The New Digital SAT Format: What You Need to Know

Everything you need to knwo about the new digital SAT format
March 25, 2024
7 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 3/25/24

Are you planning on taking the SAT and wondering about the digital SAT format? We’ll cover everything you need to know about the new exam. 

As technology evolves, so will our environment and how we do things; the digital SAT is a perfect example of this. The way we have taken the SAT in the past is changing to adapt to the new technologically advanced world. 

As technology continues to shape how we learn and assess knowledge, the College Board has boldly moved to modernize the SAT and meet the demands of a digital age. This revolutionary change brings a host of benefits and considerations for test-takers.

In this article, we will explore the key features of the new SAT format, the main differences between the digital and old test, and the essential information you need to navigate this evolving exam format. 

Whether you're a student preparing for the SAT or an educator guiding students through the process, understanding the ins and outs of the new digital SAT format is crucial for success in today's educational landscape.

The Main Differences Between the Digital SAT and the Old SAT

Let’s take a look at the main differences between the digital SAT and the old SAT. Below is a table that demonstrates this. 

Paper SAT Digital SAT
The time allocated for the exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes. The exam is 2 hours and 14 minutes long.
Reading and Writing are two separate categories. Students are given 100 minutes to complete. Whereas the Reading and Writing are one combined category. Students are given 64 minutes to complete.
The Math section included 45 multiple-choice questions with 13 student-produced response questions. Time allocated for this section is 80 minutes. Now the Math section includes 33 multiple-choice questions with 11 student-produced response questions. Time allocated for this section is 70 minutes.
Exam results took approximately five weeks to be sent out. Test results will be ready in a few days after submission.

Adaptive Testing

Adaptive testing is a unique feature of the digital SAT that dynamically adjusts the difficulty of questions based on a student's previous responses. In the old format, all students received the same questions, regardless of their performance. 

However, with adaptive testing, the digital exam can tailor the test experience to each individual, presenting more challenging questions to those who answer correctly. This adaptive approach allows for a more personalized assessment, targeting a student's skill level and accurately measuring their abilities. 

By adapting to the student's performance, the new digital SAT format ensures a more accurate evaluation of their knowledge and skills.

Quicker Test Results

With the digital format, scoring is automated, allowing quicker processing and analysis of test responses. Test-takers can expect to receive their results within a few days of completing the test, as opposed to up to five weeks with the old exam. 

This expedited feedback enables students to receive timely information about their performance and make informed decisions regarding college applications and future test preparations. 

Example of Changes

The digital SAT differs from the paper version because it's more flexible. It's split into modules that adjust to each student's abilities. Each section, like Reading & Writing and Math, has two modules of equal length. Your performance on the first module determines the difficulty of the second. 

This adaptive testing makes the exam fairer and more accurate. It ensures that each student gets questions suited to their skill level, so no one feels overwhelmed or bored. We'll now explain the types of modules and how scoring considers difficulty.

Module 1 (Normal)

Module 1 of each section is the same for everyone on test day. It includes easy, medium, and hard questions arranged from easiest to hardest. This transparency helps students manage their time effectively and show what they know. Your performance on Module 1 decides which Module 2 you'll get next.

Module 2 (Adaptive)

Depending on how well you do on Module 1, you'll get Module 2A or Module 2B next. If you get about two-thirds of Module 1 questions right, you'll get Module 2B, which is harder. Otherwise, you'll get Module 2A, which is easier. Both modules cover all test topics, but Module 2B has more challenging questions. While all modules have a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions, Module 2A has easier ones, while Module 2B has harder ones.

When Will the SAT Changes Happen?

So, when will the SAT changes happen? The transition from a paper and pencil format to a digital format for the SAT is set to occur at different times for international and US students. 

International students have already experienced this change, as the digital SAT became their exclusive format starting in 2023. They no longer have the option to take the paper-and-pencil SAT.

For US students, the shift to a fully digital format will occur from January 2024 onward. Starting from that point, every SAT exam date in the US will be conducted solely in the digital format. This means that US students will no longer have the opportunity to take the pencil and paper version of the SAT once this change goes into effect.

