Beginning in Spring 2024, every student who takes the SAT will take the College Board’s new, digital SAT. With the SAT format changing, you probably have lots of questions! Like, is the digital SAT harder? Or is the digital SAT easier?
We’ll answer all of your questions about the new, digital SAT in this complete guide, including:
- How will the SAT change when it goes digital? How will it be different from the pencil-and-paper SAT?
- Which changes to the exam are likely to be easier? Harder?
- How will the digital SAT affect your study plans?
One of the best ways to prep for the digital SAT is to learn as much about it as possible. So, let’s get started!
Why Is the College Board Making the SAT Digital?
The College Board says that it is transitioning to a digital SAT in order to make the exam more accessible, relatable, and less stressful for students.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many students struggled to access sites where they could take the paper and pencil SAT. So in order to make the SAT accessible for students around the world no matter the circumstances, the College Board introduced the digital SAT.
Along with increased accessibility, the College Board claims that a digital SAT is more aligned with how students today are learning. Many learning experiences both inside and outside of schools happen on digital devices, and the College Board wants the SAT to keep up with that trend.
Also, the shorter exam length and extra time per question is designed to make the digital SAT less stressful for students. In general, the College Board intends for all changes to the SAT to help students focus on successfully showing their skills, knowledge, and college and career readiness.
But is the digital SAT easier than the paper and pencil SAT? Let’s find out!
The only constant in life is change, and that's true with the digital SAT as well. Here are the big differences you can expect.
What’s Changing With the Digital SAT?
It probably comes as no surprise that the switch from the pencil-and-paper SAT to the digital SAT involves several changes that will affect how students take and prepare for the exam.
To help you fully understand what the digital SAT will be like, we’ll break down five major changes for the digital SAT and explain how they’ll affect the testing experience.
Change #1: The SAT Will Be Given in a Different Format
This might seem straightforward since the digital SAT is “digital,” but in the new format, students will no longer take the exam using pencil and paper.
Instead, students will take the digital SAT in schools and testing centers using either a digital device that they own (laptop or tablet) or a school-issued device.
To take the test, students will be given access to a custom-built digital exam application, called Bluebook, that they’ll download prior to test day. They’ll receive full instructions on how to download and use the testing app in advance of their exam day. The digital SAT will be taken and submitted completely online.
Change #2: The Digital SAT Is Shorter
The digital SAT will be a total of two hours and 14 minutes long, making it about an hour shorter than the paper-and-pencil SAT.
There will be a total of 98 questions on the digital SAT, and it will last for a total of 134 minutes.
Here’s a breakdown of the timing and number of questions on each section of the digital SAT:
Module 1 Length
Module 2 Length
Total Section Length
Total Number of Questions
Reading and Writing
Change #3: The Digital SAT Has Renamed Sections as Modules
There are four sections on the paper-and-pencil SAT: reading, writing, math with a calculator, and math without a calculator. The digital SAT has four sections as well, only they’re now called modules.
Also unlike the paper-and-pencil SAT, the digital SAT now has modules. Both sections of the digital SAT are each divided into two modules for four modules total.
Students will complete two modules in the Reading and Writing section, and another two modules in the Math section. Each module will be timed, and students must complete the first module in each section before moving on to the second module (we’ll talk more about this later).
The digital SAT might have updated content, but it tests a lot of the same content that the paper-and-pencil test did.
Change #4: The Digital SAT Tests the Same Skills With New Content
Like the pencil and paper SAT, the digital SAT will measure the same skills and knowledge that students learn in high school and that are most important for college and career readiness. But the College Board is making changes to test content to better fit the digital exam structure.
In general, digital exam questions will be more direct and focused on assessing what students need to know to succeed in college and careers. The digital SAT exam content is designed to better test the knowledge students will use in the future.
Additionally, the Reading and Writing section will give students shorter texts that are tied to a single question. This is a change from the pencil and paper SAT, which gave students a few long reading passages and multiple questions per passage.
On the digital SAT Math section, word problems (called “questions in context”) will be more concise than those on the pencil and paper exam. So there will be less reading on the math section of the digital SAT, too!
Also, the digital SAT will feature a new system called “adaptive testing” to measure students’ math, reading, and writing skills in a more efficient way. Adaptive testing changes the difficulty level of exam questions based on each question that a test taker gets right or wrong. This means that every student’s test will be a little bit different.
Here’s what we mean: on both the Reading and Writing section and the Math section, the first module contains a broad mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. Based on how students perform on the first module in each section, the second module of questions will either be more difficult or less difficult.
In other words, the digital SAT will adapt the difficulty of the test based on individual test takers’ performance.
Adaptive testing is designed to make testing more secure (it’s harder to leak exam answers when everyone’s test is different!), tailored to students’ needs, and effective at measuring students’ performance.
Change #5: SAT Scoring
First things first: the SAT will still be scored on a 1600 scale. Scores on the digital SAT will also mean the same thing as scores on the pencil-and-paper SAT. For example, a score of 1300 on the digital SAT is the same as a score of 1300 on the pencil-and-paper SAT.
The score students earn on the digital SAT are calculated based on two factors: the difficulty level of questions they were given and the number of questions answered correctly. The goal is for students’ scores to more accurately reflect their knowledge and skill levels.
