Big changes are coming to the SAT in 2024. CollegeBoard just announced that the SAT is going digital. The exam will be administered via Bluebook, their comprehensive testing app. There will be significant changes to the SAT in an attempt to make students feel more comfortable with the exam. The digital SAT will be administered to international students starting in 2023 and to U.S. students starting in 2024.
Read on to learn about the differences between the current pen-and-paper SAT and the digital exam, along with what the digital SAT means for your SAT Prep journey! Additionally, learn how MEK’s SAT Prep programs can help you start preparing this Summer 2023!
Why is the SAT shifting to a Digital Format?
One of the main reasons why the SAT is becoming digital is to increase accessibility. As the SAT has become optional for many colleges, there has been a decline in SAT test-takers from 2.2 million in 2020 to 1.5 million in 2021. With the introduction of the digital SAT, which schools and testing centers can more easily administer, many more students will take the test.
The anticipated increase in test-takers for the digital SAT emphasizes the value of the SAT, which can serve as a demonstration of academic strength alongside a student’s high school GPA. Between students with equally high GPAs, a good score on the SAT can be the differentiating factor in admission decisions.
Advantages of the Digital SAT
Test Duration & Sections
The current SAT is 3 hours and consists of 3 sections: Reading, Writing, and Math. The Math section is divided into two sections: one where calculator usage is allowed and one where calculator usage is prohibited.
In the new digital SAT, testing time will be reduced to 2 hours. Reading & Writing are combined into one section and there will only be one Math section. Students will be allowed to use their calculators for the whole Math section. Additionally, each section is divided into 2 modules.
The purpose of this change is to make the exam more straightforward for students. More time per question means students will find it easier to engage with and critically think through each question.
Quantity and Types of Questions Per Section
To more effectively test for content mastery, each section of the digital SAT will experience changes in the number and wording of questions compared to the current SAT.
Reading and Writing
For Reading and Writing, vocabulary will be tested more directly in the digital SAT. The current SAT tests vocabulary by asking students to understand a word in the context of a passage, rather than asking for a definition. While the digital SAT will still include these “word-in-context” questions, it will have a heavier focus on vocabulary knowledge.
The Reading and Writing sections of the current SAT have long passages with 10-11 questions per passage. In contrast, the Reading & Writing section of the digital SAT will have much shorter passages, roughly a paragraph long each, and there will only be 1 question per passage. These reductions allow students to focus on each question. For Writing, many of the passage topics on the current SAT, which include careers, the sciences, and history, will remain in the digital SAT, though there will be less variety.
The Math section of the digital SAT will feature fewer wordy questions. The purpose of this section is to make students more comfortable taking the SAT overall. What that means is straightforward questions with less emphasis on complex phrasing. Simplicity and accessibility are the root cause of most of the changes coming to SAT Digital 2024. It’s a stark contrast to the current SAT format which requires students to deconstruct more complex problems.
Test Score Release
For the current pen-and-paper SAT, students need to wait 2 weeks or longer to access their test scores. During this period of time, it is difficult for students to take any definitive actions because they don’t know their scores.
For the digital SAT, students will have access to their test scores the next day. The faster turnaround also means students who didn’t reach their goal score can start preparing to retake the SAT without a long wait. High school seniors can send the scores to colleges for their applications faster.
Virtual testing also means new secure test-taking measures. For example, each test will be unique to the student taking it to avoid the possibility of cheating. In the current SAT, all students are given the same exam come test day that includes the same order of questions. That changes in 2024 with the release of the SAT Digital. All test takers will be given different questions in random order. What this does is ensures that testing is always under the same controlled conditions.
The Bluebook app, on which the digital SAT will be administered, is well-equipped for technical difficulties. If the student loses an internet connection or runs out of battery on their device, the app has their progress automatically saved so they’ll be able to return to where they left off.
To take the current SAT, students must find and go to a local testing center. Potentially long travel times due to the uneven geographic distribution of test centers can deter students from taking or retaking the SAT.
The SAT’s shift to a digital format means students will have greater access to the test. Students will also get to decide if they want to take the exam on their personal devices or test center computers.
The test-taking experience itself will also be more accessible. The current SAT requires students to have calculators. Testing centers have clocks, but depending on where students are seated, they may not be easy to see.
Instead of requiring a physical calculator, the digital SAT will have a calculator feature built into the testing platform itself. There will also be a built-in timer, enabling students to easily keep track of their remaining time.
What the Digital SAT Means for SAT Prep
The increased accessibility to the SAT as a result of the shift to a digital format encourages many more students to take the SAT. Though it remains optional for many colleges, students who don’t take the SAT will become less competitive in the college admissions scene. Therefore, to maximize their chances of admission into top colleges, it is important for students to take the SAT and, most of all, receive a high score.
Introduction of The Score Cap
Unlike the current SAT, each section of the digital SAT will have a score cap. Student’s performance on the first module of each section of the SAT will determine which version of the second module they receive. The first module has a mix of easy, medium, and difficult questions. Students who receive the easier version of the second module will have their score capped at around 600 even if they’ve answered every question correctly.
Therefore, it is imperative for students to perform well on the first module to receive the more difficult second module and avoid the score cap. Striving for a perfect score will be more important than for the current SAT.
How MEK’s SAT Prep Program Helps You Master the Digital SAT
All these changes mean MEK’s SAT Prep program will prepare students for the exam even better. On average, students who participate in our robust SAT prep achieve scores of 1450 and above. We are proud to say that our students score within the 99th percentile. After just 20 sessions in our SAT prep program, our students’ scores improve by at least 200 points.
Due to the reduction in a number of questions and passages, the digital SAT places a focus on active engagement with each section. Likewise, our SAT test prep focuses on test content, building critical thinking, and time management skills. In class, teachers ask students to explain the step-by-step thought process they took to arrive at the answer they chose for a question. By fostering an understanding of each step, students are better able to choose the correct answer and save time on questions.
To maximize students’ chances of receiving the more difficult second module and reaching their target SAT score, SAT Prep teachers will focus on helping students score well in the first module. To familiarize students with the rigor of the more difficult second module, our SAT Prep program will be using this version for practice tests.
Focus on Test Strategy
MEK’s SAT Prep program prioritizes test-taking skills, which will be beneficial for the digital SAT. Students learn to interpret each part of a question and navigate tricky wording choices. With weekly simulation tests, regular practice, and immediate feedback, MEK SAT Prep students learn to think like a test maker.
Simulation of the Digital SAT
MEK’s SAT Prep program uses Canvas, an online learning platform with many resources and tools for students. By tweaking some of these existing resources, SAT Prep teachers will be able to simulate the test-day experience of the digital SAT.
Next Steps & 2023 Digital SAT Seminar
The shift from pen-and-paper to a digital format increases student accessibility to the SAT, which highlights the importance of taking the exam to remain a competitive college applicant.
In a pilot study, over 80% of students felt the digital SAT was less stressful than the pen-and-paper exam. This means that students were more comfortable taking the SAT virtually. This change untangles the social stigmas students associated with pen-and-paper exams while boosting confidence.
As a result, more and more students will be taking the SAT in its digital form, placing emphasis on honing test strategy skills to reach top scores and stand out in college admissions.