Student using a computer to take a digital version of the SAT.

The New Digital PSAT & SAT: Changes to the Reading and Writing Section

September 14, 2023

Next month, the College Board will release its new digital adaptive PSAT followed by the release of the new digital adaptive SAT in March of 2024. In addition to the new digital tests’ adaptive structure, the biggest change to the tests will be the verbal content. 

Summit is ready!

Below are our observations of how the Reading and Writing sections of the new PSAT and SAT differ from those of the current paper tests.

Shorter Passages

Reading and Writing passages on the new PSAT and SAT are much shorter (only up to 150 words, whereas the current tests’ passages are up to about 750 words). This shift to shorter reading is well suited to the digital format of the exam, as you don’t need to scroll to see the whole passage. Also, each passage is accompanied by only a single question. Anecdotally, we have noticed that the constant switching to new passages may help with short attention spans, but it can also be mentally taxing.

If you remember all the way back to the pre-2016 version of the SAT, these short passages may feel a bit familiar. The texts resemble the short Reading passages and single-sentence Writing questions that appeared in that older version of the test.

More Predictable Structure

On the new PSAT and SAT, verbal question types will always appear in the same order. For example, the first set of questions will always be vocabulary-based “Words in Context” questions, which will progress in difficulty. The first half of each verbal module will consist of Reading question types, and the second half will be Writing question types, (focusing more on punctuation, grammar, and revision.)

The following table shows the order of question types. Note that Standard English Conventions is the only verbal content area that is not ordered by question type but instead is sorted by difficulty.

Content AreaQuestion TypesQuestion Distribution
Craft and StructureWords in Context, Structure and Purpose, Cross-Text Connections13-15 questionsabout 28% of section
Information and IdeasDetails, Central Ideas, Command of Evidence, Inferences12-14 questionsabout 26% of section
Standard English ConventionsFragments, Run-ons, Punctuation, Pronouns, Subject-Verb Agreement, Parallelism, Modifiers, Verb Tense, Idioms, Diction (Note: Ordered by question difficulty)11-15 questionsabout 26% of section
Expression of IdeasTransitions, Rhetorical Synthesis8-12 questionsabout 20% of section

New Strategies

With the changes to PSAT and SAT verbal content, we have adapted our strategies for taking the test.

Students can take advantage of the consistent ordering of question types. For example, if you know that Words in Context questions appear first, you can read the first passages with a focused goal of defining the words in question. 

Similarly, since the first half of each module will have Reading questions, students should expect to need to read these passages more thoroughly. On the other hand, the second half of each module has Writing questions, which can often be solved more quickly with a less careful reading of the passages.

Students should look at a question before they read the relevant passage. The question will usually provide a focus to the reading. This way, the task of reading becomes more goal-oriented and strategic. On the traditional test, this strategy can often cause issues for students, because the task of remembering nearly a dozen questions while also thoroughly reading a long passage is a lot to mentally juggle. On the digital adaptive PSAT and SAT, looking at the questions first before the passage becomes more viable and helpful.

Additionally, students should develop familiarity with the highlighting and annotation tools. It’s important to practice using the digital test’s different functionalities before the official test so students don’t waste time on the big day.

Sample screenshot from College Board’s new SAT testing platform

New Verbal Content

Whereas the question types that appear on the new PSAT and SAT are very similar to the ones that are on the paper tests, some unfamiliar types of passages have been added. Rarely, verbal passages may be poems or plays. If students haven’t prepared for the AP English Literature and Composition exam, these types of passages may be a stumbling block. Practice with poetry and plays will need to be a part of all students’ SAT prep.

Sample question from College Board’s official new SAT practice test #1

The last question type to appear on each verbal module will relate to an unusual passage type: a bulleted list. These passages show a set of notes that were listed as someone researched a topic, and the student is tasked with synthesizing the information in the notes. Students will need enough exposure to this new question type so it feels familiar.

Sample question from College Board’s official new SAT practice test #1

Summit is ready for the digital PSAT and SAT

Overall, although quite a bit has changed in the new Reading and Writing section of the PSAT and SAT, Summit is ready for these changes. We have spent months overhauling all of our verbal content in our course books to offer the most accurate and effective SAT prep materials and 1-1 tutoring for this new test. We are also continuing to stay in contact with College Board officials to ensure we stay informed on all updates to the new SAT. 

Remember, the new exam will only affect the current junior class and younger students. Current seniors who are testing again this fall will be unaffected by these changes.

Questions? Please contact us at (800) MY-TUTOR or We’d love to talk to you!


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