New Digital SAT Format – A Game Changer For Rising High School Students

After several months of speculation, the College Board released the official specs of the new digital SAT, as well as a set of sample questions, on Wednesday, June 29th, 2022. While the College Board announced the new digital SAT back in January of 2022, details were scarce in their initial blog post. This most recent statement includes confirmations, clarifications, and a plethora of helpful details.

As previously announced, the new digital SAT will first be administered for the less than one percent of students who take the SAT at an international testing site in March of 2023. American high school students will see the digital PSAT in October of 2023, followed by the premiere of the digital SAT in March of 2024. Students who just completed their freshman year of high school (rising sophomores), will be the first cohort of students to encounter the new digital SAT. Currently rising juniors and seniors, those graduating in 2023 and 2024, will continue to take the current, paper-based, 2016 version of the SAT.

Digital SAT Scoring

The test will still be scored on the familiar 200-800 per section and 400-1600 total score scales. There are still two sections: Math and Reading & Writing (formerly Evidence-Based Reading & Writing). Each of the two sections will still be split into two separately timed portions. Additionally, the College Board will still make practice materials available on their website and through Khan Academy. There is no word yet on a new edition of the venerable Official SAT Study Guide.

The College Board confirmed from their earlier statement that the digital SAT will be significantly shorter than the paper-based SATs of today and days past. The Reading & Writing (R&W) section will mix comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and Expression of Ideas questions in each of the two R&W sections, each of which lasting 32 minutes and containing 27 questions. The Math sections will each last 35 minutes and contain 22 questions. Overall, the test will take two hours, 14 minutes, not including any potential breaks.


Evidence Based Reading & Writing Section

Since the new Reading & Writing sections will mix comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and Expression of Ideas questions previously separated into different reading and writing sections on the current SAT, one question that might arise is how will the College Board arrange questions within the long passages normally found on the SAT. The answer is that they won’t. Instead of 400-450 word Writing section passages and 800-900 word Reading section passages, the new digital Reading & Writing section will consist of twenty-seven 50-100 word passages, each followed by a single question.

Math Section

The math sections still contain a wide variety of math topics, although the College Board is increasing the number/percentage of geometry questions to close to its pre-2016 levels. The number/percentage of statistics-based questions is decreasing proportionally. The math sections will still have open-response questions, although the format will be slightly different. The math sections will contain accessible reference sheets and calculators, especially in light of the change to the test in which there will no longer be a “no-calculator” portion of the test. Last, the math questions will be less wordy and purposefully confusing.

Digital SAT Format

Since the SAT is now being delivered digitally, the College Board has decided to take advantage of this to feature some computer-adaptive elements. In each of the four sections on the new digital SAT (two R&W, two Math), the sections will be split into two stages or modules. The first module will be similar for all testers: a mix of different concepts equally split between easy, medium, and hard difficulty questions. The second stage or module will be unique to each student based on the student’s performance in the first stage or module. The program will assign students a set of questions from a particular pool of difficulty, although those questions will still reference a variety of concepts and topics.

Unsurprisingly, as a computer-based exam, the new digital SAT will only be administrable via computer. The College Board has designed the exam to be delivered via a downloadable app. The app will be available for Mac, iPad, Windows PC, and Chromebook. Individual students can download the app from the appropriate app store at their convenience, but the SAT will only be available at test time. Otherwise, the app can be used for testing out the tools the controls and  for accessing practice questions. Schools that administer the SAT via computer lab or distributed devices can manage deployment of the app as necessary. Students expected to provide their own device by their school, but who do not have a personal device, can apply to borrow a device from College Board at no cost when they sign up to take the SAT.

Once an SAT testing begins, the app will download the full exam. This way, students can continue to work even if the testing site or school experiences an internet disruption or power outage. If a desktop computer that is running the SAT exam loses power, the exam will autosave the student’s progress and pause the timer, allowing the student to pick up where they left off when the exam resumes.


Digital Accommodations

Students will have access to tools that allow them to flag questions, take notes in a digital notepad, and make annotations on the “page” of the test. To avoid proctor-error, the exam’s built-in timer will always provide a 5-minute alert as students reach the end of each section. The exam app will provide translated instructions and bilingual dictionaries to English Language Learner (ELL) students who qualify for language accommodations based on their status in school. Other accommodations are available, similar to those students can apply to access currently.

The release of a new version of the SAT is often stressful for students, parents, teachers, tutors, and school administrators. With the release of the full specifications of the digital SAT, along with a large set of practice questions, the College Board is looking to both assuage any anxiety about the new test and inspire excitement about its potential as a useful tool in the college application process. We will be ready to assist students in their preparation for the new SAT, both strategically and academically. Whether the digital SAT is a good tool for college admissions officers is yet to be seen.



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