Everything You Need To Know About The New Digital SAT

22/03/202414 minute read
Everything You Need To Know About The New Digital SAT

As of March 2024, the pen and paper SAT is a relic of the past — all SAT test takers will be taking the digital version of the SAT going forward, and it’s important to know that the new test has some important changes. These changes will impact the testing experience in ways that potentially make the test easier or more difficult compared to the old paper version. In this post we highlight the changes that really matter, and check in with US admissions strategists about what, if anything, really might make the digital version of the SAT 'easier' or 'harder' for some test takers. Our strategists also share some quick tips and resources to help you prepare before you take your own shot at the 2024 Digital SAT!


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 SAT testing for admissions 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

An Introduction to the New Digital SAT (DSAT)

This new version of the test is taken on a computer rather than with a pencil and paper, making for a more up-to-date testing experience and streamlining data input, score reporting and tracking.

“The shift to a paper-free version of the test would seem to benefit a generation of students who are digital natives, so while the digital SAT isn’t necessarily easier than the most recent iterations of paper SAT in terms of content, it may feel physically and psychologically easier for students who take it.”

- Vincent L., US Admissions Strategist with Crimson Education

The digital format means taking the test on a laptop or tablet. According to the College Board, students taking the Digital SAT may use either a personal device or a school-issued one. Whose computer and which computer you use will typically depend on the guidelines set by the school that’s administering the test.

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, according to our US admissions strategists.

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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.

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Vincent L., a US Admissions Strategist with Crimson Education, says many students find the digital version easier:

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.

As to why this is, the strategist thinks 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?

Both Vincent L. and other strategists think the truth is probably more mixed, contending that both the new digital format and the old paper version have distinct challenges and advantages.

Test Changes and Difficulty — More Expert Insights

According to the admissions strategists I spoke to, 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 difficulty.

Tania B., a US admissions strategist with Crimson Education, advises that you “aim to get as many questions correct early on, in the first module of each section, as this will have a big impact on which of the two second modules you are given.”

“A good tip to share with your students is that they must aim to get as many questions correct early on… this will have a big impact on which of the two second modules they are given.”

- Tania B., US Admissions Strategist with Crimson Education

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 score possible.

Admissions strategist Vincent L. emphasized how this may affect the test experience too:

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.

According to Crimson strategist Tania B.’ who has worked with a number of international students applying to US universities “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.

Admissions strategist Tania B. advises test takers to “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, Tania B. points out that 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.

A Student's Perspective on the Digital SAT

To get closer to the ‘hands-on’ experience of an actual test taker, I spoke to Ilana N., a junior at Berkeley High School in California. During the past year, Ilana has taken the PSAT, several SAT practice tests, and the real SATonce on paper, and more recently, the Digital SAT, in March 2024.

Ilana told me that on the Digital SAT, in both Reading and Math portions, she did well enough in the first module to get the harder (adaptive) second module.

Ilana, a native English speaker and strong reader told me “the Reading/Writing section on the digital test, with no long passages, was easier, especially since most of the questions were only about vocabulary and sentence mechanics.”

But what about the math portion of the Digital SAT?

On that note, Ilana was quick to set the record straight: “

Don’t let anyone tell you the math is easier. I got the harder second module and it killed me. Lots of the questions required too much time, and I didn’t have enough time to even start several of them!

Ilana says she understands that getting the harder second module should mean she can still score well, but if the harder module is so hard you miss lots of the items, then is it still going to result in a better score?…

It turns out, that although she didn't have time to answer several math questions in the advanced version of Math Module 2, she still got a very satisfactory scorehighlighting the scoring bump students earn from doing well on the first module!

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

Admissions Strategist Tania B. shared the following tips for students prepping to take the Digital SAT in 2024:

Crimson Education also offers some free resources for enhancing your SAT prep process, such as mini online SAT practice tests for both math and reading.

You can use these 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…

If you’re looking for more comprehensive instruction in advanced topics in math or reading, check out The Crimson Global Academy (CGA), a fully accredited and award-winning online private school.

CGA connects you with real-time learning and a global network. of highly qualified teachers. You’ll interact with other motivated students from around the world and discover flexible pathways to a broad range of accelerated courses.

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Final Thoughts

Now you know a lot more about what to expect on testing day, but even more importantly you’ve learned about changes to test formats that could impact the difficulty of the test experience.

From significant changes to the Reading portion, to the impact of the new adaptive features, the insights you’ve gained will help you prep more effectively for your own testing session.

And kudos to you for reading this post!

It shows you’re engaged and understand the importance of staying informed for each step of your college journey.

If you have more questions about how to build a more effective, personalized college planning roadmap, be sure to reach out for a free exploratory call with a helpful Crimson Education Counselor. They’d love to find out how your college journey’s going and how they can help.

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