New Digital SAT Format: The 4 Only Points to Note

With the last paper and pencil test now out of the way in December, we thought it's a great time to provide all of you with details information about the digital SAT. 

Before we speak about the digital SAT, we just want to inform all of you that we have been working hard on the new online SAT in the last few months. We are absolutely ready to help you prep for the digital SAT. We will be reaching out in a couple of weeks to set up classes. In the New year, we will also roll out our testing engine so all of you can take mock tests online. 

We have taken hundreds of iterations of the online digital SATs to understand the test structure, content, and scoring system. The following are all the important points that you need to know about the Digital SAT:

1. The Digital SAT Test Experience

Students have responded exceedingly well to the digital SAT. The College Board released a pilot version of the exam to approximately 1600 students, 80% of whom were international and 20% of whom were domestic. 85% of students rated the experience as either “Excellent” or “Good,” with students commenting that the digital SAT is “WAYYY better than the original paper [test]” and “It was easy to understand, and I loved the new features which made taking the SAT feel less nervous.” Overall, the consensus from students is that the digital SAT is significantly less stressful than the paper and pencil version of the exam.

  • You will have to bring your laptop to the test center - not sure if iPads are allowed
  • The test will be administered in a locked-down app; students will not be able to open other applications while testing.
  • Scratch paper will be provided because, for example, the app will not allow for the marking-up of math diagrams. A pencil or pen is fine.
  • The user interface is identical to the current tests in the Bluebook app
  • The app includes built-in features like a highlighter, answer eliminator, and mark for review

Overall, the testing experience and the UI are user-friendly and it helps students can use their own devices. 

2. The Digital SAT Test Structure

Both the Reading and Writing (RW) section and the Math section will be split into two modules. The modules will be back-to-back, with no break between—when time runs out on the first, the second will start immediately. There will be a 10-minute break between the RW and Math sections.

The new SAT is adaptive, so how well a student does on the first module will determine the difficulty and scoring of the second.

Below is a detailed breakdown of the test structure of the Digital SAT

Digital SAT Structure

Overall, the following are some of the important points:

  • The test will be 1 hour shorter. The SAT will take about two hours, 14 minutes instead of three, and feature shorter reading passages, with one question tied to each.
  • Collegeboard has increased the allotted time per question
  • Expect to get your scores faster. Students and educators will get the information they need to make key college decisions more quickly
  • Students can use their calculators on the entire math section. A powerful graphing calculator will be built into the testing app, but students can still bring their own if desired.

3. The Digital SAT Test Content

Reading and Writing (RW) Section

Each module of the RW section will contain 27 questions and you will have 32 minutes for each section. Two of these are “pretest” questions, which are unscored experimental questions.

The following are details about the RW section:

  • Reading passages are much shorter (25-150 words) with one question per text instead of 11 questions alongside a long passage (600-700 words)
  • Writing questions will no longer test commonly confused words or idiomatic phrases
  • The “No Change” option in writing questions is removed
  • The RW section will now include questions on poetry
  • There are still Reading questions that require you to compare two separate texts
  • There are more vocabulary questions than on the paper SAT

Math Section

Math is largely unchanged, except that story problems, on average, are slightly shorter.

Each module in Math will contain 22 questions (including 2 unscored “pretest” questions), and you will get 35 minutes to complete each section. 

No Calculator section has been removed and you will be allowed a calculator throughout the math section. A powerful Desmos digital calculator will also be provided with the application. 

4. Adaptive Testing

Adaptive testing is the key to making the test shorter and at the heart of the digital test. As stated earlier, each section (Reading/Writing and Math) is divided into two modules. 

For each section, there are two different second modules a student might see—a lower-difficulty one and a higher-difficulty one.  The SAT is stage adaptive and not question-adaptive - that means that everyone will get the same first module.

How well a student does in a section’s first module determines the difficulty level and average point value of questions in the second. In short, if you do really well on the first set of questions, you get harder questions on more challenging topics that are worth more points.

We found that in the online tests, qualifying for the higher-difficulty second module requires you to correctly answer the following number of questions:

  • 15 correct answers out of 22 questions on the first module in the math section
  • 18 of the 27 questions on the first module in the reading and writing section. 

That would indicate that you need to answer roughly 2/3 of the questions correctly to advance to the more difficult section.

If you receive the lower-difficulty second module, the highest score you can earn varies somewhat—but in most cases is in the 540–580 range. Receiving the higher-difficulty second module will ensure you score in a range of 470 - 800.