Is the Digital SAT Easier or Harder Than the Paper Version?


As of Spring 2024, every student taking the SAT will take the College Board’s new, digital SAT. The SAT format is also changing with this new digital version of the test, and so 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 has the SAT changed now that it’s gone digital? How is it different from the old pencil-and-paper SAT?
  • Which changes to the exam are easier? Harder? 
  • How does the 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 Did the College Board Make the SAT Digital? 

The College Board said that it transitioned 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 intended for the new 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 Changed With the Digital SAT? 

It probably comes as no surprise that the switch from the pencil-and-paper SAT to the digital SAT involved several changes that affect how students take and prepare for the exam. 

To help you fully understand what the digital SAT is like, we’ll break down five major changes for the digital SAT and explain how they affect the testing experience. 


Change #1: The SAT Is Given in a Different Format 

This might seem straightforward since the digital SAT is “digital,” but in the new format, students no longer take the exam using pencil and paper. 

Instead, students 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 are given access to a custom-built digital exam application, called Bluebook, that they download prior to test day. They receive full instructions on how to download and use the testing app in advance of their exam day. The digital SAT is taken and submitted completely online.


Change #2: The Digital SAT Is Shorter

The digital SAT is a total of two hours and 14 minutes long, making it about an hour shorter than the paper-and-pencil SAT.

There are a total of 98 questions on the digital SAT, and it lasts for a total of 134 minutes

Here’s a breakdown of the timing and number of questions on each section of the digital SAT

Section Name
Module 1 Length
Module 2 Length
Total Section Length
Total Number of Questions
Reading and Writing
32 minutes
32 minutes
64 minutes
54 questions
35 minutes
35 minutes
70 minutes
44 questions



Change #3: The Digital SAT Has Renamed Sections as Modules

There were four sections on the old 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. Both sections of the digital SAT are each divided into two modules for four modules total

Students complete two modules in the Reading and Writing section, and another two modules in the Math section. Each module is 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 measures 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 are 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 gives 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”) are more concise than those on the pencil and paper exam. So there's will be less reading on the math section of the digital SAT, too! 

Also, the digital SAT features 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 adapts the difficulty of the test based on individual test takers’ performance. Check out our article to learn more about this new feature of the digital SAT.

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 is still scored on a 1600 scale. Scores on the digital SAT means 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 scores 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. 

Harder questions have a higher value. In other words, getting more difficult questions correct is how you score higher on the digital SAT. As more scoring information becomes available with the digital SAT, we’ll continue to update our articles across our website regarding adaptive testing.

Another major change with the digital SAT is that student score reports are delivered days after the exam rather than weeks later. This allows students to make decisions about retaking the SAT and submitting their scores to colleges more quickly. 

And finally, the digital SAT also provides more resources for students who are looking at options other than four-year colleges. SAT Suite score reports 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?

Since the SAT transitioned 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 makes the SAT less stressful and more approachable for students. The exam is shorter, students have more time per question, and the content on the SAT is 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 also have the option to show or hide a countdown clock on their testing screen that alerts 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 also get a digital reference sheet including common formulas, and they 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 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 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 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!

Six 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. 





Next Steps

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.)



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About the Author
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Ashley Robinson

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.

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