The SAT is Going Digital!

The SAT is changing with the times and phasing out the traditional paper and pencil test we’ve all known and loved (feared? detested? relished?). This past spring (March 2023) the digital format was piloted at international testing sites only. In Fall 2023, the PSAT will be only offered in a digital format while the SAT can still be taken in the traditional mode (paper and pencil), but by the spring of 2024, all SAT assessments (PSAT, SAT, SAT subject tests) will be offered digitally. Accommodations will be made for students who qualify for a paper and pencil test, but those students have to get permission from the College Board.

Students will still take the test at their school or at an approved testing site, but they will have the choice to use their own device (laptop or tablet, NO cell phones). Every student has to download the Bluebook testing app before showing up at the test center (preferably the day before), which will provide them with a secure platform to take the test. For those students who have taken standardized tests like the MCAS, the experience should be similar.
While the overall score of 1600 (800 for Math and Reading/Writing) remains, there are several changes to the overall structure and scoring methodology. First, the test consists of fewer questions overall, and this cuts almost an hour off of the entire test. Here is a quick breakdown of the structure:

SectionNumber of questions and Time
Reading and Writing Module 127 questions (32 minutes)
Reading and Writing Module 227 questions (32 minutes)
Mathematics Module 122 questions (35 minutes)
Mathematics Module 222 questions (35 minutes)
Total98 questions (2 hours and 14 minutes)

First, you’ll notice that the Reading and Writing sections are combined. Unlike the paper and pencil version that split them up, the digital version combines the two together. The second thing you may notice is the word module. There are two modules for each section, and this leads to the biggest difference between the two tests in regards to scoring. The digital SAT is an adaptive test, which means that the difficulty of the second module, and the total amount of points you can earn on the test, is affected by your performance on the first module of each section. The first module will have a combination of easy, medium, and hard problems, and depending on how a student performs (calculated by the number and type of questions answered correctly), the difficulty level of the second module and total points that can be earned will be adjusted. For example, if a student does not perform well on the first module, the second module will be composed of easier questions. This may seem unfair to those students who do well on the first module, but students who take the easier second module can only get a maximum score of 600 for the section whereas the students taking the more difficult second module can still earn a maximum score of 800 for the section. This means it is imperative for students to perform as well as they can on the first module.

Reading and Writing Modules

No longer will students have to read a long passage and answer a set of 10-11 questions. Instead, the Reading and Writing modules will consist of short snippets (approximately 100 words) that correspond with one question at a time. Most of the question types will be similar to the paper based test, but the shorter passages means you probably won’t see many whole passage questions that ask you to analyze where an idea/sentence might fit elsewhere in a passage.

Math Modules

The topics (algebra, geometry, data analysis, trigonometry) are still the same, although word problems will be shorter and focus more on operational skills rather than analytical and vocabulary skills. Students will be allowed to use a calculator on both modules, and the test provides an onscreen graphing calculator as well. There is also a combination of multiple and write-in questions, just like the paper-based test.

So, what does this mean for preparing for the SAT? From a skills perspective, there is not a huge difference in content preparation between the two tests, but students should be aware that the digital version will reward attention to detail and a methodical approach to answering questions, particularly on the math section. Practice with basic algebraic and geometric operations will help students avoid errors, answer questions correctly, and qualify for the more difficult second module, which allows them to earn a higher score overall. The College Board is providing non-adaptive practice tests and access to the Bluebook app for students to experience the new format, and we recommend taking those in addition to reviewing any content areas you may feel less confident in. For those of you who want to take a more indepth look at what the College Board is planning for the test, take a look at the book:

The Official Digital SAT Study Guide (Official Digital Study Guide)

At PES we offer highly personalized educational plans with a tutor designed to efficiently and effectively prepare students for standardized tests (SAT, ACT, AP, etc.) and improve in core academic classes (high school and college level). In addition, we offer online practice problem sets for students to work through at their own pace. Feel free to contact us at tutoring@pesglobal.org or submit an inquiry form here for more information.  Also, check out our Math Accelerator Problems for help on the math portion of the exam!


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