On January 25th, the College Board announced that its entire suite of SAT assessments, including the SAT, which is widely used in the college application process, will go completely digital starting next year.

What will the new SAT look like?

Apart from the exam format, the content and structure of the digital SAT will also be slightly different from the paper-based test. The main changes include:

  • Computer-adaptive: the digital SAT will follow an adaptive test format. What this means is that its two main sections (Reading & Writing and Math) will each be divided into two modules. After students answer the questions in the first module, an algorithm will automatically adjust the level of subsequent questioning based on the student’s performance.
  • A shorter exam: the digital SAT will be two, instead of three, hours. This change is largely possible due to the adaptive testing format, since questions can be customized to students’ difficulty levels. This targeted approach allows the same skills to be measured in a shorter period of time.
  • More direct and focused questions: The new Reading & Writing section will contain shorter passages, followed by a single question, unlike the current format that comprises a few longer reading passages, which are each linked to multiple questions. The word problems on the Math section will also be more concise, with the goal of giving students more time per question.
  • Calculators permitted throughout: Unlike the current SAT, where students can use calculators only for part of the Math section, the digital SAT will allow calculators for the entire Math section. The exam will also include a built-in calculator and reference feature with frequently used mathematical formulae to give test-takers all the tools that they need in one place.

Why has this change come about now?

Despite having undergone several changes in recent years, the SAT has always remained a paper-based test, unlike its rival college entrance exam, the ACT, which has been offering computer-based tests since 2015. To this effect, the move to digital is both timely and practical as it will streamline how the test is both administered and scored.

One significant benefit for test takers is that digital SAT scores will be available within days, instead of the 2-4 weeks that it currently takes with paper-based exams, or even longer if there are irregularities at a test center, which could further result in scores being canceled. Fortunately, the digital and computer-adaptive version of the SAT will also put an end to such occurrences. Every student will have a unique test form, making it virtually impossible to share answers.

Lastly, the digital SAT has also been programmed to safeguard against technical issues, including the loss of internet access.

Which SAT format should I prepare for?

The good news is that these changes are not taking place right away. Although the College Board has not given an exact date for the roll out, it expects to offer the digital SAT to international students in Spring 2023 and then to students in the US by Spring 2024. Once this transition is made, the paper-based SAT will no longer be available.

The class of 2023 will therefore be done testing before the digital SAT comes into play. International students graduating in 2024 will, however, have a choice to take either the old or new version of the SAT, depending on their individual testing strategy and timeline. For those planning to start prep this summer, it may be worth trying to finish testing by December 2022, before the transition takes place.

Alternatively, students who are still in two minds about testing or are finalizing their application plans may be better off waiting till the Fall of 2022 to start test prep with the goal of taking the first digital SAT once it is available in 2023.

How do I prepare for the new SAT?

Digital SAT practice material, including full-length adaptive exams, will be available online this Fall so that students can experience the adaptive test format. The College Board will also be releasing sample questions and more details on the new test specifications this summer, which will allow for a more direct comparison between the old and new test format.

While these resources will support the transition, it is still difficult to predict the extent to which SAT preparation centers and tutors will need to adapt the material and test-taking strategies that they teach students. Equally, it is unclear as to how many digital SAT practice resources will initially be available and how much training material will be provided to educators, which could also impact how easy or difficult this transition phase will be.

It is, however, worth remembering that digital or not, the SAT will still test the same core reading, writing and math skills. Certain exam material will therefore likely remain evergreen. This includes grammar and punctuation rules, as well as core math concepts like statistics, algebra and geometry, topics that it is worth building a strong grasp of for any standardized test. Simple habits like reading, whether that is books or news articles, will also help expand your vocabulary and improve your comprehension, which are likely to take you far on any version of the SAT.

We understand that navigating the standardized testing process can be overwhelming and may seem especially uncertain this year. If you find yourself wondering how this is going to affect your applications, get in touch