With the current paper-and-pencil SAT phasing out over the next year and a half, it’s time to take a sneak peek at the format of the new digital and adaptive SAT. Based on the information Summit has collected from the College Board’s latest announcement concerning the new test’s specifications, we summarize the most important changes affecting the math modules. As a reminder, the changes affect US-based students taking the exam in the spring of 2024 onward.
What’s Staying the Same?
The math section of the test will still be scored on a 200-800 scale. Furthermore, a specific math score on the new SAT should still align with the same numerical score on the old SAT. For example, scoring a 500 on the new digital SAT math section is equivalent to scoring a 500 on the current pencil-and-paper version.
Rest assured, the actual conceptual material tested is staying largely the same, though the question categories are getting a slight rebranding. “Heart of Algebra,” the content domain that emphasized linear equations and inequalities has been renamed “Algebra”. “Passport to Advanced Math,” the category that covered quadratics, polynomials, and nonlinear equations and systems of equations has been abbreviated to just “Advanced Math,” but the question types remain exactly the same. Similarly, “Additional Topics in Math,” which primarily covered some basic geometry and trigonometry, will now go by the considerably less vague title of “Geometry and Trigonometry.”
The two math modules will still appear as the last two sections of the test, coming after a 10-minute break following the verbal sections. For those students who have seen older versions of the SAT or PSAT, the questions appearing on the new adaptive test should still feel familiar. Very little has shifted in terms of phrasing, question types, and the overall difficulty. Multiple choice questions will still contain four answer choices, and the percentage of grid-in questions appearing on the test is roughly the same as what is found on the current version. Moreover, students will still be provided a formula sheet (although the exact formulas are not yet known), and they will still have the ability to move ahead or backward in the respective modules, much as they would have on a paper-and-pencil test. Informational graphics such as tables, graphs, and charts will continue to appear in a large variety of questions as well.
Question Type Distribution
While the content is staying the same, the distribution of question types has shifted somewhat. Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the area covering pre-algebra concepts and introductory statistics, has been deemphasized and now will only comprise 15% of the math questions (previously 29% of the content fell into this category). As a consequence of this shift, the other three content domains will be somewhat more represented on the new test. See the sample multiple choice question below for a problem in the Problem Solving and Data Analysis domain.
Shorter Math Test
The total math testing time has been shortened by 10 minutes (70-minute total time). Furthermore, the number of math questions represented has been reduced to 44 (down 14 questions from the paper version). Not only is the math portion shorter, but students will be pleased to find out that they have slightly more time per question throughout the exam (~13 more seconds per math question) as well. One very minor change to the format from the previous test is that grid-ins (student-produced answers) will now allow for negative answers, as is the case in the sample grid-in provided below. Also, word problems are expected to be phrased more concisely, likely a welcome respite for students.
Of course, students will also be taking a computerized version of the test taken on a personal laptop or school-provided computer or tablet. While many features of the new digital test app will make testing easier, more secure, and more streamlined, students may be anxious about how they will perform scratch work for math problems. Blank sheets of paper will be provided by test centers, so students will still be able to write down any necessary scratch work by hand.
Of course, the very nature of a section adaptive test will result in some notable changes in the range of difficulty experienced by a test taker, particularly in the second math module. The first module will feel more familiar, covering a wider range of difficulty and featuring a broad mix of easy, medium, and difficult questions. However, the second module will showcase problems with a more narrow range of difficulty, which will be based on the student’s performance in the previous module. For example, if a student struggled with the medium and hard questions of the first module, they will encounter an easier set of questions in the second module. In short, the second module will be more specifically targeted in its difficulty range. Its purpose is of course to further refine a predictive score indicative of the student’s math proficiency.
Finally, students will be relieved to learn that they are permitted to use calculators throughout the math section. They will be allowed to use their graphing calculators or a built-in Desmos-based calculator. The days of doing arithmetic by hand are (mostly) over, and students will likely need to practice their computational skills with the use of the calculator they choose to bring into the test.
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Assistant Director, Curriculum, Instruction, and Training
Zdenka graduated with an Anthropology BA from Harvard, where she was recognized with a Detur Prize and a Center for European Studies Grant. She joined Summit as a tutor in 2007. She is an enthusiastic educator and more recently worked as an Adjunct Instructor in Biology at Cambridge College. In her current role, she assists in the development of Summit’s new curriculum, instruction, and training materials. Zdenka is especially passionate about mathematics and enjoys studying abstract algebra and number theory in her spare time.