The College Board has announced plans to shift the SAT to an entirely computer-based format, trading the traditional paper test booklets and No.2 pencils for a smarter, shorter, digital test experience. Moreover, the new SAT will be an adaptive test (more on that below).
Yesterday, the College Board followed through on its announcement and released official specs and samples for the new SAT. We have scoured through the 200+ pages of documentation, and our focused analyses are below.
When, where, and what is it?
The new SAT will be released in the US in March of 2024 (March 2023 for international students). From that point, the SAT will only be available in digital format. The test will still be administered at schools and official test locations—you won’t be able to take the digital SAT at home.
Offering the SAT digitally allows for a much shorter test, helps students receive score results sooner (several days rather than several weeks), and presents content in a way that may be more comfortable for students. The digital format also allows for some new functionality, such as highlighting tools and an integrated graphing calculator (Desmos). Most importantly, the digital format allows for an adaptive test structure.
How is the SAT changing?
The new SAT will be adaptive. Adaptive tests use computer algorithms to calibrate the difficulty of test content to each student’s level. On the new SAT, students will take a Math section and a Reading & Writing section, and then the test will measure each student’s performance and make adjustments. If you do well, you get more challenging content on the next section. If you struggled, you get easier content. By offering targeted test material, the test can give accurate scores more efficiently.
The test will be shorter while maintaining its scoring accuracy, thanks to the benefits of the adaptive test structure. The new SAT will be 2 hours and 14 minutes long, significantly shorter than the current test length of 3 hours.
Reading passages will be much shorter. This change will be the most significant difference in test content. Instead of passages up to 750 words long, as seen in the current test, the new SAT readings will only be up to 150 words long. Each of these short passages will include only a single question. We will provide thorough analyses of the Math and Reading & Writing sections, including more information on minor changes to content, soon. Two key features of the current SAT are not changing: content and scoring. For the most part, the concepts tested on the SAT will remain the same. The fundamental knowledge needed for the current test will still apply. While the Reading & Writing passages will be shorter, the questions will test the same skills that the current test does. On the Math side, the material will be nearly identical, with the only significant change being a slight reduction in wordiness. Also, the new SAT will retain the familiar 1600-point scale. Any score on the current SAT should represent the same level of skill as the same score on the new SAT (e.g., if you get a 1250 on the current SAT, you’re likely to get the same score of 1250 on the new SAT). There is no need for concordance between the two tests—they will be fully aligned.
How will adaptive testing work on the new SAT?
An adaptive test evolves in response to a student’s performance. Whereas the current SAT is static, with each student receiving the same test form, the new SAT will adjust the difficulty of test content to best suit each student’s skill level.The Math portion and the Reading & Writing portion of the new SAT will each be divided into two modules. The first module will have a wide range of difficulty among the questions. Based on each student’s performance on the first set of modules, the second set of modules will offer targeted, customized content. This adaptive structure allows for a more precise measure of student skills, so the test can offer accurate scores with fewer questions.
Current SAT Structure – Static
With the traditional SAT, there is a wide variety of difficulties throughout the test. Some questions may be too simple or too difficult for a student. Many questions are needed so that one standardized test form can provide enough data on students across different skill levels.
New SAT Structure – Adaptive
With the new adaptive SAT, the first modules offer a range of difficulty. Students’ performances on the first modules determine if the next modules should be easier or more difficult. The second set of modules is adapted to each student’s skill level, so each student will have a unique, customized set of questions. Fewer questions are needed because the data from the adapted module is more relevant, making it easier to gauge each student’s skill level.
There are multiple benefits to adaptive testing, including increased security and reduced testing time. There can also be drawbacks, such as the inability to provide copies of the test questions (the current SAT offers a Question & Answer Service). We will provide a more detailed explanation of adaptive testing and a deeper look at the consequences of the new test structure soon.
Does this affect me? When do I need to be ready?
Students in the class of 2025 will be the first main group to take the digital SAT. The new test will be available in the spring of 2024 when these students are halfway through their junior year.
Current rising juniors, the class of 2024, will be unaffected by this change. For international students, the shift comes earlier. Students taking the SAT internationally will be given the digital test starting in spring 2023. Summit will offer proctored practice tests and full prep programs for this first group of digital SAT test-takers—stay tuned for more details!
How does the current SAT compare to the new digital, adaptive SAT?
Summit is well-prepared for the new digital SAT. We are working hard to develop practice tests, curriculum, and informational presentations. In fact, we have been monitoring the College Board’s plans for an adaptive test for several years and began our preparation long ago!
If you’re interested in learning more about specifications for the new SAT, see the official College Board documentation here.
What about the ACT?
As of now, the ACT seems to be sticking with its pencil-and-paper test. While the SAT seeks to innovate and evolve, the ACT is maintaining a steady course. Perhaps the ACT is counting on students sticking with the reliable, traditional option, or perhaps they have unannounced plans for digital testing. The ACT already has a digital option for international test-takers, so it is possible that they will expand this option to domestic students.
SAT or ACT? Choosing which test to focus on has always been a key decision in test prep, and the growing distinctions between the SAT and ACT make this decision more impactful. Currently, students who prep for one test may be able to transition to the other and achieve strong scores with both. This transition is simple because of the similarities in content and testing format. With the shift to the digital adaptive SAT, that tactic becomes more challenging and complicated. Further, there is more need than ever for prep providers to maintain up-to-date resources and technical knowledge in order to effectively prepare students for either test.
Summit is Ready
For over 30 years, Summit has successfully navigated the ever-shifting standardized testing landscape, and this time is no different. We will be ready with updated test prep materials, test-taking strategies, and practice testing options to ensure that students will be ready to score to their true potential on this new version of the test.
Questions? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-MY-TUTOR.
Joshua White – Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Training
In his role as Director of Curriculum, Joshua oversees the development, implementation, and oversight of Summit’s curriculum, instruction, and training. Prior to his role, Joshua spent 3 years as a Summit tutor and classroom teacher, preparing students for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, and essay-writing. With over 10 years of tutoring experience, Joshua has taught students from kindergarteners to senior citizens in everything from cooking to computers.