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What You Need to Know About the New Digital SAT

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On January 25, 2022, the College Board announced that the SAT would be undergoing significant changes, including becoming a computer-based test instead of one you take with pencil and paper. What other changes is the SAT making, why are they making these changes, and when will these changes come into effect? This guide answers all those questions and more. 

 

How the Digital SAT Will Be Different: 6 Key Ways

Many major parts of the SAT are staying the same, including the general format and content, as well as the scoring scale out of 1600. But what changes are being made to the new, digital SAT? Below are six of the most important.

 

#1: You'll Take the SAT on a Computer

This is the biggest change: the SAT will be taken completely on a computer, not with pencil and paper. The exam can either be taken on a computer at the testing center, or students will be able to bring their own laptops from home (although some testing centers/schools may require you to take the test on their computers only). Students who don't have access to a computer or laptop will be loaned one by the College Board to take the SAT. If the internet goes down during the SAT, your work will be saved, and you won't lose time on the test.

It's important to note that, even though the SAT will be digital, it will still need to be taken in a classroom/testing center, with an in-person proctor. You won't be able to take the SAT at home or on your own time.

 

#2: The SAT Will Last 2 Hours Instead of 3

The College Board hasn't released the exact format of the new version of the SAT, but they did announce that they're trimming a full hour off the test. The SAT will now last roughly two hours instead of three. Expect each section to be whittled down slightly.

 

#3: You'll Have More Time Per Question

Again, the College Board hasn't released exact formatting data, but they stated that students will have "more time per question" on the digital SAT. Time pressure is a major problem for many students who take the SAT, and it's very common to run out of time before you're able to answer all the questions in a section. Hopefully, this update will alleviate some of that.

Currently, students have between 47 seconds and 1 minute and 26 seconds to answer each question, depending on the SAT section, so these averages will become longer.

 

#4: Calculators Will Be Allowed for the Entire Math Section

Currently, SAT Math is broken into two parts: one part where you can use a calculator, and one where you cannot. With the digital SAT, an onscreen calculator will be available for every math question. This also means that you no longer need to worry about bringing the correct calculator to the SAT on exam day.

 

#5: Reading Passages Are Changing

SAT Reading passages are undergoing several changes:

  • They'll be shorter
  • Each passage will have only one question tied to it
  • Passages will cover a wider range of topics

Currently, SAT Reading contains six passages, each about 500 to 750 words long. Each passage has about ten questions linked to it. These changes are designed to make the passages easier and faster to read and interpret.

 

#6: You'll Get Scores Back Faster

It currently takes between two and six weeks to get SAT scores back, and the colleges you chose for your four free score reports get them about ten days after you do. With the digital SAT, the College Board has promised that scores will be returned within days rather than weeks. Not only does this avoid you waiting a long time, but you might be able to take a later SAT, such as the December SAT, and still meet college application deadlines, when scores would have been received too late previously. 

 

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When Will the Digital SAT Go Into Effect?

It's important to know that these SAT changes aren't happening right away. The exact dates haven't been announced, but the College Board has said the digital SAT won't be rolled out until sometime in 2023 for international students and sometime in 2024 for US students. New, digital versions of the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 8/9 will roll out in 2023, with the PSAT 10 going digital in 2024.

What all this means is that if you don't want to take the digital version of the SAT, you still have time to take the current version (even several times if you want). SAT scores technically never expire, and as long as your scores have been taken within the past five years, nearly every college will accept them.

The new SAT changes are designed to make the testing experience easier for students, and many will appreciate a test that's shorter, has less time pressure, and doesn't require bubbling in circles on a sheet of paper. However, some students may prefer to take the paper and pencil version of the test, whether that's because that's just the format they're more comfortable with or because it's the format they've been using for studying and taking SAT practice tests. If you're planning on taking the SAT around the time the digital test is rolled out, the choice is ultimately up to you. It's also possible to take both versions of the test and see which one you score higher on.

 

Why Is the SAT Changing?

