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Navigating the New Testing Terrain: Clayborne’s Journey with Students to the First Digital SAT

Written By: Scott Webster - Program Director

March 9th, 2024 heralded a significant milestone in standardized testing history, as nearly 200,000 students across the country embarked on the SAT’s first digital administration. This transition, emblematic of the broader shift towards integrating technology in education, aimed to streamline the testing process and align more closely with today’s digital learning environments. We here at Clayborne, having closely worked with students months in advance of this moment, have gathered valuable insights and reflections from this inaugural digital SAT session and hope to share them with you!


Embracing Change with Open Arms

The digital SAT promised several key improvements, including a shorter test duration of just over two hours, the allowance of calculators (including an integrated DESMOS application) throughout the entire math section, and the introduction of shorter reading passages. Perhaps most notably, the test offered a unique version for each student, virtually eliminating the possibility of answer sharing and ensuring a fairer testing environment.


Clayborne’s Preparation Meets New Digital Realities

In anticipation of these changes, Clayborne’s approach to preparing our students was multifaceted, embracing not only the technological aspects of the new format but also the psychological and strategic elements critical for success. We integrated practice with the Bluebook app, College Board’s digital testing application, which proved to be a valuable resource for familiarizing students with the digital test format. As 97% of students reported the Bluebook app was easy to use, our students also found comfort in the predictability and user-friendliness of the testing platform.


Feedback from students who took the digital SAT echoed a sentiment of relief and optimism. Many appreciated the test’s streamlined approach, with one student noting, “It took less stamina and since there was a timer right in front of you, I thought that was very useful. I felt that it was less stressful.” This feedback aligns with Clayborne’s mission to reduce test anxiety and improve student performance through comprehensive preparation and support.


Lessons Learned and Paths Forward

Despite the overall positive reception, the initial feedback also highlighted areas for improvement, particularly in aligning expectations with the actual test experience. Of particular note, numerous students reported that the math questions were significantly harder than the practice questions provided by the College Board and Khan Academy.


This sentiment was echoed across various platforms, with influencers like TikTok’s Jake the SAT Guru describing the second math module as “massively challenging.” Alongside Clayborne, other education providers are raising concerns about the need for representative preparation materials to be made available to students. We hope The College Board has been listening to this feedback and will calibrate subsequent tests accordingly.


Clayborne’s Response to Student Feedback

The digital format’s adaptability and unique test versions for each student underscores the need for a preparation strategy that is equally adaptable and personalized. We have been listening to our students and are eager to take proactive steps to address the challenges and opportunities ahead:


“I felt like I had a good experience taking the SAT. I was a lot calmer than I expected, and felt confident once I started taking the test. The Bluebook practice tests are almost identical to the real test, although I thought the real test felt notably harder (but that could’ve been overthinking from test day nerves). The only big surprise was the second math module which I thought, and later found out many people thought, was way harder than the practice material. But overall it was a positive experience.” –Anonymous Clayborne Student


So what are our priorities?


  1. Enhanced Preparation Materials: We are committed to updating our curriculum and practice materials to better reflect the complexity and format of the digital SAT, ensuring that students are not caught off guard by the difficulty level of any section.


  1. Adaptive Learning Focus: Given the digital SAT’s adaptive nature, Clayborne is doubling down on adaptive learning strategies in our tutoring methodologies. This approach will help students become more comfortable with the flexibility and variability of the test, improving their ability to tackle questions of varying difficulty levels confidently.


  1. Feedback-Driven Improvements: We value the insights shared by our students and the wider community. These reflections are integral to our ongoing efforts to refine our preparation services, making them more aligned with the realities of the digital SAT experience.


  1. Community and Support: Recognizing the heightened anxiety some students faced, particularly with the unexpected challenge of the math section, we are enhancing our support systems. This includes providing forums for conversation amongst students, parents, school administrators, and tutors. We hope this allows us all to foster a supportive learning community.


Looking Forward

The transition to a digital SAT represents a significant shift in standardized testing, one that promises to make the testing experience more efficient and aligned with contemporary educational practices. However, as with any change, there are growing pains and learning curves for all involved. The insights from the March SAT administration highlight the importance of flexibility, preparation, and open communication between students, educators, and test administrators.


At Clayborne, we are inspired by the resilience and adaptability our students have shown in the face of these challenges. We remain committed to providing the highest level of support and preparation, leveraging the lessons learned from this experience to empower our students to achieve their best outcomes on future administrations of the digital SAT and beyond.


As we continue to navigate this new terrain together, our focus remains on equipping our students not just with the knowledge they need to succeed, but also with the confidence and skills to thrive in an ever-changing academic landscape.

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