Teachers, test prep specialists, and educators across the country have heard the big news: the SAT is going adaptive! Among the changes recently announced to the SAT, the test is going to become fully digitized and adaptive. But what, exactly, is an “adaptive test”? Is this a new form of testing, or merely one that’s been catching on recently? What are the benefits of adaptive testing? And how can educators help students best prepare for adaptive tests? Let’s take a look and find out:

What Is Adaptive Testing?

Adaptive testing, sometimes called Computerized Adaptive Testing, or CAT, is a form of computer-based testing, reliant on an algorithm, in which the test questions a student is given are based on their answers to previous test questions. The test changes, or adapts, as the student answers more and more questions. Adaptive testing is a relatively new form of testing, dependent as it is on computerized technology, but has been utilized in standardized tests other than the SAT, and in education more broadly, for several years.

Besides the New SAT Structure, are There Other Common Adaptive Tests?

Perhaps the most famous and most popular adaptive test currently in use is the graduate school admissions test, the GRE. Like the new SAT will be, the GRE is taken entirely on computers at designated testing centers, and answers to early test questions determine which questions will follow.

The business school admissions exam, the GMAT, is also adaptive, but unlike the GRE, it adapts at the question level, rather than the section level. The new SAT will be structured more similarly to the GRE than the GMAT, with section-level adaptations.

However, the GRE and GMAT are not the only frameworks that utilize adaptive testing. Adaptive testing has also been in use for several years in the field of special education, as a means of getting an accurate picture of individual students’ needs at any given time.

What Are the Benefits of Adaptive Testing?

While adaptive testing can feel confusing or frustrating to students, particularly as a test becomes harder just when they felt they were being given questions they could easily answer, it’s an assessment structure with several benefits.

Firstly, adaptive testing is extremely useful as a means of determining students’ needs, as in special education. In these instances, the tests aren’t meant to assess mastery, but to act as a tool to enable educators to plan their lessons to better meet the needs of their students.

However, in the case of a standardized test like the SAT or GRE, the other benefit of adaptive testing is one of time-saving. By changing the material with the student, an adaptive standardized test avoids giving students material that is either redundant, or more advanced than they understand, enabling shorter, more efficient exam times. Further, because the test is on a computer, it can be scored instantly, saving students the stress of waiting to receive their score reports.

How Does Adaptive Testing Affect Test Prep?

Your students may feel that adaptive testing “raises the stakes” of their test prep program — after all, if getting one question wrong can alter the whole test, every answer becomes more important. However, it’s up to you to reassure them that there’s no need to panic—the main changes in prepping for an adaptive standardized test are material, not content-based.

While the test may alter with a wrong answer, a series of correct answers will “reverse” the change, so students needn’t worry about high-pressure questions, and should review the test content as normal. However, the computerized format and shorter time window do mean that students should be doing their test prep online, rather than with pen and paper, if possible, and should set their timers to accurately reflect the time they’ll have on test day.

Remember, if you or your students have any questions about the new SAT, or adaptive testing in general, feel free to reach out to our team at A-List — we’re test prep experts, and always happy to answer any questions you may have.

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