Digital SAT: All You Need to Know

According to The College Board, the current SAT will change from a paper and pencil format to a digital format beginning for international students in the fall of 2023 and for US students in the spring of 2024. The length of the test will be reduced to 2 hours and 14 minutes, as opposed to the current SAT's current completion time of 3 hours and 15 minutes. This exciting change is very welcome because it validates the relevance and significance of standardized testing. Given the simplicity of digital administration, the College Board predicts a substantial increase in the number of digital SAT test takers in the years to come. With the new digital SAT, test-takers will start receiving their SAT scores within days as opposed to months, allowing them to make important academic decisions sooner.

When Can a Student Take the Digital SAT?

The digital SAT will first be available in the fall of 2023, but this is only for international students and excludes US students. For US students, the digital SATs will be rolled out in the spring of 2024.

What changes did the College Board make to the digital SAT?

In addition to reducing testing time to 2 hours and 14 minutes from the current 3 hours and 15 minutes, the digital SAT will allow more time per question.

The following are the most significant changes to the SAT content that have been announced so far:

  • Shorter reading passages with a single (discrete) question per text
  • Texts from a broader range of college-level exams
  • Calculator access for the entire math sections
  • The digital SAT scores will be provided more quickly, allowing students and universities to make quicker college decisions.

Advantages of digital SAT

Safe: The paper-and-pencil version of the test can be canceled if there are problems outside or inside the school. Normally if there is a problem during testing, all students taking the exam at that particular location and date are equally affected. The digital SAT will be safer and better protected because each student will have a unique test form and will use their own or a test center-issued device. This will allow any problems that arise to be addressed individually in a timely manner that is less likely to cause widespread interruptions.

Faster Scores: Students will receive their scores in days as opposed to weeks.

What are the differences between the digital SAT and the current SAT?

The digital SAT will be a simpler version of the current SAT. The new structure will place more emphasis on abilities associated with college readiness and less emphasis on tenacity and speed. The current SAT Reading section, with its long sections and frequently vague history-related passages, demands patience to solve. The digital SAT is expected to incorporate texts from the humanities and sciences that dive into more modern topics including finance, economics, and the environment, as well as a greater variety of short passages.

Also, there may be more of an emphasis on using both text and pictures to answer questions, but it is important to note that this is merely supposition until further information is shared by The College Board. 

Now that calculators can be used for the entire math section, it seems like the test has been changed in a big way. In addition to the focus on algebra and word problems historically seen on the SAT, there may be a shift to more straightforward questions, like those on the ACT, as well as more geometry and trigonometry questions. 

It must be noted that, while the College Board is changing SAT content to make questions better for digital distribution, this does not change the overall purpose of the exam. The digital SAT will still test the same skills and knowledge learned in high school that are most important for college and job readiness, simply in a more streamlined and effective way.

Digital SAT Vs Current SAT: What Has Not Changed?

Despite the fact that the digital SAT will come with a number of changes expected to benefit both students and colleges, many of the SAT's most essential components will remain unaltered.

  • The digital SAT will still test students on the skills and knowledge they need to be ready for college and a career.
  • The SAT will be scored on the same 1600-point scale, so teachers and students will be able to see how much they have improved over time.
  • The digital SAT cannot be taken at home, but rather in a school or testing center in a proctored setting.

Does a student Need a Device to Take the Digital SAT?

The digital SAT can be taken on a laptop or tablet. Students can use their personal devices or test center-issued devices. If a student does not have a laptop, they may request one from the College Board, and it will be provided to them on the day they take their SAT. If a student has any device or connectivity issues on the test day, the College Board has designed the test application so that it will survive internet outages. This means students will be able to continue with the test without interruption if the internet goes down; their responses will be stored, and they will not lose any testing time.

How Challenging Will It Be to Take the SAT Online?

The good news is that most of the pilot students found the new version of the SAT easier to understand and easier to use. When the College Board says that the digital version of the test is more "intuitive," they imply that it is "easier to navigate" and "easier to answer without becoming exhausted." 

The digital SAT interface will have a provision for a clock, which will make it easier for students to keep track of time.

In addition to highlighters, strikethrough, and bookmarks for review, there will be an integrated calculator and a provision for a standard math formula sheet. At a single location, test-takers will find all the resources necessary to answer questions and complete the exam.

What Tools Are Available for Students Taking the Digital SAT?

The test application will include many testing tools. Here are a few examples:

  • You may mark questions for review using the bookmark feature.
  • Test-takers will have the option to display or hide the digital clock placed at the top of their testing screen.
  • During the math section, students may use the integrated graphing calculator (or they can bring in their own calculator).
  • A reference sheet with standard mathematical formulas will be provided for each given question.

When and How to Study for the Digital SAT?

