Updated: Sep 14
The SAT has officially entered the digital age! Beginning in March 2023, international students started taking the SAT as a fully digital exam. The PSAT will follow suit in October of this year, while the US SAT will go fully digital in March of 2024.
This means that if you’re a freshman or sophomore in 2023, you’ll likely only take the PSAT or SAT in its new digital form! So, what is the digital SAT? And how does it differ from the current, paper-and-pencil version of the test? Let’s take a look.
How will the digital format differ from the current exam?
Check out the table below for a comprehensive look at the differences between the two formats.
The biggest changes to the test are generally positive. The new test is shorter–around 2 hours vs. 3 hours for the current version–and gives more time per question. Additionally, the no-calculator section of the current SAT will be no more, as the digital SAT math section allows students to use their own calculator or an on-screen Desmos graphing calculator for the entire section. The reading portion of the test, which has typically been one of the most difficult sections for students, now features shorter passages with fewer questions. However, while the current SAT only offers passages in literature, social studies, and science, the new digital test will also include poetry and note taking passages that students will need to navigate and understand.
For example, consider the following questions:
Format & Adaptability:
Currently, the SAT has four sections in this order: Reading (65 minutes for 52 questions), Writing and Language (35 minutes for 44 questions), Math without Calculator (25 minutes for 20 questions), and Math with Calculator (55 minutes for 38 questions).
The new digital test will be considerably shorter and feature only two main sections, Verbal (reading and writing combined) and Math. Each section will be made up of two modules, with the entire first part of the test consisting of both Verbal modules and the second part consisting of both Math modules. Both Verbal modules have 27 questions and must be completed in 32 minutes, and both Math modules have 22 questions and must be completed in 35 minutes.
The digital SAT is stage-adaptive, meaning performance on the first stage, or module, determines which second stage the student is given. In the first modules, the student will be presented with a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions, similar to the current version of the SAT. Based on their performance, students will be routed to a more or less difficult module.
Unlike the current SAT, where questions are all given the same weight, the new adaptive SAT will reward students for the types of questions they get correct. Therefore, getting only the easy questions correct on the first module will not give access to the harder–and higher scoring–second module. In order to access the higher scores, a student will need to show that they can get a number of medium and hard questions correct in module 1, as well.
Take a look at our visual guide to the new and adaptive format below:
While scores on the current form of the test can be easily converted from raw scores–getting 50 questions correct on the math section, for example, will generally convert to a score from 680-730, depending on the overall difficulty of the test–the new digital test scores students differently depending on how they do on that initial module.
For example, a student could perform poorly on the first module of the math section, then get more questions correct on the presumably easier second module they were given, but they would have a lower overall math score than someone who scored well on the first module but poorly on the more difficult second.
While getting all the questions in Module 1 is obviously ideal, hitting the threshold to get the more challenging second module is the goal. In the examples above, getting more questions correct overall doesn’t necessarily translate into a higher score.
The new format will also mean that students won’t know exactly how their score was determined or how many questions they got right or wrong. Students also won’t be able to look at questions they missed, as College Board will be re-using questions on future tests. To make sure students have plenty of practice materials, College Board will be releasing new practice tests periodically.
Also, while students currently wait weeks to see their scores on the SAT, the digital format will instead allow them to see their scores in minutes or hours.
Timing will be a positive change in the new format, as students will receive more time per question. Currently, students receive 62 seconds per verbal question and 65 seconds on math questions, on average. The new digital SAT gives students 71 seconds per question on the verbal section and 95 seconds per math question. This should be a boost for students who struggle with their timing, particularly in the math sections. The addition of a countdown timer at the top of the screen should also help students keep track of their pacing, taking another responsibility off their shoulders–though they will still need to know how much time they should be spending per passage, section, etc.
Does this change test prep strategy?
From a test prep perspective, many of the strategies students have been using for the PSAT and SAT will remain relevant and valuable on the digital platform. While the reading and the writing and language sections of the paper test will be combined in the new verbal section, reading passages will still be focused on finding the main idea, and the writing and language section will still require good editing skills. The math section will still require careful reading and an ability to decode the SAT’s question wording.
One of the biggest changes will be in how a student attacks reading passages, since shorter passages mean less time processing through information, and how to interpret potentially more complex genres, such as poetry. Students will need to be able to decode tone and intent as efficiently as possible.
Because not all questions are weighted equally, and a student's performance on the first part of each section informs the potential points in the subsequent module, pacing and stamina are of paramount importance on the Digital SAT.
Finally, the digital testing environment will be different from testing environments that students will have experienced before. As a result, it will be important that students get comfortable with the online format and the online tools, such as the Desmos calculator and the annotation tools available.
You can find a full list of Marigold Prep's resources for the digital SAT here.
In sum, the changes to the SAT, while game-changing, should be a net positive for students. They will still benefit from expert preparation, but the test-taking experience should prove to be less stressful and more responsive.