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Last Updated On: December 7th, 2022

Big changes are coming to the SAT once again! Several months after announcing that the revamped Digital SAT was on its way, the College Board has released sample questions and four official practice tests. This is NOT simply the current SAT test in digital form, but rather a significant change from the current SAT, so you’ll need to change the way you practice and prepare for this test.

Who Will Take This New, Digital Test?

As detailed in this blog, the switch to the Digital PSAT/SAT will take place as follows:

  • In spring of 2023 for international students
  • In fall of 2023 for American students taking the PSAT
  • In spring of 2024 for American students taking the SAT

If you’re an American student planning to take the SAT before the spring of 2024, you should prepare for the current, paper-and-pencil test. If you’re an international student or are thinking about taking the SAT during the spring of 2024 or later, read on for more details about the new test.

The Overall Format

As discussed here, the new test will be two hours overall (plus breaks and administrative time), compared with three hours for the current test. It will be administered on the computer in a proctored setting, either on a student’s own device or on one provided by the College Board.

The Reading and Writing test includes two back-to-back modules of equal length. Then, there is a timed, 10-minute break, followed by two back-to-back math modules. There is no essay section.

The Reading and Writing Section

The new Reading and Writing section differs from the current version in both format and question type. While the current test has separate sections for “Reading” and “Writing and Language,” the new test combines these questions into the same section. There are two modules of the test, one after the other, and each allows 32 minutes for 27 questions. The digital test is adaptive between sections; if you do well on the first section, you’ll get a more difficult second section. If you struggle, you’ll get an easier second section.

Rather than using long passages with multiple questions, like the current SAT and ACT, each reading passage pertains to only one question, which means they can range from one sentence to two paragraphs. There may still be a short, paired text or an excerpt from a historical passage, but long passages and the “best evidence” question pairs are gone.

The two modules include similar question formats, with questions of the same type grouped together within each module. I would place them into several unofficial categories:

  • Sentence/passage completions give a short passage with one word missing. Finding the best word to fill in the blank requires an understanding of both the sentence and vocabulary. These are somewhat similar to the sentence completion questions from the old, paper-and-pencil SAT. However, the emphasis is more on understanding the short passage than on mastering tricky vocabulary words. Still, some vocabulary is needed.
  • Traditional comprehension questions give a short passage and ask a question about it. There are a variety of question types, including the ones on the current SAT, but there is only one question per passage in the digital version.
  • Data analysis questions give a chart or graph and ask a question about it. These remind me of the ACT science section as much as they do the graphic questions in the Reading section of the current SAT, as they require careful examination of the data and meticulous reading of the multiple-choice answers.
  • Conventions of standard English questions are similar to those on the Writing and Language section of the current test. Instead of correcting an error, test takers are given a sentence or passage, followed by a blank, and must choose the only answer that conforms to English grammar, punctuation, and/or usage.
  • Logical transition questions ask for the most logical transition between sections or parts of a passage.
  • Research notes questions give a series of bullet points from student research and ask how to use the research to accomplish a specific goal.

The Math Sections

Each module of the Math section includes 22 questions to be completed in 35 minutes or less. Unlike the current test, there is not a “No Calculator” section. Students can bring their own calculators or use the on-screen graphing calculator provided by the program for all questions, though a savvy test taker won’t need it for many of them. The grid-in questions are now called “student-produced response questions,” but the format of these questions is similar to the current test. On the digital test, these “student-produced response” questions are interspersed with traditional multiple-choice questions, instead of all being found at the end of the section.

As for the content and format of the math questions, I would say it’s similar to the current test, with the notable difference of being able to use a calculator throughout. The questions are slightly shorter than the current test but not much more straightforward. Also, the new, digital test still relies on question formats that might confuse students who know the math concepts but are inexperienced with SAT convention. Students who are prepared for the current SAT’s math sections should be in good shape for the new, digital math section.

How Should Potential Test-Takers Prepare for the Digital Test?

First, look at your timeline and make sure that you’re in the group that will take the new, digital test, rather than the current PSAT/SAT. If you are taking the new test, use preparation materials that reflect the major changes. Though these are currently limited, the College Board gives you a good place to start, with four official digital practice tests, four official downloadable and printable non-adaptive tests, and a link to Khan Academy lessons and practice designed specifically for the new test. The first step to accessing these materials is to set up a College Board account (if you don’t already have one). Next, download the Bluebook App, which is free. You’ll need it to access both the official digital practice tests and the actual PSAT and SAT. I recommend using the paper version of the new test only if you want to practice without a device, or if you want the chance to spend more time with the questions. Unless you have an accommodation to take the actual test on paper, make sure to practice the digital test with the Bluebook app and get help ahead of time if you run into technical issues.

The Bluebook app includes both sample questions and full-length practice tests, but the sample questions aren’t scored. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are no official answers provided for these sample questions. As a result, if you want an idea of how you might actually score, you’ll have to try a practice test. It’s best to try it all in one sitting to mimic the actual test, but if you need to pause it and return later, you can choose the “Save and Exit” option. You must return to the test on the same device to resume from where you left off, otherwise you’ll have to start that section again.

If you’re looking for practice materials beyond the official tests, I recommend using the Math Calculator sections of the current SAT, which has similar questions. While it won’t hurt to practice with the current Reading and Language sections, the changes to the digital SAT are significant enough that it’s probably better to work on building general comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills instead of practicing with the current test. Now that the official digital practice tests have been released, it won’t be long before test preparation companies create additional practice materials in their image.

The Big Picture

Overall, the changes are positive for potential test takers. Most students who will qualify for the new test will also be comfortable using computers to take tests. The shorter test format should also be less stressful and easier to prepare for, and the test’s adaptive capability should better hone in on a student’s skill level. All things considered, the digital SAT is still something that students can prepare for with instruction, practice, and meaningful feedback.

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