The SAT is Going Digital: How Does That Affect You?

classroom with desks

Written by Rob Pollak from Pollak Tutors

Class of 2024 – The digital SAT won’t be here until March of your Senior year, well after your testing process is complete. Prepare for years of complaining about how you were in the last HS class to take a 3+ hour SAT using pencil and paper. You can even say you had to walk uphill both ways to get to the test.

Class of 2025 – You’re the most affected by the switch. In the fall of Junior year, you will be part of the first class to take the digital version of the PSAT. In the spring of 2024, you’ll have the opportunity to take the digital SAT. Importantly, if you perform well on the current version of the SAT, it will still be offered in the fall and winter of your junior year.

This means you’ll be able to pick and choose between the current SAT, the digital SAT, and the ACT. If the current SAT speaks to you, it might be worthwhile to push your testing plan earlier into junior year so that you can take the paper version of the test. If you don’t perform as well you hope to, there’s nothing stopping you from also taking the digital test in the spring of junior year or fall of senior year. 

Class of 2026 and beyond – Read, study, focus on your grades. You will surely be taking the digital SAT, unless the test morphs again, in which case you’ll probably take the SAT in the metaverse wearing a VR headset. 

woman working on tablet

What Will the Digital SAT Look Like?

  • The digital SAT will be significantly shorter than both the current SAT and ACT. The new test clocks in at just over two hours; current versions of the SAT and ACT are both 3+ hours and they usually include an unscored experimental section.
  • Not only is the whole test shorter, the reading passages are too. Instead of five long passages with 10 or 11 questions on each passage, students will read many short paragraphs and answer a single question about each one. This means that one difficult or boring passage might not have such an outsized impact on a student’s test score. 
  • Students can use their own personal devices – laptops or tablets – or can request to borrow one from the College Board.
  • The content tested in grammar and math sections will not be changing (says College Board). 
  • Calculators are allowed on the entire math section (There’s no longer a “no calculator” portion of the math test).
  • Students can bring their own calculators, but all students will also have access to an on-screen Desmos graphing calculator. On the sample tests, there are a number of questions that can easily be answered with the Desmos technology. Good test prep will surely include instructions on the calculator and the various question types where it can be helpful. 

Potential Issues with the New Format:

  • The technology platform will take some getting used to. The annotation system isn’t as intuitive as we’d like, and it can be annoying to cross out answers. With practice, however, it shouldn’t be a major issue come test day. 
  • Vocab is back! The practice tests all start with vocabulary questions that resemble the sentence completions from the old 2400 version of the SAT. The vocabulary might not be as esoteric, but students looking for top scores will need to demonstrate strong vocabularies. 
  • Shorter doesn’t mean easier. The test is still challenging! Just because an essay is one paragraph doesn’t mean it’s easy to comprehend. And the test makers haven’t lost their ability to poke holes at content gaps in student knowledge. The test should still do an excellent job of assessing the college readiness of students. (note: we included this in the “bad” section because who doesn’t want easier tests?! But we think it’s a terrific thing that the College Board found a way to conduct the same quality assessment in a shorter period of time). 
  • The reading passages now include different sources, like poetry and notes, in addition to more classic SAT texts pulled from literature and newspapers. These may present challenges for some students. 

How is the Test Scored and What is adaptive scoring? 

  • The scoring system will continue to use a 1600 point scale – 800 points for Evidence Based Reading, 800 points for math – and colleges have indicated that they will continue to accept the digital scores. 
  • College Board says that scores will be directly comparable to the current version of the SAT. 
  • Scores will be available faster (days not weeks) than ever before. 
  • The scoring on the new test is section adaptive i.e., A student’s performance on the first section determines the difficulty level of the second section. All students will have the same content for first module for Reading/Writing and Math. But the second module for each content area will be depend on the number and type of questions that a student answers correctly. 
  • Scores driven by how well student does on first section. In other words, if you do better on the first part of the test, you will receive harder questions on the second portion of the test. Advancing to the more difficult second module gives a student the opportunity to achieve a score up to 800, while students in the easier module will see scores capped at a lower number (like 600 or 650). 
  • The adaptive scoring system allows College Board to assess students on the correct level of difficulty and not waste time or questions on topics that are below a student’s current level of performance. The adaptive nature of the test allows College Board to achieve the same level of confidence in its scoring but reduce the overall length of the test. 

Can I super score between the paper and digital SAT?

  • The College Board is recommending that schools super score because they believe the tests are equivalent but like everything in college admissions, it will depend on the school.

How can you prepare?

Have additional questions? Reach out – we love to talk about the SAT: 

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