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What To Know About The New Digital SAT

Christopher Rim

In December 2023, the College Board held the last pen-and-paper SAT in the United States. Going forward, the SAT will exclusively be administered in a digital format.

This significant online shift in the standardized testing landscape requires students and families to strategize and prepare differently than they would have for the paper exam. Applying the right strategy is particularly critical, as some colleges are shedding test-optional policies and reconsidering the importance of the test in the application process.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Digital SAT.

What’s Staying The Same On The Digital SAT?

First and foremost, it is important to note that some elements remain the same as the test transitions to its digital form. Like the written test, the digital version is still scored on a 400- to 1,600-point scale and generally covers the same material. Additionally, the test is still administered by proctors at official testing sites and offers the same support for students requiring accommodations, with the addition of a paper test option for those individuals.

What’s Different On The Digital SAT?

1. The Digital SAT is taken completely on a computer.

Of course, the biggest difference between the paper test and the digital test is the latter is taken entirely on a Windows laptop or tablet, a Mac laptop, an iPad, or a school-managed Chromebook. Students should practice taking the test online through the College Board’s Bluebook app so that they know what to expect from the digital testing experience.

2. The Digital SAT is shorter and combines the reading and writing Sections.

The digital iteration of the SAT lasts only two hours and 14 minutes and features 98 questions. By contrast, its traditional paper-and-pencil counterpart lasted more than three hours and asked students to answer a more extensive set of 154 questions. While the paper exam included four sections—reading, writing, math without calculator, and math with calculator—the Digital SAT offers a simplified structure. It comprises two sections: a consolidated reading and writing component and a standalone math portion.

3. The Digital SAT allows the use of calculators for the whole math section.

Unlike the former SAT, which had one math section for which students could use a calculator to solve problems and one for which they could not, the digital SAT allows students to use calculators throughout the new single math section. In addition, the test includes Desmos, a built-in graphing calculator students can use if they prefer not to bring their own.

4. The Digital SAT features shorter reading comprehension passages.

Not only does the Digital SAT combine the reading and writing sections, but it also requires students to read materials that are shorter in length than those on the paper SAT before answering reading comprehension questions. The new materials typically span around a paragraph. While several question types will be familiar to students who have taken the paper test—such as inquiries about the main idea, author's purpose, grammar and punctuation, and vocabulary—the test incorporates a variety of new question formats. Notably, passages now explore a broader spectrum of topics, and incorporate elements like poetry. Furthermore, students now encounter questions that task them with synthesizing conclusions from a provided fictional set of student notes.

5. The Digital SAT uses multistage adaptive testing.

This means that the test is designed to dynamically adapt to a student's proficiency, adjusting its difficulty based on performance as students answer questions. Both test segments—reading and writing as well as math—are divided into two distinct modules. The difficulty of questions in the second module is contingent upon the student's performance in the initial module. As a result, the digital test offers a more individualized testing experience.

In addition to these differences, some distinctive elements of the Digital SAT have the potential to make test-taking easier for students. For instance, the digital test provides the means for students to flag questions and return to them later, allowing a more strategic approach to testing. It also features a countdown clock that will alert them when they’re running out of time, which students can choose to show or hide at the top of their testing screen.

While test-taking can be a source of anxiety for students, approaching the test with preparation and strategy will help them build their confidence and achieve their goal scores. Understanding the nuances of the test and experiencing the format through practice tests are critical steps toward achieving success on one of the upcoming test dates.


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