What's the difference between the digital PSAT and SAT?

This fall, the PSAT suite of tests will change to a new digital adaptive format. This change will affect all students, US-based and international.

These new tests are a big change from the old paper-based PSAT, but they are almost exactly like the digital SAT—which international students have taken since March 2023 and US based students will begin to take in 2024.

On the digital versions of the SAT, the PSAT NMSQT, and the PSAT 10, students complete the same number of questions on the same concepts in the same amount of time. There are just two differences:

  1. PSAT questions are less difficult. This is true across the board, but on the official Blue Book practice test, our team found it especially noticeable in the higher difficulty Math module, the word-in-context questions, and the charts and graphs.
  1. There’s a smaller score range. While a perfect SAT score is a 1600, a perfect PSAT score is a 1520. Why? Well, a student's PSAT score is intended to be predictive of their SAT score, but because the PSAT is less difficult, the exams aren’t comparable in score ranges above 1520.

In what ways is the digital PSAT less difficult than the digital SAT?

There are dozens of ways—subtle and overt—that the test content is made easier.

Let's take just one example:

There's a particular passage and data table that show up—with small differences—on both the official practice PSAT and on Practice Test 3 for the digital SAT. (If you’d like to follow along, on the PSAT, it’s question 10 in the first module of the Reading & Writing section; on the SAT, it’s question 10 in the higher-difficulty second module of the same section.)

Both questions utilize the same data and concern the same research study, but the little differences show how the College Board can alter a question and passage to shift their difficulty.

  • The SAT's answer choices are longer and more complex. In the PSAT's version of this question, answer choices are just a few words each and require students to merely pick an answer that accurately restates data found in the table. However, the SAT’s answer choices are each several lines long and test a student’s ability to first identify a conclusion within the passage and meaningfully use the data as support.
  • Figures on the PSAT are simpler to navigate. On the PSAT version of this question, rows in the data table are organized in ascending order, smallest to largest. But on the SAT, there’s no apparent order to the rows, making it more challenging for students to identify trends.
  • Passages on the SAT are more syntactically complex. In this example, the PSAT passage contains no commas or punctuation apart from periods, and there are no transitional words or phrases—a simplicity that makes the text relatively easy to interpret with a single read through. In contrast, the SAT passage is longer, and the structure of its sentences is more varied and complex; for instance, the passage starts with a long introductory clause that makes it challenging to identify the subjects of the first sentence, and the final sentence starts with “however,” establishing a sudden shift in the passage’s focus, which students will have to accurately interpret before they pick the right answer.

How can students prepare for the digital PSAT?

Because the digital PSAT is brand new, there is only a small amount of high-quality practice material available. But since the PSAT and the SAT are so similar, students can use digital SAT practice tests and prep materials to prep for the PSAT.

Until there are more practice tests for the PSAT, we recommend that students start with a diagnostic digital SAT, then save this practice PSAT until closer to their official test date.

If you're a US-based student testing this fall, just remember that even though the PSAT will be digital, the SAT will still be the same old paper-based test until it changes next March—so prepping for the digital PSAT will not prepare you to take the SAT this year.

As you study, just take care not to rush through the available SAT practice material. Prepping on your own, if you’re not careful, you could easily find yourself in a situation where you’ve exhausted the available resources but still haven’t hit your target score.

This is where a tutor can help.

At ArborBridge, our tutors have years of experience tutoring students for similarly adaptive tests, such as the GRE and GMAT. We’ve also been helping international students prepare for the digital SAT since the pilot test dates in 2022.

Even though the digital PSAT is new, our team already knows it inside and out, and we know how to help you get the most out of the prep material available.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, or want to start working with a tutor who specializes in the digital PSAT, reach out to us here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Jordan Browne

About Jordan Browne

In addition to graduating summa cum laude from Emerson College and holding an M.F.A. from Columbia University, Jordan was a Fulbright scholar to Montenegro, where he taught seven courses for the University of Montenegro. Along with teaching writing, rhetoric, and literature at the college level, Jordan has taught test prep for several years in New York public schools and across three continents. Ever since he was young, he’s been the weird one who actually enjoys standardized tests, and, for several years now, he’s taught students of every skill level and background how to like them too—or, at least, how to get the scores they need.

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