However, if you’re a student with an accommodation that requires the paper version of the SAT, you can continue with the old format. 

What Does the New Digital SAT Look Like?

The new digital SAT is structured into two main sections: Reading and Writing, and Math, with a total test duration of 2 hours and 14 minutes. Students have 64 minutes for the Reading and Writing section and 70 minutes for the Math section.

Each section is split into two equal-length modules, separated by a 10-minute break. The first module in each section includes a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. Depending on how well students perform in the first module, the second module's questions will be adjusted in difficulty.

Compared to the ACT, the SAT offers 68% more time per question, as shown in the following breakdown:

  • Reading and Writing: 64 minutes (two 32-minute modules) with 54 questions/tasks.
  • Math: 70 minutes (two 35-minute modules) with 44 questions.
  • Total: 134 minutes for 98 questions/tasks.

Most questions on the SAT are multiple-choice, though some math questions require entering the answer rather than selecting it. Importantly, there is no penalty for guessing on any of the questions, so it's encouraged to make an educated guess rather than leaving a response blank.

Below we’ll go in-depth on the differences between the two SAT formats. 

New Test Times

The new digital SAT format introduces several changes in test times compared to the old paper-based format. One significant difference is the reduction in overall testing time. 

One thing contributing to this lessened time allocation is that questions have been reduced in both the math, reading, and writing sections. For instance, in the math section, the old SAT exam had 58 questions, and in the new SAT format, there are 44 questions. 

Students must manage their time effectively, ensuring they allocate sufficient time to answer all questions within each section while maintaining a steady pace.

The New Reading and Writing Sections

One notable difference in the new digital SAT format is combining the SAT Reading and Writing sections, previously separate from the old paper-based test.

Combining the two sections simultaneously assesses a student's reading comprehension and writing skills. Test-takers will encounter 54 multiple-choice questions with the new exam format, each including a very short passage. 

Whereas with the old format, test-takers encountered nine passages with 96 multiple-choice questions for the Reading and Writing sections combined. 

This integration reflects the real-world application of these skills, as effective reading comprehension often goes hand-in-hand with the ability to analyze and communicate ideas in writing. By combining the Reading and Writing sections, the new digital SAT format presents a comprehensive and interconnected assessment. 

The New Math Section

The new SAT exam changes the Math section compared to the old paper-based format. One significant difference is allowing the use of calculators for all portions of the Math section. In the old exam, calculators were not allowed for all portions of this section. 

Students can also use a graphing calculator that’s built into the testing app or bring their own approved calculator if they wish. 

Component Time Allotted (minutes) Number of Questions/Tasks
Reading and Writing 64 (two 32-minute modules) 54
Math 70 (two 35-minute modules) 44
Total 134 98

How to Prepare for the New SAT Format

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the new SAT format. 

Take the SAT Digital Practice Test 

Taking the SAT digital practice test can be invaluable in preparing for the new exam format. By replicating the digital testing experience, this practice test allows individuals to familiarize themselves with the tools, question types, and overall navigation of the test.

It provides an opportunity to adapt to the computer-based format and develop comfort and efficiency in using the online platform. Additionally practice tests helps individuals gauge their timing and pacing. 

Analyzing the practice test results provides valuable insights into strengths and weaknesses, allowing test-takers to focus their study efforts on areas that require improvement. 

If you’re interested in taking a digital SAT practice exam, here is the official one from the College Board. 

Make a Study Plan

A well-designed study plan provides structure and direction, ensuring you cover all exam sections and allocate enough time for each. A study plan helps individuals stay organized and accountable by outlining specific study goals and timelines. It allows for a review of the content, focusing on areas of weakness while reinforcing strengths. 

Additionally, with a study plan, individuals can prioritize their study efforts, track progress, and ensure comprehensive preparation for the challenges of the new SAT format. 

Similar to how an internship gives you practical knowledge and a taste of a future career, a solid SAT study plan provides useful experience in test strategies and mastering the material, boosting your odds of acing the exam.

