What The Digital SAT Means For School Districts

For nearly a century, high school students have taken the SAT exam using paper and pencil. That’s changing forever this year when the College Board shifts to digital-only test administration.

But it’s not just the format that’s new. The Digital SAT also comes with significant changes to content and time limits, meaning students and teachers must prepare very differently. 

Here’s what school districts need to know to help students succeed.

Transitioning to the Digital SAT

The switch to digital test administration aligns with the broader shift toward digital education, which has accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic. The College Board cites several reasons for transitioning to digital administration: 

  • Better security: Each student will receive a unique test, making it impossible to copy answers from another test-taker.

  • Faster score turnaround: Digital scoring means that schools and students will receive their scores in days instead of weeks. 

  • Shorter tests: Adaptive testing achieves the same comprehensive assessment in less time. The total length of the SAT will now be about two hours instead of three. 

  • Individual timing: Since students will progress through the exam at their own pace, there will be increased flexibility for breaks.

  • Greater flexibility in administration: The College Board plans to expand administration to increase equity of access.

Transition Timeline 

The digital SAT rollout started in March 2023, when international testing sites started offering the digital version. In the United States, PSAT administration went digital in the fall 2023, while the SAT will shift to digital in spring 2024. Once the College Board rolls out the digital test, the traditional version will no longer be available.

Digital Test Administration

Like in the past, students will take the SAT in both test centers and schools with proctors present. However, students will now take the exam on a laptop or tablet using the College Board’s Bluebook app. They can use their own devices, school-owned devices, or request to borrow a device from the College Board.

Understanding the Adaptive Testing Format

One of the most significant changes from the traditional SAT to the digital version is the shift to a multi-stage adaptive testing model. 

The digital version is still broken into two sections: Reading and Writing and Math. Students now have 64 minutes to complete the Reading and Writing section and 70 minutes for Math, for a total of two hours and 14 minutes (plus a 10-minute break between sections). 

Unlike in the traditional SAT, each section will be broken into two modules of the same length. In the first module of each section, students will answer a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. The difficulty level of the questions they receive in the second module will then adjust up or down based on their performance. Doing well in the first module is essential for a high section score. 

While the format is changing, the scoring system will maintain the same 1600 scale, with up to 800 points available in Reading and Writing and in Math.

Digital SAT Content Changes

In addition to the format changes, the digital SAT brings adjustments to the content and focus of each section.

Reading and Writing

The most significant change to the Reading and Writing section is that each reading question now comes with its own short passage — the long passages found in the traditional SAT have been eliminated, which may help students who tended to struggle in that area. Most short passages are drawn from classic literature, so ensuring students are comfortable reading older texts is important.

Some question types have also been removed: citing textual evidence, conciseness, logical sequence, and syntax. They’ve been replaced with three new types:

  • Complete the idea: Students select the option that best fills an empty space in the passage. 
  • Illustrating claims: Students choose a quotation from the passage that best supports a specific claim about the text. 
  • Writer’s goal: Students select the option that best fulfills a stated goal related to the passage. 

All the questions in the Reading and Writing section of the digital SAT are multiple choice.


Math

In the digital SAT, a calculator (provided within the app) is now available throughout the section, eliminating the need for proctors to collect and distribute calculators at different points. 

The questions cover algebra, advanced math (e.g., nonlinear functions and equations), problem-solving and data analysis, and geometry and trigonometry. However, the overall approach now emphasizes simplicity. The digital SAT no longer includes “complex numbers,” such as the square root of -1.  It has also significantly reduced the number of complicated word problems, instead favoring shorter and more direct questions. Finally, the test features fewer questions about complex shapes like cylinders, spheres, and cones and more about circles, area, triangles, and geometry.

How to Prepare Students for the Digital SAT

The digital SAT’s format and content changes mean test prep strategies must also change. Focusing on classroom curricula isn’t enough — students need tactical test-taking skills to apply that knowledge effectively on test day. 

District leaders should keep the following key factors front-of-mind when strategizing how to help students achieve high SAT scores. Alternatively, by working with MasteryPrep, districts can get an all-inclusive, data-driven digital SAT preparation program designed to maximize effectiveness while minimizing demand on educators.

Familiarize Students with Tools

The transition to digital test administration means students must get used to new tools well before test day. 

Educators should have students download the College Board’s proprietary Bluebook app far in advance of the test and go through the included practice tests to get used to the format. It’s crucial to familiarize students with the tools included in the app: in addition to a built-in graphing calculator, it also has a countdown timer that alerts students when they are low on time, a reference sheet of common math formulas, and a way to flag questions to return to later. 

Teaching test-taking strategy is also essential. With the digital SAT, for example, it’s impossible to get a high score without doing well on the first module in each section, so students should know to try their very best at the start of the exam. 

Start Preparing Early

Ideally, educators should start preparing students with the skills measured in the SAT — such as mathematical problem-solving and identifying claims within a text — years before they take the test.

Once students reach junior year, it’s vital to start focused preparation early in the year. Benchmarking where students are at the start of the year can help teachers identify strengths and weaknesses and offer targeted support. 

Master What Matters

The SAT covers a wide array of topics and skills — it isn’t possible to prepare students for every possible question. Instead, educators should focus on the areas that are most commonly covered by the SAT and are, therefore, the most likely to influence scores. 

MasteryPrep’s SAT programs focus on the topics and skills that will move the needle most, with prep time proportionally concentrated on what the test weighs the heaviest. 

Finish Strong

In the days and weeks leading up to the test, districts can help level the playing field by focusing on last-minute refreshers and test-taking tips. MasteryPrep’s SAT Boot Camp is a one-day workshop designed to help students learn key testing strategies, including effective time management, and develop the confidence they need to succeed. 

Give Students the Tools for SAT Success

MasteryPrep offers districts SAT preparation tools ranging from a full curriculum (with no teacher prep required) to online SnapCourses, one-day Boot Camps, and daily warmup exercises, as well as SAT-focused professional development programs for educators. 

Learn more about how MasteryPrep can help your district boost its SAT scores.

About MasteryPrep:

MasteryPrep provides mastery-based college readiness services and resources for the SAT®, ACT®, TSIA2, EOC, and WorkKeys®. MasteryPrep is the nationally preferred SAT and ACT prep provider of the Council for Opportunity in Education and licensed by ACT to include official ACT test questions in its programs. MasteryPrep partners with schools and districts to help level the standardized assessment playing field. MasteryPrep has ranked among the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Companies” for six years and is a featured “Entrepreneur 360” company.

 

MasteryPrep is here to bridge the gap in an e-learning environment by providing your students with much needed college readiness preparation.

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