picture of laptop being used to take the digital sat

The Complete Guide to the Digital Adaptive SAT

February 8, 2024

The College Board transitioned to the new digital adaptive PSAT this past fall and is transitioning to the new digital adaptive SAT this spring. For students in the U.S., the graduating class of 2025 will be the first to encounter this new test.

It is important to note that the while our current juniors are feeling a little bit like the guinea pigs for this new test, the College Board actually released this new test internationally in March 2023. There have been 7 official administrations of this test internationally: in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December of 2023. The international students that we worked with reported that these administrations went smoothly: they did not have technical issues taking the test and their scores came back where they were expecting.  Based on the international release, we are hopeful that the spring administrations here in the U.S. will also go well.

The purpose of this post is to do a deeper dive on this new digital adaptive test, so you have greater insights into the test itself and are able to go into it with the confidence you need to succeed.

The Structure of the Test

The new digital adaptive SAT is a shorter test than the previous paper and pencil iteration.  This new test is only 2 hours and 14 minutes for students testing with standard time. It consists of two modules in the Reading & Writing Section and two modules in the Math Section. Each Reading & Writing module has 27 questions (2 are experimental and are not scored) and students have 32 minutes to complete each module. The Math modules are each 22 questions (with 2 unscored experimental questions) and students have 35 minutes to complete each module. There is a single 10-minute break once students complete the second Reading & Writing module, before they begin the first of the two Math modules.

The Reading & Writing and Math sections are scored on the same 200-800 point scale, so the new SAT is still on the 400-1600 total point scale.

The Adaptive Scoring of the Digital SAT

At a high level, the “adaptive” nature of the test means that how students perform on an earlier part of the test predicts their overall skill level and scoring range, and the questions they see later in the test are adapted to their skill level and are used to refine and pinpoint each student’s score.

The new SAT adapts to the students’ performance after they complete the first module of the Reading & Writing and the first module of the Math section. On test day, all students are given a first module mixing questions of all difficulty levels. Depending on their performance on that first module, each student will be given either an easier or harder second module. This adaptive structure allows for a more precise measure of student skills, so the test can offer accurate scores with fewer questions.

In that first module (for both the Reading & Writing and the Math) students encounter questions of a wide range of difficulties—from easier questions to some of the hardest questions on the test.  After students complete that first module, the test knows how they performed on it, and the test then adapts to that student’s performance by either sending the student to a “harder” or “easier” second module (see below).  

Based on our research, if a student is sent to the “harder” second module, the test has already determined (based on the number of points that the students earned in the first module) that this student is scoring somewhere in the 450-800 point range. As a result, this student will get many more of the harder and hardest questions on the test to figure out where within that range the student lies.

Conversely, if a student ends up in the “easier” second module, the test has determined that the student’s score is somewhere in the 200-low 600s range, and students receive more of the easier and medium difficulty level questions to pinpoint their exact score in that range.

It is important to note that if a student receives the “easier” second module, even if they answer every question correctly in that module, we think a student’s score will max out around the 620-630 range.

Also note that students will not know which second module they are tracked to after they complete the first module and the score reports that students receive back from the College Board also does not indicate to students which second module they received. Consequently, colleges also do not know if students were in the “harder” or “easier” second module for those students who are scoring in that 450 – 630 range.

Taking the Test through the College Board Bluebook App

For both the digital adaptive PSAT and digital adaptive SAT, students take the test through the College Board’s Bluebook App, which students download to their own personal computer or device prior to taking the test. Although students take the test online, the Bluebook app has features built into the testing platform that mimic the look and feel of taking a paper and pencil test.

The Annotate tool (located in the upper right-hand corner) allows students to highlight text and also brings up an annotation box for students to take notes.

Above each question is an Answer Eliminator tool that enables students to strikethrough and cross out any answer choices that the student believes are incorrect, so students can more easily use process of elimination to find that correct answer.

The Mark for Review feature allows students to tag questions so they can easily go back to them if they want to review their work on that particular problem.

In the lower middle of the screen, students can access their dashboard which will show them every question that they answered, skipped, or flagged for review, so they can easily go back to or skip to any question within a module.

The timer keeps track of how much time students have remaining in a module. While proctors are still in the room as students are taking the test, the actual timing for each module is handled by the timer in the platform. Students who do not want to see the timer ticking down on them can hide the timer and then unhide it at any time to see how much time they have left.