When it comes to preparing for an exam as important as the SAT, start studying as early as possible. Simply because the test is shorter and can be completed in a digital format does not mean you need to study less. Focus on making noticeable gains in every area assessed by the test: reading, writing, and math. Don't be hesitant to monitor your progress using current SAT tests. Since the scoring system for the digital SAT is not changing, you can compare your performance on this version to previous versions of the SAT with the same 1600-point scale. There is no need to always take full-length tests when you are studying, but even if you are focusing on one section, it’s a good idea to do your best and try to earn a perfect score on practice tests. Before you start to read, emphasize the importance of developing comprehension skills and knowledge of current global issues and concerns. This will gradually boost your vocabulary and reading speed, preparing you for future SAT reading success.

How to Study for the Digital SAT?

Reading, writing, grammar, and math skills are still the most important parts of the SAT for measuring college readiness.

This is how to begin preparing for each section of the digital SAT:

  • Reading: Start with a variety of humanities- and science-related texts. You should read the New York Times, the Economist, the New Scientist, and the Washington Post. You should start reading the editorials. Learn about contemporary environmental and geopolitical concerns. Focus on being a knowledgeable reader who thinks about the things they’ve read. Instead of being a passive recipient of information, develop views, opinions, hypotheses, or predictions for what the things you read mean, how they relate to other time-sensitive information, and how someone else might interpret them differently.
  • Writing and language skills: Applying grammar and punctuation rules is unlikely to be taken off the SAT any time soon, so while many students dislike the rigidity of writing-related rules, make sure you are familiar with how to spot grammar- and punctuation-related mistakes. In addition to identifying mistakes, know how to correct them in order to better express an idea either by changing the organization of a sentence or adding and removing punctuation. Make sure you are familiar with the basic parts of a sentence. The more you read widely, particularly texts related to the humanities or sciences, the more you will develop a good sense of what constitutes a strong sentence, assisting you on more than one section of the new digital SAT.
  • Math: Start practicing questions on all the math topics on the current SAT. In addition, pay close attention to the geometry and trigonometry questions on the official ACT tests. Learn the formulae and their application to the current SAT topics, as well as the rationale behind their operation. The more familiar you are with these types of questions, the less anxiety-provoking they will be when you encounter them on the official exam, where they will contribute to your final score. Practicing these types of questions is imperative if you want to be able to answer them quickly and accurately on the day of your test.

How Would These Changes Impact College Admissions?

Since these changes were only recently announced and will not take effect for another year or two, it is difficult to foresee how they will impact college admissions. That being said, we expect they will have a small impact, although that remains to be seen. Since the SAT's basic content, level of difficulty, and scoring system aren't changing much, we expect schools to evaluate the digital version in the same way they evaluate the current version. In addition, colleges make an attempt not to fault students for situations beyond their control, so taking one version of the SAT will not negatively affect your college applications relative to those who took the other version.

Even with these changes, it is worth noting that colleges have a very different view of the SAT and ACT than they did a few years ago. Several schools are paying less attention to standardized test scores and more attention to other parts of an application, such as a student's grade point average (GPA), the courses they took in high school, and extracurricular activities. The COVID-19 epidemic made this worse by making it difficult or impossible for many students to take standardized tests for several months. Almost every school made testing optional in 2020 and 2021, and hundreds of colleges have decided to stay test-optional permanently. If a school is test-optional, this means you have the choice of submitting SAT or ACT scores with your application. If you do not choose to submit standardized test scores, the other application aspects will carry more weight.

The College Board is aware of these trends, and many of the changes to the SAT were made to make it easier for students who might have been turned off or overwhelmed by the length and difficulty of the paper and pencil version of the test. Still, a College Board survey showed that 83% of students wanted to be able to send test scores with their college applications, and almost all schools still let them, so the SAT is obviously here to stay. It is most likely the exam will continue to be updated and undergo small-level changes in the coming years as technology improves and the skills considered essential for college readiness are better understood and quantified. Some financial assistance opportunities may continue to be directly related to standardized test scores, which will also make the test an important option for those who plan on applying for financial aid.

Key Takeaways

The College Board announced in January 2022 that the SAT would soon be given on a computer instead of with a pencil and paper. These changes will take effect for international students by the fall of 2023 and for U.S. students by the spring of 2024, but it is important that you be aware of them in order to prepare adequately. These are the six most significant takeaways:

  • The SAT will be administered digitally.
  • The duration of the SAT will be reduced (to about 2 hours instead of about 3 hours).
  • Students will have more time to answer each question.
  • Calculators will be permitted for the entire mathematics section of the test.
  • Reading passages will be of shorter length. Each passage will have a single question.
  • Students will get their digital SAT scores within days rather than weeks.

We believe that schools will see the digital SAT similarly to how they view the current SAT, despite the fact that many schools are placing less emphasis on standardized test scores for admissions. Hence, if you are unsure about which SAT to take, select the one that you believe would best showcase your ability. And as always, the more thoroughly you prepare for a standardized test such as the SAT, the better you will perform and the more options you will have for continuing your academic journey to college.