Bonus Material: Check if the changes to the SAT will affect you

Big changes are coming to the SAT beginning in March 2023!

Our Ivy-League SAT experts have been staying on top of all of the updates as they’re released by the College Board.

We’ve spent hours figuring out exactly how the SAT is changing and how students can prepare for these new challenges.

Read on to learn when the SAT will change, what will be different on the new test, who will be affected, and how to prepare.

Will the new SAT affect me? Click to find out

Bonus Material: Will the new SAT affect me? Download our short guide to find out

Jump to section:

The New Digital SAT in a Nutshell
What is the SAT? (and does the SAT still matter?)
Why is the College Board Changing the SAT Again?
When Will the SAT Change? Does the New Digital SAT Affect Me?
How Will Students Take the New Digital SAT?
What’s Different on the New Digital SAT?
How Will the Digital SAT be Scored?
How to Prepare for the New Digital SAT?
Is Anything Happening to the ACT?
Next Steps


The New Digital SAT in a Nutshell

For decades, the SAT has been taken with pencil and paper. 

Starting in March 2023, College Board is launching a new “digital SAT” that will be taken on a laptop or tablet, either their own personal device or one provided by the school.

But it’s not just the medium of the test that’s changing. The College Board is also making big changes to the structure of the test and the type of test questions.

student studying for SAT with laptop

Passages and questions on the new digital SAT will be shorter and more direct. Instead of long passages with about ten questions per passage, students will get many short texts, each with one question.

The digital SAT will be shorter than the current paper SAT. Instead of three hours, the new digital SAT will be about two hours long.

The new digital SAT will have two sections with a break in between. There will be a Reading and Writing section and a Math section.

Unlike the current SAT, the new digital SAT will be adaptive, which means that the questions will get easier or harder as students continue the test, depending on their performance on the first set of questions. In theory, that means that scores can more precisely measure students’ skill levels, even with a shorter test.

Big changes to the SAT will make it even more important that students use the most up-to-date practice material and work with the most up-to-date tutors and programs.

The new digital SAT will launch first for international students in March 2023, and then for students testing in the US in March 2024. The matching PSAT will also change to a new digital version starting October 2023

Students who are testing internationally can already register for the new digital SAT. The first testing date for the new digital SAT is March 11, 2023.


What is the SAT? Does the SAT still matter?

Each year, roughly 2 million high school students take the SAT. 

Along with the ACT, the SAT is a key component of college admissions. Colleges use test scores to gauge a student’s college readiness.

Many students and parents have been asking whether test scores still matter, since most colleges instituted a temporary test-optional policy as a response to Covid. However, 83% of students (regardless of background) have said that they want the option to submit test scores to colleges. 

Based on our research, most students at competitive schools are still submitting test scores. This is especially true for top-tier schools. With the exception of a small handful of schools that have instituted a test-blind policy, strong test scores will always help in the admissions process.  

For students whose grades may have slipped during high school, test scores are especially useful to show admissions officers your potential. As the College Board says, “test scores can confirm a student’s grades or demonstrate their strengths beyond what their high school grades may show.”

In addition to college admission, test scores can be used to earn scholarships or placement in special programs. Many schools that are test-optional for 2022 or 2023 are still using test scores for scholarships, so good scores can be an important way of avoiding student debt.

Younger students can also use test scores for admission to gifted and talented programs.

Finally, test scores are very useful when building a college list. SAT scores can help students to figure out where they might be a competitive applicant. 

Our SAT experts have helped thousands of students navigate the test prep process and raise their scores to match their true potential. Our Ivy-League educators have also created many free test prep resources to help students prepare for college. For more test prep guidance, schedule a call with Jessica or one of our founders today!


Why is the College Board Changing the SAT Again?

The College Board usually changes the SAT about once per decade, to keep up with new trends in education and standardized testing.

The last big change was in 2016. Before 2016, the SAT was scored out of 2400. You might see the current post-2016 SAT still described as the “New SAT” — but it’s not really new anymore! In fact, the post-2016 SAT is about to lose its status as the newest version of the SAT.

The College Board is changing the SAT again now in order to take advantage of the rapid shift towards digital learning and testing during the pandemic. The new SAT will be more secure from cheating, more able to accurately measure students’ abilities in a shorter period of time, and eventually it will be offered with more locations and more frequent testing dates.

student with laptop

On the new digital SAT, each student will have a unique set of test questions. The College Board explained that previously “if one test form is compromised, it can mean canceling scores for whole groups of students,” but sharing answers will be impossible on the new digital SAT.