These are significant changes, so what caused the College Board to make them? There have been rumors that the SAT will go digital for years. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College Board had considered offering at-home online SATs because test centers were closed, but in June 2020 they announced they were no longer going forward with that plan. However, they still planned to eventually offer a digital version of the SAT. It makes sense that they'd do this as the world increasingly moves online. Many standardized tests, including the GRE, MCAT, and GMAT, are already offered almost exclusively as computer-based tests. Many high school students also take computer-based tests in school now, and it's the format many students feel more comfortable with. So a move to computer-based SATs makes sense as it better aligns the SAT and the College Board with current test-taking standards.

As for other changes, such as making the SAT shorter and giving students more time to answer each question, there are two major reasons for them. The first is to decrease stress on students. It has long been known that the SAT is a stressful and challenging test, not just because of its importance for college admissions, but because of how long it is and how quickly students need to solve tricky questions. The College Board has gradually been shortening the SAT over the years (when I took the SAT, it lasted roughly four hours because the (now defunct) essay section was required for everyone). It has often been argued that, even if students have the knowledge to get a high SAT score, the issues of testing fatigue and running out of time before finishing a section can cause them to get low scores. From pilot testing in November 2021, 80% of students who took the digital SAT found it to be less stressful than the traditional SAT.

The second reason for these changes is that the College Board is working to make the SAT more equitable. It's long been known that wealthier students generally score higher on standardized tests, while minority students and those from poorer backgrounds tend to have lower scores. Lower SAT scores can have a negative impact on college applications and stop students from getting into their top schools, even if other parts of their application are strong. With the move to make the actual experience of taking the SAT less difficult, and their continued expansion of free study materials on Khan Academy, the College Board is taking more steps to attempt to make the SAT fairer to all students.

 

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How Will These Changes Affect College Admissions?

Because these changes were just announced and won't take effect for another year or two, it's difficult to predict exactly how they'll affect college admissions, but our prediction is that they won't cause much change. The general content, difficulty, and scoring system of the SAT aren't changing much, so we expect colleges to view the digital version of the SAT pretty much the same way they viewed the current version. Colleges also make an effort not to penalize students for circumstances beyond their control, so if you take one version of the SAT, you don't need to worry about it having a negative impact on your college applications compared to students who took the other version. 

However, the way that colleges view the SAT (as well as the ACT) has changed significantly in recent years, regardless of these new changes. Many colleges have gradually been putting less weight on standardized test scores and focusing more on other application components, such as GPA, high school classes, and extracurriculars. The COVID-19 pandemic, which made it difficult or impossible for many students to take standardized tests for months, only accelerated this trend. Practically every college became test optional in 2020 and 2021, and hundreds of schools have chosen to remain permanently test optional. If a school is test optional, that means you can choose if you even want to submit SAT or ACT scores are part of your application. If you don't, the other components of your application will simply be weighted more heavily. 

The College Board is well aware of these trends, and many of the new changes to the SAT were put in place to make the test more appealing to students who might have been turned off by taking such a long, difficult test. However, a poll conducted by the College Board also showed that 83% of students wanted the option to submit test scores in their college applications, and nearly every college still offers the option of submitting them, so the SAT isn't going away anytime soon.

 

Summary: SAT Going Digital

In January 2022, the College Board announced a major change: the SAT is going digital and will soon only be offered on the computer, not with pencil and paper. These changes won't come into effect until 2023 for international students and 2024 for US students, but it's important to know what the changes are so that you can make plans for yourself. The six key changes to the SAT are:

  1. It'll be digital
  2. It'll be shorter (2 hours instead of 3)
  3. You'll have more time to answer each question
  4. Calculators will be allowed for the entire Math section
  5. Reading passages will be shorter and more targeted
  6. You'll get your scores back in days instead of weeks

We expect colleges to view the digital SAT pretty much the same way as the current SAT, although, as a whole, standardized test scores are becoming less important for admission to many schools. So, if you're struggling over which version of the SAT to take, choose the one you think better plays to your strengths.

 

What's Next?

Want to learn more about the SAT? Take a look at our complete guide to what the SAT is and get tips on when to start studying and what resources you can use to get the scores you need for college!

Aiming for a high SAT score? Then check out our expert guide to getting a perfect 1600, written by an actual full scorer.

For more information about the college admissions process, check out our complete guide to applying to college

 

 

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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.



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