In early 2022, College Board announced their plan to launch a new, digital SAT. To many, the timing of this announcement does not come as a shock. During the Covid pandemic, millions of students lost access to testing centers for both the SAT and ACT, and many colleges have moved to test-optional in response to that. In this article, we will walk you through the changes and timeline of the new digital SAT, as well as the best ways to prepare!
Not sure whether to take the SAT or ACT? Check out our insights into ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?
Who does this change affect?
If you are currently in the Class of 2025, you will most likely be taking the new digital SAT. It will be administered internationally on March 11th, 2023. For U.S. students, the digital SAT will be administered effectively Spring of 2024.
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Why the Change?
According to College Board, the move to a new digital SAT offers a few benefits:
1. Shorter test experience for students
Compared to the current pencil and paper SAT, the digital SAT is 45 minutes shorter. You no longer need to devote most of your Saturday morning to taking the SAT. The new digital SAT is a 2-hour-and-15-minute exam with shorter reading passages and fewer sections.
2. Faster score report
No longer will you need to be at the edge of your seat, wondering if you did well or not. In June 2021, the College Board eliminated the SAT essay component, and that expedited the SAT score reports being released in two weeks. Now without having manually scanned each student’s answer booklet, College Board expects to be able to release the scores reports in days rather than weeks.
3. Fewer test cancellations due to security issues
Have you ever wondered how your SAT arrived on your desk at the testing center? From the distribution center, the tests were sealed and shipped to each testing center. The testing centers then have the latest SAT under lock and key until it is the big test date. Each step proposes a security risk, and historically, some students could not take their tests because their SAT tests fell out of a UPS truck. With the new digital SAT, you will use College Board’s software to take the test on an approved personal device or a school device at the test center. At the beginning of the digital SAT, your device will load the test module, and you will be on your way to taking the test.
Our admissions counselors and test prep experts suspect there may be a few other reasons for College Board to make the change now. Here are our insights:
4. Availability of personal devices
Previously, administering a digital exam would be challenging because not many schools or testing centers have access to the number of computers needed. In one way, time solves the problem for College Board, and Covid did the final push. Now, it is common for students to have access to a laptop or a tablet, so schools or testing centers will only need to provide some devices to accommodate those who need a device on testing day.
5. Ease of offering the digital SAT
This can be seen as an extension of the previous insight. Since schools won’t need big computer labs to offer the digital SAT and the test will only take up two periods of class time, it’s easy for more schools to offer the exam. During Covid, we are already seeing some schools having an SAT day during school time, so we expect more schools may be on board to offer the digital test on a school day.
What do students need to know about the new digital SAT?
We’ve already mentioned the shorter testing time and fewer sections. Another good news for students is that the new digital SAT eliminates the no-calculator math section! However, before you throw your study materials away and scream ‘hooray,’ just know that – “a shorter exam does not mean an easier exam.” If you rely on using the calculator for every math question, you may very easily run out of time.
In addition, the new digital SAT is an adaptive test. For the parents reading this, some of you may have heard of adaptive testing if you have taken the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The digital SAT will be more like the GMAT than the GRE in the sense that it is a “Section Adaptive Test,” not a question-by-question adaptive test.
Understanding the Multistage Adaptive Test
By now, you may be wondering or worried about Internet connectivity. What if you have a bad connection during the exam and your answers weren’t submitted? You’d be right to be concerned. That’s why the digital SAT is a sectional, multistage test, meaning your questions for each stage are downloaded at the beginning of the exam and your answers are uploaded at the end of each section. This means smaller chunks of information go through the internet, and you won’t suddenly lose your test halfway through. For students, this means that the new digital SAT will still resemble the paper and pencil SAT because you can skip a question or go back to review your answers (as long as you are in the same stage or module).
Let’s get to the adaptive part. This means that stages of the new digital SAT will act as the Sorting Hat. On the new digital SAT, there are two sections: the Evidence-Based Reading/Writing (EBRW) Section and the Mathematics Section. These two sections are further divided into two modules each. The first module will have an equal mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. Based on how you did in the first module, your next module will either be a level up or down. What does this mean for students? Doing well on the first module is important! While we do not have insights into how College Board will weigh each question based on difficulties, you want to get to the more advanced questions to ensure a higher score.
What content will you be tested on?
