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What’s Changing About the SAT?

The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is a standardized test administered by the College Board. While widely used for college admissions in the United States, historically speaking, the role of testing SAT,is currently in flux, and the test taking experience can have some intrinsic benefits,as well.

At the end of 2023, the pen and paper version of the SAT was fully replaced by the new digital version of the SAT, bringing the test into the modern era, and arguably making the test experience feel more streamlined, natural, and familiar for most of today’s Gen Z test takers!

But with changes like this, come questions...

  • Did the College Board introduce any big changes to question types or test formats?

  • Does the test still take as long?

  • What computers are used for testing?

And, above all, students are asking “Is the digital version really easier or not?”

Great questions! In this post we'll demystify the Digital SAT, exploring the changes most affecting how you'll score on the test, with crucial insights from our own admissions strategists, providing:

  • A quick introduction to the new Digital SAT

  • A Digital SAT checklist of key features and their impact

  • Expert insights from US admissions strategists that show you why the digital version really is easier or harder, and why

  • Our experts will stick around to reveal some best resources and test prep strategies for your success on the 2024 Digital SAT

The Digital SAT Different vs. The Old Paper Version

As of March 2024, the Digital SAT has fully replaced the old paper version, now no longer an option. As such, lots of students are wondering what’s different about the digital version.

The short answer to what’s different, is that the new SAT does introduce some important changes that all test takes should know about. If you’ve been taking practice tests based only on the paper version, you need to know that the digital version takes less time and introduces some different testing formats.

Digital SAT vs. Paper SAT:

Key Differences

  • More streamlined test experience: The digital format streamlines test administration, with students registering, signing in, and taking the test all on the same digital platform.

  • Faster Score Results: Test scores are now posted within two weeks (or less), depending on your test day. Students simply sign in on the SAT Scores webpage to see their score. Once the score is posted, the College Board also offers ‘rush reporting’ — making it possible to get your score to the designated institution within 1 to 4 business days.

  • Shorter Test Time: The digital version takes only 2 hours and 14 minutes, compared to 3 hours for the paper version.

  • Shorter, More Numerous Passages (May Benefit Non-Native Speakers): The Reading portion of the digital SAT features 54 short passages, compared to 4 long passages on the paper test.

  • Calculator for All Math: Now you get to use your College Board approved calculator for both math sections, not just one.

  • Adaptive Sections: Difficulty Adjusts Based on Performance: Your performance on the first section of reading and math determines the difficulty of the second section.

  • Score Range: No change to the scoring system, scores range from 400-800 for each section, and 1600 total.

Overall, the digital SAT offers a faster testing experience, but not without several key changes to content and format. Let's explore the changes most likely to affect test difficulty and your score.

Is the Digital SAT Harder or Easier Than the Paper One?

Keeping in mind that the digital version is the only option going forward, many students still want to know if the new digital version is harder or easier than the old paper and pen version.

For more context, here's a chart showing how the Digital SAT and old pen and paper SAT differ in terms of test difficulty.

The College Board intended for the digital SAT to be less stressful for students, but they didn't intend for either section to be easier. Nevertheless, most of my students who have taken both the paper and digital SAT, have found the digital version to be easier.

 several factors might account for it:

  • The test is simply shorter, by 45 minutes, making test-session fatigue less of a factor.

  • The shift to only short passages and less nuanced reading comprehension questions could be a plus for students with short attention spans or who find reading comprehension challenging.

  • For most Gen Z students the digital format feels more welcoming and familiar.

  • Students can now use a calculator any time during the math portion, both Math Module 1 and 2.

These factors show why the digital test could be easier, or at least seem easier, but is it?

Test Changes and Difficulty — More Expert Insights

There are two changes likely to have a big impact on test difficulty and test scores:

  1. The introduction of adaptive features

  2. Significant changes to the Reading portion

1. Impact of Adaptive Features on Your Test Scores

The adaptive component, unique to the digital version, directly impacts test .

In essence, having to take on the more difficult version of the second module may sound intimidating, but it’s key to keeping on track for getting the highest possible score.

The adaptive nature of the digital SAT requires that students perform well on the 1st module in order to advance to the more difficult 2nd module instead of the easier 2nd module. Students who are slow starters may be at a disadvantage, so it's important for test takers to feel ready from the beginning.

2. Changes to the Reading Section

The digital format eliminates the long reading passages and related question types.

By contrast with the old pen and paper SAT, the Reading portion of the digital version has many more reading passages, but they're all very short.

This change may have some advantages for international students, especially non native-English speakers.

Even more, the same change may make the Reading portion less difficult for other students too — for slower readers or any student who finds it hard to stay focused on longer passages.

The Digital SAT has 54 passages — all very short — each with one linked question, typically about vocabulary or sentence grammar and punctuation.

the shorter passages, along with the shortened overall duration of the exam and fewer types of questions to prepare for, has been beneficial for slower readers.

However, despite these changes, the Reading portion can still be very challenging.

test takers to should not be lulled into believing that, as a result, the Reading/Writing portion of the exam is easier, which is not the case.

While the short passages reduce some key challenges. the Reading/Writing questions still require much thinking and analysis, especially the science/data questions, and many answer options can seem confusingly similar.

In the end, the Reading/Writing portion of the SAT requires less sophisticated reading comprehension skills, but the test items themselves can still present a variety of stumbling blocks.

Since the paper version was never adaptive, of course, we’ll have to wait to get more feedback from test takers about how the adaptive features impact difficulty and scores for the rest of 2024 and beyond.

How to Prep for the (Digital) SAT

Tips for students prepping to take the Digital SAT in 2024:

You can use practice tests for extra practice or as diagnostic tests. The feedback you get on missed responses will help you identify areas for study and improvement.

And, when you need more than test prep and practice tests , contact us at Raena Learning Centre.

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