By now, many of you have heard that the SAT is changing. Starting March 2024, students in the
US will no longer be sitting the current paper-based SAT. Instead, they will take an SAT that is
for the first time digital and adaptive.
Digital means that the SAT will be administered on a computer or tablet, powered by test-taking
software. Adaptive means that the test will adjust the difficulty of its subsections as you move
from subsection to subsection, based on your performance. But what does that mean practically?
I dove in and took a digital SAT myself to find out. Here are the key takeaways you need to
know to prepare for this new test:
1) The Basics
If you don’t already know much about the content and structure of this SAT, you might be
relieved to know it’s not all that different from the paper SAT that we’ve had since 2016.
The test is divided into two sections: Reading & Writing and Math. Each section is comprised
of two ‘modules’. The major changes are 1) that Reading & Writing are combined in each
module, instead of distinct subsections, and 2) that there’s no real distinction between the Math
sections, whereas before you’d have a shorter no-calculator subsection followed by a longer
The test content is fairly similar: I’ve worked through every released SAT since it changed in
2016 and not much is really new here, with the key exception that long Reading passages are no
more (🥳). Now you’re presented with what are, in my opinion, much more manageable short
Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of small changes — enough for an entirely separate blog
post — but nothing that prevents a teen already prepared for his/her paper SAT from being
reasonably prepared for this test.
The test is shorter: This test is nearly an hour shorter than the paper SAT (which was a relief to
me, diving into it late on a Tuesday evening). The is the result of making the SAT adaptive.
2) An adaptive test isn’t just shorter
The adaptive experience is more nuanced than I had expected going into the test. Here’s how this
There are two roads you can go down…
Each section has a first module with questions spanning a range of difficulty levels. The higher- difficulty questions are worth more than the lower-difficulty questions. Although you’ll probably have a rough sense of which questions are harder than others, there will be no explicit indication of each question’s difficulty on the test.
Your performance on the first module in each section determines whether your second module in
the section is on the higher- or lower-difficulty path.
…and they are not created equally.
Not only does the difficulty vary between the two paths, but so does the content in small but
noticeable ways. Certain topics only show up on the lower- or higher- path.
Generally, you’ll want the higher-difficulty path: once you’ve been set on the lower difficulty
path, your maximum section score is 600. But know that the higher-difficulty path doesn’t
guarantee a higher score.
All of this means you may have a hard time knowing how well you’re doing during the test and
3) A digital test means navigating a digital interface and new digital tools
As someone who spends way more time than is healthy sitting at a laptop, I still found my eyes
getting tired moving through questions with a bright white screen as my backdrop. Which brings
me to my next point:
The digital test comes with unique challenges.
Marking up the test is still possible, but now through a bit of a clunky process of using their
annotation tool — which is basically just a highlighter. It does come with an option to add a note
to the highlighted text, but it’s not clear to me how useful (or used) that feature will be.
I also found that it wasn’t the easiest to navigate this test on a smaller screen or window. At a
certain size, you have to scroll to see all answer choices for some questions (instead of having
them all visible) and the built-in calculator often overlaps the text of the math questions.
Most devices ought to have large enough windows to avoid this, and they shouldn’t be high-
impact issues, but some may be small enough to produce these inconveniences.
It also comes with unique opportunities.
The built-in graphing calculator built into the digital SAT software is fantastic and has a wide
range of functionality. Savvy use of this calculator will open up several options for solving
problems that would have been clunky or time-consuming on the older SAT.
And for those of us who like to jump around, a built-in navigation bar that indicates which
problems you’ve completed, flagged, or omitted allows you to move easily around the section
without any risk of forgetting to answer questions.
Although I dearly hope my investment in taking and exploring the digital SAT saves you a bit of
time and effort getting oriented to the test, the fact remains that the best way to prepare for this
test is to take it.
The testing application, Bluebook, is available right now on College Board’s website, so nothing
is stopping you from downloading it and doing a test-drive.
However, and I can’t make this point strongly enough, do not rush through the available practice
tests! There are only four right now, so conserve them to avoid running out of official study
material too far before your official test date.