Earlier we mentioned that the new digital SAT is broken down into two main sections: Reading/Writing and Mathematics. In each section, there are two modules. Within each module, questions are grouped together either by question type (Reading and Writing) or difficulty (Math). Let’s take a closer look at what each section entails.
Digital SAT – Reading and Writing Section:
The new SAT Reading and Writing Section will be similar to the pencil and paper SAT. Students will need to show their mastery of English in four areas: Craft and Structure (reading comprehension), Information and Ideas (interpretation, inference, and analysis), Standard English Conventions (grammar), and Expression of Ideas (revision and sentence improvement). The digital SAT Reading and Writing section will contain questions from all four areas IN ORDER. In other words, questions that test similar knowledge and skills are grouped together and arranged from easiest to hardest.
Instead of four long 500- to 700-word reading passages, you are dealing with 54 short passages. On the digital SAT, each question will have its own passage (or passage pair) consisting of three to five sentences. These passages will come from a wide range of topic that represents the college-level content you are preparing for.
Reading 54 short passages may sound jarring and tiring. However, the good news is that if you are stuck on a challenging passage, you may only miss that one question. You may also worry about how to discern between a grammar question and a reading comprehension problem. According to Insight’s SAT experts, the phrasing of the question will give you the best clue about the type of problem you are dealing with.
Digital SAT – Math Section:
Other than answering questions on a computer, the new SAT math section is essentially like the old SAT you may already be familiar with. You will be tested on Algebra, Polynomial, Exponential, Nonlinear Equations, Data Analysis, Geometry, and Trigonometry. The questions in the digital SAT math sections will appear in order from easiest to hardest.
Calculators will be allowed throughout the math section, and a graphing DESMO calculator is built into the digital SAT testing portal. You can also use an approved calculator on the test day, too.
Another good news is for those who dread word problems; the average length of those questions is reduced. If English is your second language or you struggle with word problems in general, the shorter in-context questions will allow you to demonstrate your mastery of math without making you jump through hoops on reading comprehension at the same time.
The following table breaks down all the sectional content, timing, and question distribution.
Time / Number of Questions Breakdown
What is being tested on?
|SAT Reading and Writing||
In each module, you will need to demonstrate knowledge of these content or skills. The questions will be closely grouped in the order listed below:
|Break||You will have a 10-minute break between the two sections of the digital SAT|
In each module, you will need to demonstrate knowledge of these content or skills. The questions will be ordered by difficulty level.
Will the new digital SAT have a different scoring system?
No, at the current stage, the College Board states that the scoring system will remain similar to the pencil and paper test. Within days of taking the digital SAT, you will receive three scores: Reading and Writing score, Math score, and the total score. The scoring scale also remains the same, your total score is between 400-1600 in 10-point intervals and the section score scale is between 200-800 (also in 10-point intervals).
How should you prepare for the new digital SAT?
Here are our top insights into how you can prepare for the digital SAT:
Learn the content and master each question type through pencil and paper SAT
Although you will be taking your SAT on a tablet or a computer, the knowledge and content for the digital SAT are still similar to the pencil and paper SAT. It’s not likely that CollegeBoard will abandon its many years of SAT question bank to create a brand new set of questions to evaluate your college readiness. Take advantage of all the available resources out there to learn the test on paper.
Drill down your mental math
While the digital SAT allows calculators for the entire math section, you have approximately 1.6 minutes per question. If you need to punch out the answer to every question, you will run out of time. In addition, time management is very important. You want to fly by the easier questions in the beginning with accuracy and confidence, so you have time to focus on the harder questions later. Just like sports, practice with intention. Build your mental math muscle.
Get familiar with the digital SAT testing app
The best way to do that right now is to sign up to take the PSAT in Fall 2023 and utilize the sample testing app available on College Board’s website. Getting familiar with the software with help ease the angst on your real test, but don’t focus solely on practicing on your device. Learn and review the content that will appear on the digital SAT. Hone your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Build a good study routine and devote time to study for the SAT. These will help you prepare for both the digital SAT and college life!
This would be the third revamp for the SAT since Insight Education was established, and our instructors have been working tirelessly to update our SAT curriculum since the announcement. In the meantime, check out our SAT Test Prep Courses or ACT Boot Camps! If you would like a more personalized approach (like 1:1 tutoring) or have questions about test scores in college admissions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us (email@example.com)!