In the United States, the DSAT begins for real in March, and anyone studying for it is familiar with College Board’s Bluebook App. With four “official” tests, Bluebook is the only game in town for digital practice straight from the source. But since the test is new, the question naturally arises how much the real tests that start in March will look like the four official practice tests on Bluebook. Is it harder to prepare with less practice material than before?
Internationally, the DSAT has been running for over a year. And student feedback through Reddit and international tutoring companies has indicated that some of those official tests have been “harder” than the Bluebook tests, with some practice problems that seem “different.” This seemingly happens with all new test rollouts – students claim the real test is “harder” than any of the practice tests, especially right at first. I remember the same feedback coming through when the last version of the SAT was rolled out in 2016.
In my experience, though, this feedback is mostly just a feeling, and students continue to perform relatively consistently regardless of how much official practice material is available. Students should expect in March, on the whole, to score close to where they most recently scored on a Bluebook test. Scores do vary, absolutely, but that was true from one paper-and-pencil test to another, also. Plus, the limited practice material is an obstacle shared by all test-takers. While the last SAT did slowly change over the years, the first released practice tests did predict early student results reasonably well.
Good practice material is also available from other sources than practice tests. Both the SAT Educator Question Bank and Khan Academy provide a wealth of additional practice problems.
Families often ask if one test date is harder than another, for the reason above and others. The standard answer is that the tests are curved for difficulty such that all the tests are of exactly the same difficulty. But I have observed that certain test dates have produced notably better test results than others. In March of 2018, my students produced some of their best results ever; then in June of 2018, students produced some of their worst. But while “good” and “bad” test dates do appear to happen now and again, they are impossible to predict ahead of time, as there is no discernable pattern to when these rare “good” and “bad” tests actually occur. Furthermore, students are not good judges of whether a given test is truly “easier” or “harder” in the moment, so overall test difficulty is not worth thinking about in a test setting. Most SAT tests are just “average,” yielding results as expected.
Long story short? Don’t get into magical thinking about “better test dates,” even with a new test and more limited practice material. Students have just as good of a chance to do well at the March SAT as they do any other SAT. Complete all of the official practice material, learn how to use Desmos, and you’ll be well-prepared, even if a new question type or two comes around.