-24 if not indefinitely.

As a result of the adoption of test-optional policies, students aspiring to attend a top-tier school who didn’t perform well on tests saw an opportunity to rely more heavily on other aspects of their academic record like GPA and strength of curriculum. Many of them joined the already high number of applicants seeking admission to top schools. But this simply meant that more applicants would be disappointed, making admission rates fall.

Top-Tier Colleges Are More Selective Than Ever

Table A shows a set of top-tier schools that reported their Class of 2026 admissions data prior to June 30. They are all ranked among the top 50 schools on either the National Universities or National Liberal Arts College rankings in the College Edition of U.S. News & World Report for 2022.Table A shows their increasing selectivity over the last two years.

Table A

Admission Rates at Top-Tier Institutions

2019-20 and 2021-22 Compared

Institution  Number of Applicants  Number Admitted  2019-20 Admit %  2021-22 Admit %
Boston College40,4776,6782416
Boston Univ.80,79211,4341914
Emory (Oxford)20,8322,9322314
Georgia Tech50,6018,6732017
Harvey Mudd4,4405761813
Johns Hopkins37,1002,40896
Notre Dame26,5063,4121713
UNC Chapel Hill57,1984,400258

The Decline in College Enrollment

Despite the upturn in applications at the most highly selective schools, there has been a steady drop in general college enrollment that began well before the pandemic. This decline is the primary reason for the turbulence in admissions at many colleges. Data released in May by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that 662,000 fewer students enrolled in college in spring 2022 than a year earlier, a 5%. Figure A, below, shows that undergraduate enrollment peaked in 2010 at 18.1 million students and fell to 15.9 million in 2020, the last cycle before the pandemic.

                                                                                                         Source: Education Data Initiative

The Financial Condition of Colleges

All indications are that top-tier schools will continue to thrive, but they represent less than 5% of the nearly 4,000 post-secondary institutions in the country. Declining enrollment has devastated the financial stability of many small and mid-sized public and private colleges.

A number of colleges were forced to cease operations prior to and during the pandemic. Another 20% are expected to close their doors in the next few years due to the combined impact of changing demographics, state government disinvestment, unrealistic tuition rates, the lingering effects of the pandemic, and inadequate endowment funds.

Making matters worse is the fact that, for the first time in generations, many Americans are questioning if college is still the path to a secure, well-paying career. According to Stephanie Saul, writing in the New York Times on May 22, “The ongoing enrollment crisis at U.S. colleges and universities deepened in spring 2022, raising concerns that a fundamental shift is taking place in attitudes toward the value of a college degree.”  

According to Inside Higher Education, the outlook for enrollment looks even dimmer as we approach a “demographic cliff” in 2025, when a 15% drop in high school seniors is expected as a result of the reduced birth rate during and after the 2008 recession.

The precariousness of the finances of many schools should concern students and families who are now researching colleges. To the intimidating set of variables already involved should be added the financial condition of the schools on a student’s College List.

Do Admission Rates Matter?

Trends in admissions aren’t something that families can afford to ignore. Admission rates are a key factor in the calculation of college rankings. Although rankings are an imperfect measure of a college’s quality, they serve many people as a proxy for quality. Since rankings affect the level of demand for a college, they also impact its financial viability.

Students shouldn’t throw more than a couple of applications atop the pile at highly competitive “dream” schools. Instead, they should seek admission to sound, reputable, colleges that must increase their enrollment. In addition to a more welcoming set of acceptance criteria, these schools are strongly inclined to provide financial aid in order to increase their tuition revenue. 

As experienced college admissions consultants, the professionals at The College Planner understand the new landscape of college admissions. We guide our students through the maze of admissions all the way to enrollment in the college that fits them just right. The College Planner has placed students in a wide range of excellent colleges including Tufts, Northeastern, Catholic University, Skidmore, Boston University, Boston College, Brown, Fairfield, Fordham, Holy Cross, Colby, George Washington, William & Mary, Penn State, Villanova, Wake Forest, and many others.