Now, some students have actually already been taking the SAT on computers, not on paper. However, the new digital SAT will be different from the existing computer-based SAT

The existing SAT on computers (that some students may have encountered) is the same as the paper test, just on the computer. The new digital SAT will be entirely different — it will give every student a unique set of questions, and the questions will be easier or harder depending on how the student performs on the first stage of each test subject. (We’ll explain these changes below.)

The College Board has emphasized that the new digital SAT will open more flexibility for them to increase when and where they offer the SAT. In particular, it will allow more opportunities for states and school districts to offer the in-school “SAT School Day,” which “has been an important driver of access and equity and has been shown to lead to higher college-going rates for low-income and rural students.”

In the future, there will be broad testing windows for school-day testing, staggering students throughout the day or across a week or month. With the new digital SAT, there can also be staggered start times throughout the day nationally. Helpfully, it will be much easier for students to make up for absences on school-day testing. (There will be limits to re-testing within a window.)

Finally, the overall test day experience for the new digital SAT will be shorter and more efficient, since testing staff won’t need to spend time handing out, collecting, or sorting test materials, and students can complete the “student questionnaire” ahead of time.


When Will the SAT Change? Does the New Digital SAT Affect Me?

The new digital SAT will launch in stages.

First, the College Board will administer the new digital SAT to students testing outside the US from March 2023

The College Board claims that this is so that they can increase the number of international testing dates from 5 to 7 dates per year, and thereby expand access to the SAT. This is true, but of course the real reason is that they’re using the much smaller international student pool as guinea pigs. Sorry, international students!

Some international students have been asking whether there is any way for international students to avoid taking the new digital SAT in this experimental year. It’s certainly possible for international students to take the SAT while physically in the US (at a US testing location) before March 2024, while the paper-based SAT test is still being administered to US-based students. Of course, this may be prohibitively expensive or difficult for international students to arrange.

If students spend part of the year in the US and part of the year outside the US, we encourage students to take the paper SAT in the US while they still can.

Next, the PSAT will switch to digital for everyone in October 2023. Since the PSAT is essentially a “practice SAT” that students take in the fall of their junior year, it makes sense for the class of 2025 to take the digital PSAT, since they will also most likely be taking the digital SAT.

Finally, the SAT will change for everyone in March 2024. From that point onwards, it will no longer be possible to take the SAT on paper.

(The only exception to this will be for students with specific accommodations that require a paper and pencil test. For more on testing accommodations, check out our guide here.)

By March 2024, the in-school testing days will also be digital. Currently 60% of all students who take the SAT take it for free in their school during the school day, and “independent research shows that universal school day testing leads to higher college-going rates for low-income and rural students” (College Board).

If students have the chance to take both tests, it might be advantageous to try both. Just like ambitious students often try both the SAT and the ACT, trying to see where they might have an edge, some students might do better on one version of the SAT than the other.

Will the new SAT affect me? Click to find out


How will Students Take the New Digital SAT?

With the new digital SAT, students will take the test on a laptop or tablet. These can be personal devices or school-issued.

If students don’t have access to a laptop or tablet, they can request to borrow one from the College Board for the test. This applies to students anywhere in the world, including students taking the test internationally. Students will need to make this request ahead of test day — if students show up on test day without an appropriate device, they will not be able to take the test that day.

There will likely be some hiccups as the College Board irons out the details of how to provide devices to students, but in 2020 and 2021 students took AP exams (also administered by the College Board) at home, and the College Board plans to “implement a similar solution for the SAT” (College Board).

The new digital SAT will be administered in a locked-down application, and students will not be able to open other applications while testing.

The SAT application has been built to withstand internet outages. Students will be able to continue the test if the internet disconnects while they’re testing — all their work will be saved, and they won’t lose testing time.

Students will need to arrive on test day with a fully-charged device that can last three hours. This will be very important for students to remember! The test center can provide access to a power source (power outlets, power strips, or surge protectors), but they do not need to provide power. It will be the responsibility of the students to make sure that their device can last the length of the test.

If students have an extended-time accommodation (read more about testing accommodations in our guide), then the test center will be responsible for providing access to a power source for at least part of the test.

The College Board has created a new role of Technology Coordinator for each test site, and they’ll have a dedicated customer service team ready to help troubleshoot technical issues that undoubtedly will arise, especially during the initial transition year.

