You may have heard that the College Board is changing the SAT from its current paper version to a purely digital and adaptive version. What does this change mean for you, the test taker? How will it affect your ability to obtain a high score? The new format means fewer practice materials and reliable sources of information, but don’t worry. There is little to fear about this new version of the SAT! In fact, the more students and tutors learn about the digital SAT, the more they seem to like it.
When is the SAT Changing?
The digital SAT will be offered for the first time in the United States in March 2024, but international SAT students took the digital SAT for the first time in March 2023. The tutors at Marks Education work with many students who study outside the U.S., so we have been thinking about this test, preparing materials for it, and taking practice versions of it for over a year. Most students in the U.S. will become familiar with digital testing this fall when the PSAT will be offered in the digital format.
Since the SAT will switch over to the digital format in 2024 in the U.S., the December 2, 2023 national administration will be the final paper version. Students intending to take the paper SAT should plan multiple sittings in the late summer and fall of this year (2023). Although the changeover might seem a long way off, it is important to remember that preparation for standardized tests is best done over multiple months with plans for at least two or three official sittings. Students entering their junior year in the fall of 2023 are most affected by the current change to the test.
Where and When do I take the digital SAT?
Students will take the digital SAT on computers at test centers on national test days. The digital testing schedule will remain the same as the current schedule, with tests offered in mid-March, early May, early June, late August, early October, early November, and early December. The test will consist of two sections: a Reading and Writing section and a Math section, with a ten-minute break in between.
What is an Adaptive Test?
The digital SAT is adaptive, meaning that a student’s performance on one section of the test affects the level of difficulty of the next section. For example, the Reading and Writing section consists of two modules, each 27 questions and 32 minutes long. A student’s performance on the first module determines whether they receive either an easier or harder second module. A score out of 800 on this section will be determined by the raw scores on the two modules, with a ceiling for those who end up with the easier second module and a floor for those who end up with the harder one.
The Math section works in much the same way as the Reading and Writing section. It consists of two modules, but each has only 22 questions and students get 35 minutes for each module. Again, a student’s performance on the first module will determine whether they get an easier or harder second module. About a quarter of the Math questions require student-produced responses, while all other questions on both sections are multiple choice.
The adaptive nature of the digital SAT makes the test significantly shorter than the current paper SAT. Students complete the entire test in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. There is no fifth “experimental” section as there is on the current paper SAT. Instead, two questions from each module will be trial questions that may appear on future tests but will not count toward a student’s final test score. Also, the current scoring scheme, which assigns a score out of 800 to each half of the test, for a total of 1600 possible points, will remain in place, so colleges may still choose to “superscore” multiple sittings of the digital SAT.
How are the content and style different from the current SAT?
Since the test is taken on a computer, each question stands alone with associated passages, diagrams, and answer choices appearing on the screen. There are no more lengthy reading and writing passages with ten or eleven questions referencing the same material. Within each module, students will have the ability to answer questions in any order they want, return to digitally bookmarked questions as needed, and have access to many helpful tools, including a countdown clock, a strikethrough feature for eliminated answer choices, and a display expander.
Reading and Writing
The Reading and Writing section tests vocabulary in context, central ideas, text structure, command of written and quantitative evidence, grammar, and punctuation. Each question appears with its own paragraph-long passage. A student can highlight portions of the passage with an annotation feature that allows for colored highlighting, underlining, and digital notation like a sticky-note application.
The Math section emphasizes algebra and functions, though there is some attention paid to data analysis, geometry, and trigonometry. Students can use their own calculator or an online version of the Desmos graphing calculator on any question, and they can also access a reference sheet for geometry formulas at any time. The Desmos feature will allow students to answer questions in many ways, so students should practice with it often and get to know all of its graphing and computing functions. The student-produced response questions are simple to type in, even if the answer is a fraction, decimal, or negative number, and students no longer must bubble in digits or symbols.
Is the digital SAT right for me?
To determine if the digital SAT is right for you, first take a baseline test. The Bluebook app, freely accessible through a College Board account, currently has four practice tests with all of the features of the actual test. Once finished with a test, a student can access their score report within seconds and review all the questions. More practice tests will likely be coming to that app in the summer of 2023.
Beginning in June 2023, Marks Education will proctor digital SAT baseline tests. In addition, Marks Education’s Tutoring and Test Prep team is hard at work creating our own practice tests on a platform like the one put out by the College Board. Available this spring, our tests will include score reports with answer explanations and useful study details.
Students should consult with a tutor, after taking baselines for both the SAT and ACT, to decide which test will ultimately be a better fit. The class of 2025 will have some tough decisions to make, especially if a student might be able to finish multiple sittings of the current version of the SAT before 2024. However, nobody should think of the coming digital SAT as a looming deadline of uncertainty. It may turn out to be a wonderful improvement in standardized testing.
Class of 2025? Check out this blog on the digital SAT written just for you.