Use an SAT Prep Book

SAT prep books are tailored to cover the content, strategies, and skills needed to excel on the exam. They comprehensively explain key concepts, offer practice questions, and often include full-length practice tests. 

When selecting an SAT prep book, it is important to choose one that specifically addresses the digital format, ensuring that it offers guidance on using online tools, navigating the digital interface, and managing time effectively. 

Utilizing an SAT prep book allows individuals to supplement their study plan with additional resources, gain a deeper understanding of the test content, and develop effective strategies for success in the new format. 

Practice Time Management

The digital format offers increased flexibility within each section, allowing test-takers to navigate between questions and passages more easily. However, this flexibility also poses a challenge in managing time efficiently. 

By practicing time management strategies during preparation, such as setting specific time limits for each section and monitoring your progress, you can train yourself to allocate sufficient time to answer all questions. 

Timed practice tests will help you develop a sense of pacing and become comfortable with the allotted time for each section. Also, it is important to identify time-consuming question types or sections where you struggle and strategize accordingly. 

Time management helps you complete the test within the given time constraints and also ensures that you allocate enough time to thoroughly read, analyze, and answer each question accurately.

Practice Self-Care

We know preparing and taking the new SAT format can be stressful. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking care of one's physical and mental well-being is crucial for optimal performance on the exam. 

Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and enough sleep are essential components of self-care that promote cognitive functioning and concentration.

It is equally important to manage stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness exercises. Taking breaks, pursuing hobbies, and spending time with loved ones can help alleviate test-related pressure and maintain a healthy balance. 

If you want to test your SAT knowledge check out our SAT Practice Question - Free Pop Quiz. The quiz provides explanations for the answers and can help prepare you for the test. 

FAQs: Digital SAT Format

Do you still have questions about the new format for the SAT? Check out these frequently asked questions. 

1. Is the Digital SAT Going to Be Easier?

The difficulty level of the digital SAT is expected to be comparable to the traditional paper-based test. 

While the new SAT format poses unique challenges for students, such as adapting to computer-based testing and navigating the online platform, these challenges do not directly pertain to the difficulty of the test content itself.

It is worth noting that the ease or difficulty of the digital SAT will vary among individuals based on several factors, including their comfort level with technology and their test-taking strategies and skills. 

To excel on the exam, students should prepare, familiarize themselves with the digital format, and practice using online testing platforms. 

2. Is the Digital SAT Different From the Paper SAT?

Yes, the digital SAT is different from the paper SAT. While the content and scoring of both versions are intended to be similar, other things differ, including:

  • Test Time: The new SAT format is shorter at 2 hours and 15 minutes, whereas the old exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes. 
  • Fewer Sections: The old SAT included three sections, reading, writing, and math. The new format only includes two, reading and writing and math. 
  • Quicker Test Scores: Students taking the digital SAT will receive their results just a few days after the exam. For the old exam, it took five weeks. 

Although both formats of the SAT differ, both exams will test you on the same things. 

3. Is the Digital SAT Harder Than the Paper SAT?

No, the digital SAT is not harder than the paper SAT. Both versions' content, format, and scoring are designed to be as similar as possible to ensure a consistent level of difficulty. The College Board has prioritized maintaining the test's validity and reliability regardless of the format.

4. Will the SAT Still Be Available in a Paper and Pencil Format?

The College Board is making a full transition to digital for the SAT. This means they’ll no longer be administering the paper format of the exam. However, they’ll continue to support students with accommodations that require the paper and pencil test.

Final Thoughts

As the new digital SAT format becomes a reality, you must adapt and familiarize yourself with the changes to maximize your performance on this important exam. The digital format was made to make the SAT relevant in this new age of technology. It was designed to revolutionize the examination process and be accessible to test-takers. 

While the transition may come with its challenges, the benefits of the digital format, such as faster score reporting and a more interactive test-taking experience, shouldn’t be overlooked. 

You should take advantage of the available resources and stay updated with the latest information and guidelines provided by the College Board. With proper preparation and a thorough understanding of the new format, you can confidently approach the digital SAT. 

Good luck!

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