Digital SAT Reading & Writing

The new digital SAT has combined the reading and grammar questions into each of the two modules. There is no longer a separate reading section and separate writing section (the grammar portion of the test) that we saw on the previous paper and pencil version of the SAT.

In addition, the passages on the new digital SAT are considerably shorter. The SAT Reading & Writing section uses short texts of 25–150 words to measure students’ skills in comprehension, rhetoric, and use of language. Texts range in complexity from grade 6 to early college and cover topics in history, humanities, science, and literature (including prose fiction, poetry, and plays). Each text is accompanied by a single question. Questions ask students to understand the meaning and purpose of texts, as well as to revise texts to improve their grammar and clarity.

The SAT Reading & Writing questions are divided into four content areas:

The ordering of question types within each Reading & Writing module is consistent. Question types follow the order presented in the table above (with the exception of Standard English Conventions question types, which appear in random arrangements). When there are multiple questions of the same type, they generally increase in difficulty.

The Reading & Writing section consists of two modules, each containing 27 questions. Two questions per module are “pretest” questions, which are unscored; there is no reliable way to identify pretest questions, so you should not attempt to skip them.

Students have an average of 1 minute and 11 seconds to read each text and answer the accompanying question.

Digital SAT Math

The digital SAT Math section measures students’ skills in pre-algebra, statistics, algebra, and geometry, but the emphasis is on algebra. Questions appear in two formats: multiple-choice and student-roduced response. Unlike multiple-choice (MC) questions, student-produced response (SPR) questions do not provide answer choices, so students must type in their own answer. Calculators are allowed throughout the Math section, and a Desmos-based graphing calculator is provided within the Bluebook app (see below for more information about this calculator).

This section requires a deep understanding of a relatively small number of math topics, testing fluency, conceptual understanding, and application. The successful student will not only understand how to solve an algebraic equation (fluency) but will also be able to create an algebraic equation or graph to model and solve a real-world problem (conceptual understanding and application).

Approximately 30% of the digital SAT Math section is made up of in-context word problems, which can appear within the backdrop of a science, social studies, or other real-world related scenario. Such questions are often accompanied by informational graphics (tables, charts, or graphs) which students must interpret to solve problems.

The digital SAT Math section consists of two modules, each containing 22 questions. Two questions per module are “pretest” questions, which are unscored.

There is no reliable way to identify pretest questions, so you should not attempt to skip them.

Digital SAT Math questions are arranged in rough order of difficulty within each module. You have an average of 1 minute and 35 seconds to read and answer each question. Approximately three-quarters of the questions are multiple choice questions with four options each, while the remaining quarter are student-produced response questions. These types of questions are mixed throughout both modules.

Desmos-based Graphing Calculator

The use of a graphing calculator is permitted throughout the Math section. The Bluebook Application even includes a built-in calculator that is almost identical in design to Desmos — a free, advanced graphing calculator which many students are already familiar with from their classrooms. While a personal graphing calculator is very powerful and can always be used for this test, the built-in calculator is often more efficient.

Perhaps more importantly, the in-app calculator provides a way to work out solutions side-by-side with the problems as they appear on the screen.

The application is incredibly versatile. It can convert between decimal and fraction values, graph multiple functions in one plot, find points of intersection and intercepts, model linear equations, and do much more. However, just like with any tool, a student must practice with Desmos or the in-app calculator regularly to learn how to use it best. The calculator will not be helpful for every single Digital SAT math question, but it can often provide a back-up approach to a challenging problem or offer a quick way to check a student’s work.

Students’ Reactions to the New Digital Adaptive SAT

The response to the new test has been very positive from students who took the digital PSAT in the fall and our international students who took the test last spring. In general, students like the shorter format of the test and are not fazed by having to take it online. Students are also scoring comparably to how they scored on the previous, longer paper and pencil SAT, so they seem to be adjusting to this new format well.

Here at Summit, we are not shying our juniors away from this new test. We have been preparing students for it for over a year now (between our international students and our students preparing for the digital PSAT this fall) and our students have done well. We have revamped all of our curriculum to align with the new test and our tutors are fully trained and up and running on it. We have also created 2 full-length adaptive practice tests that closely mimic the look, feel and scoring of the College Board tests. We should have our third test by the end of February 2024 and our fourth test by early summer. Please reach out to us if your student is interested in trying the practice digital SAT to help them prepare for the digital tests that are coming this spring.

As always, we are here to help. Please reach out to one of our Program Directors to answer any questions that you have about the new standardized testing landscape and to help you map out a tutoring and testing plan that is customized for your student.


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