Right now, it’s not clear how this grading rubric will work in practice. But early research on the College Board’s practice tests suggests that harder questions will have a higher value. We’ll continue to update our articles across our website as we learn more.
Another major change with the digital SAT is that student score reports will be delivered days after the student takes the exam rather than weeks later. This will allow students to make decisions about retaking the SAT and submitting their scores to colleges more quickly.
And finally, the digital SAT will also provide more resources for students who are looking at options other than four-year colleges. SAT Suite score reports will connect students with information about local two-year colleges, workforce training programs, and how their SAT score connects to career opportunities in areas that interest them.
Let's take a look at how the digital SAT might be easier.
Is the Digital SAT Easier?
With the SAT transitioning to a new, digital format, it’s normal to wonder, “Is the digital SAT easier? How will this change affect my testing experience and scores?”
Here’s what the College Board says about that: “The digital SAT will continue to measure the skills and knowledge that research shows are crucial to college readiness and success and at the same level of rigor as the current SAT.” In other words, the digital SAT is not designed to be easier than the paper-and-pencil SAT.
However, the College Board says that the digital format will make the SAT less stressful and more approachable for students. The exam will be shorter, students will have more time per question, and the content on the SAT will be presented in a more direct way.
The passages on SAT Reading and Writing will be shorter, and the questions on both sections of the exam will be more concise. For many students, that means the questions will be easier to understand.
The digital SAT also provides tools and resources that the old version didn’t. On the digital SAT, students can flag questions to come back to later instead of having to flip back and forth through a test booklet. Students will also have the option to show or hide a countdown clock on their testing screen that will alert them when they’re running out of time.
Another bonus is that on the digital SAT Math section, students get a built-in graphing calculator that they can use on the entire section, though students can still bring in their own calculator if they like. Students will also get a digital reference sheet including common formulas, and they’ll have the option to use scratch paper to work on problems.
To sum it all up: the digital SAT is not designed to be easier than the pencil-and-paper SAT. However, some of the changes to the digital SAT may make accessing the exam, taking the exam, and receiving scores easier for students.
But adjusting to the new digital SAT might mean you have to work harder, too.
Is the Digital SAT Harder?
Is the digital SAT harder? As we mentioned earlier, the content on the digital SAT is not designed to be easier or harder than the pencil and paper exam. However, it’s possible that the change to a digital format might create challenges for some test takers.
First, the digital SAT uses adaptive testing, which determines the difficulty of students’ exam questions based on their performance on earlier questions on the exam. Adaptive testing might make the exam more difficult for some students depending on their learning level.
Students taking the digital SAT will also have to learn how to access and use Bluebook, a digital exam application, before exam day. While the College Board provides instructions for using Bluebook, downloading and learning how to use Bluebook could be time-consuming and overwhelming for some students.
Additionally, students who need to borrow a digital device from their school or testing center in order to take the exam will have to spend additional time requesting a device and verifying that they’re eligible to borrow one.
There’s also the possibility of technical difficulties when testing on a digital device. If the Internet connection fails or the testing app crashes, for instance, students will be interrupted during the exam. While the College Board explains that students’ scores won’t be negatively affected by technical difficulties, a disruption like this could add more stress to an already tough testing experience.
How To Study for the Digital SAT: 3 Tips
Is the digital SAT easier? Is the digital SAT harder? While the digital SAT is different from the pencil and paper SAT, it isn’t necessarily harder or easier than the current version of the exam.
At the end of the day, how hard or easy the digital SAT will be for you is going to depend on how well prepared you are. To help you ace the digital SAT, check out our three tips on how to study for the new exam below.
Tip #1: Get Your Digital Device Ready
First, if you plan to use your own digital device (laptop or tablet), College Board’s exam previews will help you set up your device so it’s compatible with Bluebook. That way, you’ll know your digital device is ready to go before test day. And you won’t have to figure out how to set it up all by yourself.
Second, these exam previews let you see real test questions in the app and try out all the digital testing tools (e.g., graphing calculator, countdown clock, etc.). This will save you time on exam day because you’ll already be a pro at using Bluebook!
Tip #2: Use the College Board’s Digital SAT Study Resources
The College Board also provides practice tests to help you prepare for the digital SAT–and they’re all free!
Four digital, adaptive practice exams are available when you download the Bluebook app, which you’ll also use to take your digital SAT on exam day.
If possible, take all of these practice exams before your test day. That way, you’ll have a handle on what adaptive testing is like before you take the digital exam!
Tip #3: Build a Study Plan and Stick to It
You’ll still need to study if you want to earn a good score on the digital SAT. Putting together a study plan can help you spread your preparation out over the weeks and months before you actually take the SAT!
Our step-by-step guide to building an SAT study plan works for the digital test, and it’ll help you prioritize your time so you’re getting the most out of your study sessions. It also helps you figure out the material you need to spend the most time with, so that you’re better prepared to earn top marks on test day.
Like we mentioned earlier, a lot of the content on the digital SAT will be the same as it was on the older test. You can start studying for the digital SAT with our ultimate SAT study guide to get your prep off on the right foot.
Of course, you'll want to get the most out of your study sessions. That's where our proven study plans come in. Check them out and pick one that's right for you.
No study time? No problem. Our ten-day SAT cram plan can help you boost your score in spite of the time crunch. (And if you need more time to prep, here's how you can reschedule your exam.)
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.