The College Board has worked to make the testing experience similar to working on paper. Within each test section, students will be able to move back and forth between questions. A countdown clock at the top of the testing screen (students can also hide the clock until the final five minutes of each section), which will also alert students when there are only a few minutes left. 

Students can bring a pen or pencil and will be provided with scratch paper. The app will have a highlighter and the ability to flag questions to come back to later. There will be a way to mark eliminated answers.

The app will also have a built-in graphing calculator that students can use on all of the math questions. Students will still be able to bring their own graphing calculator, if they choose.

There will definitely be some key adjustments to important test-taking strategies, since it will no longer be able to annotate questions and passages like on the classic paper test. We’ll continue to provide advice on testing strategies from our SAT experts (sign up for our newsletter for the best insights). Students can also work one-on-one with our Ivy-League tutors to prepare for these changes, and we’ll be opening extra sessions of our renowned SAT MasterClass with our co-founder, Kevin.


What’s Different on the New Digital SAT?

As we’ve mentioned, the new digital SAT is not just a computer-based version of the current SAT. There are also significant changes to the test structure and the style of questions.

Changes to test structure on the new digital SAT

The new digital SAT will be shorter, just a bit more than two hours (versus the current three hours).

There will be two main sections with a break in between: first Reading and Writing, and then Math.

On the current paper SAT, there are separate sections for Reading and for Writing. On the new digital SAT, these will be combined, and students will find Reading questions (about reading comprehension) in the same section as Writing questions (about grammar and the mechanics of clear writing).

Each section will be broken down further into two equal “stages.” (This is to enable the test to be adaptive, which we’ll explain in a moment.) The overall test structure will look like this:

New for the digital SAT, the exact questions that appear on the test will be unique for each student. An algorithm will select questions from a large pool of questions (ranging in content area and in difficulty), adapting to the performance of each student.

In theory, this will make the tests more secure. It will be much harder to cheat the SAT if every student gets a different set of questions.

On the current paper SAT, students often encounter a fifth surprise section of the test. These questions never count as part of the students’ scores — they’re just for the SAT to use internally as they develop new test questions.

On the new digital SAT, however, these “experimental questions” will be mixed in with the rest of the real questions! Each section will have 4 unscored questions mixed in with the scored questions.

Test stages and adaptive testing

As we’ve said, one key difference between the current SAT and the new digital SAT is that the new test will be adaptive. But what does this mean, and exactly how does it work?

Basically, adaptive means that the test will become harder or easier depending on how students perform on the first set of questions.

But don’t worry — the test won’t keep changing with every question you answer. Instead, the new digital SAT will get a first indication of a student’s level with the first stage of each section. This lowers the stakes on any one question and also preserves the ability to go backward and forward within a stage. That first stage will have an even balance of easy, medium, and hard questions.

Then, depending on how well students do on that first stage of the section (the College Board is still deciding how exactly they’ll determine this), they will either get mostly easy and medium questions on the second stage, or they’ll get mostly medium and hard questions.

how the new digital SAT will be adaptive

(This stage-adaptive design is incidentally the way that the GRE, the test that many students take to apply to graduate programs, has worked for over a decade. It’s in contrast to an item-adaptive approach of a test like the GMAT, which is used for MBA admissions programs.)

This means that students will encounter the questions that are the most suited to their level. On the current SAT, there are not very many hard questions to separate the high-scoring students from the super high-scoring students. The difference between a perfect 800 on the current SAT Math and a 700 (which is a great score, but not high enough to be competitive for the Ivy League) is just six questions. Six questions to separate Ivy-League students from the rest! 

So on the current test, there are usually only a handful of make-or-break questions that function to distinguish the highest scorers. (Check out our popular quiz of the hardest SAT math questions ever!) On the new digital SAT, stronger students will get lots more medium and hard questions, so they’ll have more chances to distinguish themselves.

On the flip side, the test will also be more appropriate for lower-scoring students. Currently, if students struggle with the math section, for example, there are only a few easier questions that are more their level, and many harder questions for which they’ll typically need to just guess. Students who answer fewer questions correctly on the first stage of each section on the new digital SAT will get an easier set of questions for the second stage. This expanded set of easy and medium questions will allow students to prove their abilities.

Hopefully, this will make a better testing experience for everyone. Students will get more questions that are targeted to their level, and the whole SAT will be shorter and less of an endurance test!

Changes to questions on the Reading and Writing section

The general knowledge required for students will be similar as for the current SAT, but the style of the new Reading and Writing section is going to be drastically different.

