The SAT is changing–a lot! Here’s an overview of the new digital format, followed by an in-depth look at the new math and verbal content.
The digital SAT will debut in March of 2024. But class-of-2025 juniors will get a preview in October of 2023, when the digital PSAT arrives. Most students graduating in 2024 will not be affected by the changes.
The 1600 scale will remain the same, and new digital-test scores will be equivalent to old paper-test scores, so colleges will not need to adjust score requirements. Colleges that superscore will most likely superscore across formats (so students graduating in 2025 might want to take the old paper test in the fall of 2023 before taking the digital test the following spring.)
DIGITAL SAT OVERVIEW
Students will take the new SAT and PSAT with College Board’s Bluebook app, using a personal or school-provided laptop or tablet. (College Board plans to provide approved devices to students who would not otherwise have access to them.)
The new test has four sections (two verbal, then two math) and is section-level adaptive. When students start the test, the app will download three sets of verbal problems. The first set will be “medium” difficulty. Students who perform above a certain threshold score (TBD) on this first section will then advance to a more difficult verbal section. Students performing below the threshold will get an easier second verbal section. (Same for the math.)
The College Board (CB) has not released scoring details, but it’s safe to assume that harder questions (or sections) will be more heavily weighted. Students will not be punished for advancing to a more difficult section.
The digital format comes with some cool features like an on-screen timer (that can be hidden until the last five minutes of a section), on-screen highlighter/annotator tool, and an answer-eliminator tool. Students can also move back and forth within a section and flag problems for review. Students can see an overview of their answers, unanswered questions, and flagged problems.
Best of all, students will have access to an on-screen Desmos-style graphing calculator for every math problem. Students can also bring their own approved calculators. Scratch paper will be provided.
Once time is up for a section, a student’s work is automatically saved, and they no longer have access to that section.
The CB says the new test will be more secure. The Bluebook app will be “locked down,” meaning students will not be able to open other apps while testing. The CB should be able to
detect any efforts to hack the test as they’ll have a complete log of any actions taken on the device during the test.
Cheating will also be more difficult as each student’s test will be unique, generated by an algorithm that pulls from a large set of problems tagged with problem type and difficulty.
Due to the unique problem set of each test, and the fact that the CB plans to reuse problems, the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) will be discontinued. Students will not be able to review problems or see their answers after the test.
Accommodations will not change. Students whose accommodations require it will be provided a linear (non-adaptive) paper test.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NEW VERBAL TEST
The Reading and Writing tests will now be combined. Each Reading-and-Writing (RW) section will be 32 minutes and consist of 27 questions, the first half focusing on reading, the second half on writing. Problems will get progressively more difficult within each half.
The new verbal test looks to be somewhat easier than the current one. Both reading and writing passages are now much shorter (25-100 words instead of 600-700), with only one question per passage. Also, the “Great Global Conversation” reading passage type has been eliminated. (Some of the passages on the currently available practice tests are over one-hundred years old, but most are contemporary.) Best of all, the new one-question-per-passage format means no more paired-evidence-based questions, which are some of the most difficult questions on the current test.
Writing questions will no longer test commonly confused words or idiomatic phrases. Also, the somewhat confusing “NO CHANGE” answer choice has been eliminated from the writing questions.
The one content change that I see causing difficulty for many students is the addition of problems involving poetry, including, for example, sonnets by Shakespeare. But these problems appear to be rare, so students don’t necessarily need to start reading the Oxford Book of English Verse (unless they just want to!)
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NEW MATH TEST
Big changes are coming to the math test as well. Each of the two math sections is now 35 minutes with 22 questions that increase in difficulty within a section. (Remember, the better you perform on the first “medium” difficulty section, the more likely you are to get a slightly more difficult second math section.)
Math content won’t change much, but imaginary and complex numbers will no longer appear on the test. Also, the new format will make certain types of problems easier. As noted above, an on-screen graphing calculator is now available for every math question. Graph equations can be entered in standard form, which makes system-of-equation (SOE) problems a piece of cake! Just enter each equation and graph to see where they overlap.
Grid-in problems are now mixed in with multiple-choice problems, and grid-in answers can now be negative.
Each of the four sections will have two unscored questions so that the CB can test out new problems for future tests. Students will not know which questions are unscored.
Overall, the new test looks much friendlier. At 2 hours and 14 minutes, the digital SAT will be shorter than the ACT. Many of the hardest question types have been eliminated. The in-app graphing calculator, on-screen timer, and the ability to flag problems for review are welcome features of the new digital format. Students probably won’t have much use for the highlighter since reading passages are so short, but it’s there if you need it!
You can read more about the new digital SAT at collegeboard.org. Currently there are four practice tests (with answer explanations) available in the Bluebook app. More Than A Teacher will debut digital SAT classes in June of 2023. We will continue to provide “classic” SAT courses until the old test is retired in 2024.