Digital SAT: FAQ

Updated June 2023

By now, you’ve heard—the SAT is going digital. With any change comes uncertainty, confusion. So much so that “change is scary” is at least a well-worn cliché, if not a truth universally acknowledged.

From what we’ve seen so far, we think there’s little to fear from this new redesign. The new digital SAT might seem different, but it will still be the same old coachable standardized test, just with a fresh coat of paint.

Still, parents and students understandably have questions about what to expect and what this all means for them. We have answers:

Q: How is the SAT changing?

A: We’ve previously recapped all the changes, big and small, that the College Board announced. Here’s a quick summary: It’s getting an hour shorter (going from three hours to two), students will take it on a computer, the Reading and Writing sections will be combined, Reading passages will be shorter and have just one question each, students can use their calculators for every question on the Math section, and the test’s difficulty will be adaptive.

Q: Does this affect me?

A: The changes started in March 2023 for students outside of the US, and the SAT will be digital starting in March 2024 for US students. Whether or not you’ll be affected depends on your age and your testing timelines (some students plan to test earlier in high school than others). Since many students take the SAT in the spring of their junior year, US students who are currently rising juniors or younger will most likely be affected.

Q: Will there be a period of overlap between the paper test and the digital test?

A: Only if you're planning to travel internationally in 2023 to sit for your exam—but the two versions will not be offered alongside each other in a single location. In March 2023, international test centers began offering the digital SAT and ceased offering the paper version. So, until the digital SAT rolls out in the US in 2024, international students who want to take the paper SAT can do so only by traveling to the US.

However, if a student is taking their exam at a local test center, there will not be a transitional period in which they get to decide between the digital test or the paper test. Once the test goes digital in your area, that's it.

Q: Can I take the test online from home?

A: No. Students still take the SAT either at school or at a testing center, either with a computer the testing site provides or with the student’s own computer.

Q: So, what is "adaptive difficulty" anyway?

A: Each of the digital SAT’s sections is split into two “modules” or question sets. How well a student does on a section’s first module changes which questions they see on the second. If they score highly on the first, they’ll see harder questions on the second, and those questions will be worth more points. Though this shift in design means the test can be an hour shorter, thus more convenient to take, most high school students have little experience with adaptive testing.

But don’t worry. Adaptive testing isn’t new, and test prep experts already have well-worn strategies to help students perform their best on adaptive tests.

Q: Is new test easier? Harder?

A: The redesigned test is still scored out of 1600. At least in part, this decision seems to have been made to imply that the scores and difficulty of the current paper-based test and future digital tests are directly comparable. And that does seem to be the case. In other words, the dSAT is not objectively easier or harder than the paper version, just different.

With that said, some students have reported that the digital exam feels harder than past paper exams. We think they felt this way because of the test's adaptive difficulty. Students who got the higher-difficulty second modules tended to have plenty of leftover time at the end of the first modules. And, in some cases, having this extra time lulled them into a false sense of security, so they started the second, harder modules with a slower-than-ideal pace. Then, by the time these students realized they were working too slowly, it was too late for them to adjust.

It's important to note that we don't have any evidence that these students scored any lower than they would have, had they taken the paper SAT. Instead, these reports reinforce something we already knew—namely, compared to taking a regular, nonadaptive test, taking an adaptive test requires a shift in mindset and strategy.

Q: But aren't computer-based tests generally harder?

A: At ArborBridge, we’re used to hearing this question about the ACT—which US students currently still take on paper, but international students have taken a digital version of for the past several years. It’s true that some students prefer one test format over the other, and there are both distinct advantages (no time wasted bubbling answers; the onscreen clock makes it easier to see how much time you have left) and disadvantages (can be harder to directly annotate questions on the screen; easier to make little mistakes when rewriting questions on scratch paper). However, as a company, we’ve found that, on average, our computer-based ACT students score just as highly as our paper-based ACT students score.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts 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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