On the current paper SAT, there are two separate sections for Reading and Writing & Language. The Reading section features longer passages and tests reading comprehension, vocabulary, literary analysis, and the use of evidence to support a conclusion about the text. The Writing & Language section tests grammar and good writing techniques like using logical transitions, presenting ideas in a clear order, and writing concisely.

On the new digital SAT, students will be tested on all of these things in the same test section. The first half of each section will be focused on Reading, while the second half of the section will be on Writing.

On the current SAT, students get five long passages (600–700 words) on the Reading section; each Reading passage has a full page (or more) of text accompanied by about ten questions. On the current Language & Writing section, there are four long passages, each with about a dozen questions.

The new digital SAT will be completely different. There will be no long passages on the new digital SAT. Instead, there will be many short passages of just a few lines long (25–150 words), and one question per short passage.

Students will find that the “dual” or “parallel” reading passage, where two texts from different authors are set side by side for comparative analysis, has been removed from the new digital SAT.

On the new digital SAT, there will now be short poetry passages.

Questions involving data visualizations and graphics have also been simplified.

There will no longer be a “no change” option for writing questions. There will also no longer be questions about idiomatic phrases or commonly-confused words.

Here are the Reading and Writing concepts that the New Digital SAT will test:

Reading:

  • Craft and Structure
  • Words in Context
  • Text Structure and Purpose
  • Cross-Text Connections
  • Info and Ideas
    • Central Ideas and Details
    • Command of Evidence (textual or quantitative)
    • Inferences

Writing:

  • Standard English Conventions
  • Info and Ideas
    • Rhetorical Synthesis
    • Transitions

Here are some examples of the new question types from the new Reading and Writing section:

Reading question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Reading question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Reading question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Reading question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Reading question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Reading question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1) — this one with short poetry excerpts
Reading question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Writing question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Writing question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Writing question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Writing question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Writing question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Writing question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)

Changes to questions on the Math section

On the whole, there will be fewer changes to the Math section on the new digital SAT compared to the new Reading and Writing section.

One significant change is in the calculator policy. On the current paper SAT, students take a shorter section with NO calculator and then a longer section with a calculator.

(This has always been one key difference between the SAT and the ACT, because the ACT doesn’t have a no-calculator section.)

On the new digital SAT, students will be able to use calculators on every math question!

The new digital SAT will test the same types of math as on the current paper SAT. However, they’ve renamed the math content to be clearer:

  • Algebra
  • Advanced Math
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Geometry and Trigonometry

There will no longer be questions about imaginary or complex numbers. Another small change is that the grid-in answers can now be negative (and in that case include an extra digit).

Throughout the math section on the new digital SAT, word problems will be more concise than those on the current test. There will no longer be sets of questions based on a given scenario or diagram — every question will be separate and discrete. 

Check out some sample Math questions from the newly released preview material from the College Board:

Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)
Math question from the new digital SAT (practice test #1)


How Will the Digital SAT be Scored?

The new digital SAT will still be scored on a 1600 scale. In theory, scores on the new digital SAT will mean the same thing as on the current SAT, so a score of 1250 on the digital SAT corresponds to a score of 1250 on the paper and pencil SAT.

However, it’s unlikely that students will be able to superscore between the current paper SAT and the new digital SAT.  For example, a student probably will not be able to combine a higher Math score on the paper SAT with a higher Reading & Writing score on the digital SAT.

The College Board can’t control whether colleges allow superscoring or not. Back when the SAT last changed in 2016, the changes were so extensive that colleges didn’t superscore across the versions of the SAT. So while we won’t know for certain until 2025, we can guess that most colleges likely will not be comfortable with superscoring across the two versions of the SAT.

Students will continue to get detailed information from their SAT score reports. New to the digital SAT, the digital SAT Suite will connect students to information about local two-year colleges and workforce training programs tied to their achievements, interests, and financial goals. Students will also receive information more broadly about how their SAT score might open up future career opportunities.

The relationship between ACT scores and SAT scores will still be the same, and the existing ACT/SAT Concordance will still be valid. This is what colleges use to translate between SAT and ACT scores.

Scoring the adaptive stages

The College Board is still figuring out how to score the adaptive stages of the new digital SAT. 

As we’ve explained, a student’s performance on the first stage of each section will determine whether they get an easier or harder version of the second stage.

