In spring 2024, the new digital SAT will replace the traditional paper and pencil SAT we’ve known for years. You might be wondering how the digital SAT will be scored and how this will affect you. Is the scoring more difficult, easier, or the same? And how is the digital SAT score calculated?
The short answer is that while the content and skills tested on the SAT will remain the same, scores will be calculated slightly differently from the traditional SAT. This is because the digital SAT will use the new adaptive testing model. So let’s review what that means and how it plays a part in the scoring of the digital SAT.
What Is Adaptive Testing and How Does It Affect Scoring?
Adaptive testing means that as you answer questions on the SAT, the questions you continue to receive will adapt to the difficulty level that’s best for you. As you work through questions in Module 1 in the first subject, are you only able to answer easy questions, or are you demonstrating you can answer difficult questions as well? Based on the number of easy, average, and difficult questions that you answer correctly, module 2 will adjust to deliver you questions at the level of difficulty that matches your content mastery and skill level.
What does this look like? Let’s use an example in the Math section. Let’s say you’ve worked your way through the first module and have missed a lot of higher-level questions. Rather than continue to ask you higher-level questions, the second module will present questions considered easy or medium. This provides for an accurate assessment of your level of understanding in math.
But what you need to know is that it also affects your scoring. For the first time, the new scoring method takes into account the level of difficulty of the questions you are able to answer. The greater the number of difficult questions you answer successfully, the better your math score.
Let’s imagine another scenario. This time you are working through the math problems and you are able to answer more difficult questions in Module 1. Module 2 will then present you with difficult questions, which if you answer correctly, earns you a higher subject score in math.
This is the biggest change to the new digital SAT scoring method and means that you should try your hardest from the beginning to the end in order to earn the highest score possible.
How Does Scoring on the Digital SAT Compare to the Traditional SAT?
College Board has stated that when the new digital SAT is scored, it will be equivalent to paper scores. This means an 1160 on the paper SAT is equivalent to an 1160 on the digital SAT.
In some ways, the scores are calculated the same way as with the traditional test. Here’s how the scoring of the digital SAT is the same as the scoring for the paper and pencil SAT:
First, your raw score is still the number of questions you answered correctly per module. For each correct answer, you earn one point. There is no penalty for questions answered incorrectly. Second, your raw score in each section is then converted to a scaled score of between 200 and 800, just at it has always been. Next, the raw scores of all modules are combined to get your total score, which will be between 400 and 1600, the same score range as on the traditional SAT.
However, there are some differences you need to be aware of.
While the same subjects are covered, the Reading and Writing sections have been combined into one for purposes of scoring. The second section is Math. Within each of these sections, there are some additional differences.
First, the Reading section has changed. Long reading passages have been replaced with shorter passages, so you should be able to read through them much more quickly. And rather than asking 10 questions per passage, the digital SAT asks only one question per passage.
Next, let’s look at Math. This subject used to be divided into two sections: one in which you used a calculator and one in which you didn’t. On the digital SAT, however, you may now use a calculator throughout both math sections, something many kids are excited about!
As we talked about earlier, how you answer in the first module will determine the level of difficulty in the questions you receive in the second module. The level of difficulty will be a determining factor in the algorithm College Board uses when it converts your raw score into a scaled score.
What’s a Good Score for the Digital SAT?
This is a complex question because a good score for one student may be totally different from a good score for another student. A good score is really one that gets you into your goal school.
However, let’s look at what would qualify as a good score, mathematically speaking. To give you an idea of how the digital score is calculated to contribute to a good score, let’s say that an overall score of 1000, or 500 in English and Writing and 500 in Math, is average. Half of the kids who take the exam score higher, and half score lower. That would make a 1200 overall score a “good score” on the SAT.
So the next question is, how many questions do you have to get right to earn a 1200 on the SAT? On the traditional test and using the simplest form, you’d need a 600 in Math and a 600 in English, which would further break down into a 300 in Reading and 300 in Writing. What that means for each section is that you could get 20 wrong in Math to earn a 600, 12 wrong in Writing to get a 300, and 18 wrong in Reading to get a 300. In total, you could miss 50 questions and still earn a “good” score of 1200.
Since Reading and Writing will now be combined on the digital SAT, that portion of scoring has actually gotten easier – you simply need a 600 in Reading and Writing, along with a 600 in Math. The trickier part is that depending on the levels of questions you are able to answer, College Board will use its algorithm when it converts your raw score into a scaled score. If you answer more difficult questions correctly, your score will ultimately be higher.
As you can see, scores will be reported much the same as they always have, but scores will be calculated differently due to adaptive testing.
What You Need to Know About Digital SAT Scoring
So what can you do to earn the score you want on the SAT? There are steps you can take that are just generally good test-taking strategies. And it’s great to be aware of the resources that can help you score higher.
#1: Answer every question. Remember that there is no penalty for wrong answers. We recommend that if a question is giving you trouble, you skip it and go back to it after you have completed the other questions in that section. If you are short on time, it’s best to use process of elimination, then pick the best answer. If you have to guess, guess!
#2: Don’t try to game the algorithm. If you’re thinking about not doing your best on the first module so the questions are easier on the second module, you’re not thinking it through. Remember that scoring takes into account the level of difficulty of the questions you were able to answer. If all you answer is easy questions, your score will not be as high as if you answer medium- and high-level questions.
#3: After the SAT, study your score report. Use the digital SAT test interpretation tools available in your online portal to determine how and where you can improve. These tools are invaluable in helping you pinpoint areas where you need to study or practice more to increase your score the next time.
#4: Check your SAT portal for additional resources, such as tester percentiles (how you did compared to other students in your school, state, and nationally) and breakdowns of your scores by sections. Use this link to access your online score report.
#5: If you’re wondering how all of this affects college admissions, it is expected that colleges will view these scores the same as they did the traditional scores. They will carry roughly the same weight, and since the score reporting structure is the same, schools will still expect the same score range as part of their minimum requirements. You can find these requirements on the admissions pages of college and university websites.
#6: Keep in mind that colleges will continue to look at all aspects of the application process, with scores being only one component. Most schools consider letters of recommendation, college essays, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and community service, in addition to SAT scores.
One final note: in a pilot test of kids taking the digital SAT for the first time, College Board reported that 80 percent said it was less stressful, so don’t worry! The shorter, more compact format, shorter reading passages, and combined sections will make taking the SAT a much more streamlined process.
For more information about what makes a good score on the SAT, check out this article, which explains percentiles, and this article, which breaks down the scoring process.
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Rebecca has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and taught high school English for over 20 years. Her students consistently earned top scores on the SAT and ACT, AP Language and AP Literature exams. She worked one-on-one with students through her own tutoring and educational coaching business and believes that individualized attention and personal connection are the keys to success. Rebecca is the author of the parenting book Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kids Succeed, which provides tips for parents on how to help their kids reach their full potential. As a content writer for Prep Scholar, she hopes to help guide students and parents through high school and make the transition into adulthood as stress-free – and informed – as possible.