However, the question is how to measure the student’s performance on the first stage. The College Board could use a rights-based scoring system, where they simply tally the number of correct questions on the first stage. On the other hand, they could weight harder questions more when determining whether to give the easier or harder version for the second stage. They could even use more complicated algorithms! We’ll update this guide as soon as the College Board releases more information.

Question and answer services

One unfortunate change is that as far as we know, students will no longer be able to access their questions and answers from the exam. This is a shame, because the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) is one of the most powerful tools for improving your score on the SAT. Students who can still take the paper SAT should take advantage of this tool while it’s still available!

Bonus Material: Find out when to take the SAT so that you can take the paper SAT before the major changes

Students won’t be given access to test questions from their SAT because the College Board will re-use some questions for future tests. In the past, the College Board has indirectly released three real tests per year via the Question-and-Answer Service. They will no longer do this. Instead, the College Board has indicated that they will roll out additional sample tests periodically. 

Counting the number of missed questions doesn’t make much sense for an adaptive test, because missing 8 questions on the hard version of the second stage means something different than missing 8 questions on the easy version of the second stage. For that reason, students will not even find out exactly how many questions they got right or wrong on the new digital SAT.


How to Prepare for the New Digital SAT

For the new digital SAT, the College Board has deepened their existing relationship with the educational nonprofit Khan Academy [link] to offer online practice that mimics the digital environment of the new SAT.

The digital SAT practice is now available on Khan Academy. There are full-length practice tests as well as practice questions and quizzes.

Currently, students setting up an account on Khan Academy are asked about their testing location (“in the US, Puerto Rico, or US Virgin Islands” or “outside the US”). Students who are taking the test internationally are then asked to confirm that they will be taking the SAT after March 2023, and then they’re directed to the new digital practice material.

Students in the US who are currently sophomores and who plan to take the test in the spring of their junior year, summer in between, or fall of their senior year (i.e. in spring 2024 onwards) will encounter the new digital SAT. However, Khan Academy currently doesn’t ask US students when they plan to take the test, and these students are currently not directed towards the digital practice material.

For this reason, students should be very careful that they are practicing with the correct version of the SAT. Download our handy guide to check whether you’ll take the current paper SAT or the new digital SAT (or both!) and how to schedule your test dates for the best advantages.


Is Anything Happening to the ACT?

SAT and ACT have historically been very similar tests [link to comparison post]. In most states, students take one or the other in-school, and for a while now the balance between the SAT and ACT has been roughly evenly split across the US.

Many students at least try both tests, in order to see if they score better on one test or the other — especially students aiming for highly competitive schools, who are looking for every extra little edge.

(We do recommend that students give both tests a try! You can do this at home by taking a timed full practice test. We regularly help our students [link] through this process.)

However, in the next two years the two tests are going in different directions. The SAT is going digital, adaptive, and shorter. Meanwhile, the ACT will stay the same for the next few years.

In the long run, the ACT is working on making their test a little less fast-paced. (Right now, the ACT feels much faster-paced than the SAT.)

We also know that the ACT is considering making their test shorter. They also haven’t ruled out moving to digital testing and adaptive scoring.

At least for now, though, the ACT is going to stay unchanged. They want to seem more “reliable” than the SAT, which keeps changing! 


Next Steps

Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide to check if the new digital SAT will affect you. For the next year or two, planning testing dates and locations will be more important than normal and have a huge impact on how to prepare for the SAT.

We’re also happy to provide a brief free test prep consultation with Jessica (Director of Tutoring) or one of our founders to see what would be the best fit for your family. 

Preparing for the SAT can be overwhelming in any year, and for the next few years it’s going to be especially challenging. Many tried-and-true test prep techniques and materials are going to suddenly be obsolete. Test strategies will need to adapt to the big changes on the new digital SAT.

More than ever, high-quality and up-to-date guidance will be vital. Our experienced Ivy-League tutors have helped thousands of students navigate preparing for the SAT and improving their scores. Our co-founder, Kevin, also offers a limited number of small-group SAT MasterClasses that help students to reach their full potential on the test.

To reserve a spot in a SAT MasterClass or start one-on-one SAT tutoring today, set up a quick free consultation with our team.

Will the new SAT affect me? Click to find out

Bonus Material: Check if the new digital SAT affects you + plan your optimal testing schedule


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Bonus Material: Will the new SAT affect me? Download our short guide to find out


Emily

Emily graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. She was a National Merit Scholar and has won numerous academic prizes and fellowships. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.