If you’re planning to take the SAT within the next couple of years, you may be wondering, can you take the SAT online? In this article, I’ll answer key questions about your SAT testing options right now and in the next couple of years. I’ll also break down the key differences between the current version of the SAT and the new, digital SAT.
Here are the topics we’ll cover:
- Can I Take the SAT Online?
- What Won’t Change on the Digital SAT
- What Will Change on the Digital SAT
- Paper vs. Digital Test: Key Differences
- In Conclusion
- What’s Next?
Let’s start by discussing whether you can currently take the SAT online and when you’ll be able to.
Can I Take the SAT Online?
You may have heard that a digital SAT will be available in the near future. It’s true, a digital version of the test is in the works. However, if you are wondering whether you can take the SAT online in 2022, the answer is no. As of right now, the SAT is available only as a paper test.
So, let’s take a look at when the digital test will be available.
Digital SAT Release Dates
The SAT will transition in stages to a digital test starting in 2023. Let’s take a look at the estimated timeline of this transition:
- Spring 2023: International students will be able to take the digital SAT. However, the digital test will not yet be available to high school students in the U.S.
- Fall 2023: The PSAT will go digital for students everywhere.
- Spring 2024: U.S. students will be able to take the digital SAT.
High school students in the U.S. will make the switch to the digital SAT in spring 2024.
Keep in mind that the transition to a digital test means that, once the digital test is available in your area, the paper test no longer will be. In other words, the College Board is not simply adding a new testing option for students. Rather, the current, paper version is being replaced with a new, digital version.
That said, students who receive accommodations that require a pencil-and-paper test will still be able to take the test on paper. Nevertheless, that paper test will be the new version that includes the same changes in content and structure that the digital test has — it just won’t be presented digitally.
Once the SAT goes digital, only students who receive accommodations that require a pencil-and-paper test will still be able to take the test on paper.
The digital SAT not only will be presented in a new format but also will be quite different in its structure and content. We’ll discuss all the changes that the College Board has made public so far. But first, let’s discuss what will stay the same.
What Won’t Change on the Digital SAT
The SAT is making some big changes, but a few key elements of the test will stay the same when the digital version is released. Let’s take a look.
The digital SAT will use the same score scale of 400-1600 that the paper test uses. So, in each of the two sections, the minimum possible score will remain 200 and the maximum possible will remain 800.
Keeping the score scale the same means that test scores from the digital SAT should be basically comparable with those from paper SATs taken in earlier years. Additionally, score reports should look pretty much the same.
However — one benefit to the digital format — SAT score reports will be available much sooner after test day than they are with the paper test, within days instead of weeks.
The digital SAT will use the same score scale of 400-1600 that the paper test uses.
The digital SAT will still be administered in schools and test centers, just as the paper test is now. So, SAT School Day is not going away when the paper test does — it’s just going digital.
Importantly, testing either at your school or a test center will still be required. In other words, you won’t be able to take the test at home just because the test is digital. And, of course, a proctor will still be present in the testing room at all times during your exam.
The digital SAT will still be administered in schools and test centers, just as the paper test is now.
As I alluded to earlier, test accommodations will still be offered to students who need them when the SAT transitions from a paper to digital test. The College Board says it will maintain the “same range” of accommodations (and some of those are paper-based). So, extended time, text to speech, braille, etc., will still be available.
The accommodations offered on the digital test will be the same as those on the paper SAT.
Now that we know the major aspects of the SAT that will stay the same, let’s talk about the key changes to the SAT that we know about so far.
What Will Change on the Digital SAT
The most obvious change that will happen when the digital SAT becomes available is that the test will no longer be presented on paper. So, no more filling in bubbles with a pencil.
Instead, you’ll take the test on a desktop or laptop computer, Chromebook, or iPad. In fact, you will have the option of taking the test on either your own device or a school-owned one, and using either a Windows or Mac operating system. You will not, however, be able to take the SAT on a cell phone.
Along with a digital test will come some built-in features that aren’t possible with a paper test. Let’s take a look at those first.
There are 5 major new features that you’ll have access to on the computer or tablet on which you take the digital SAT:
- Section Adaptivity: Your performance on the first Reading and Writing section you complete will affect the difficulty level of the second Reading and Writing section. Likewise, your performance on the first Math section will affect the difficulty level of the second one.
- Digital timer: An on-screen countdown clock will let you know how much time you have left in each section.
- Mark for review: You’ll be able to flag any question in a section that you want to return to before the section is complete.
- Highlighting: You’ll be able to highlight any part of a question and leave yourself a note. This feature could come in handy if you plan to return to question later.
- On-screen calculator: You’ll have access to an on-screen graphing calculator.
Now that we have a handle on the digital test’s built-in features, let’s talk about one of the most significant differences between the current SAT and the new one: the testing time.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of taking the digital SAT instead of the paper version is the significantly shorter testing time. Whereas the paper SAT takes 3 hours to complete, the digital test will be only 2 hours and 14 minutes long.
Let’s talk about some of the changes that allow for the shorter exam.
The SAT section structure will change somewhat with the digital test. There will still be 4 sections, 2 of which are Math sections. However, there will no longer be a separate Reading section and Writing and Language section, which together make up the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) portion of the paper test.
Instead, there will be 2 “Reading and Writing” sections, and each Reading and Writing section will be a mix of “Reading” style questions and “Writing and Language” style questions. Additionally, what is called your EBRW score on the paper test will instead be called a “Reading and Writing” score.
So, essentially, the EBRW portion is becoming the “Reading and Writing” portion, and all the associated questions types can appear mixed together. Thus, you could see a grammar question followed by a reading comprehension question followed by another grammar question, all within the same section.
Along with this restructuring, sections will become shorter overall. In fact, no section will be longer than 35 minutes on the digital test, and the test will contain fewer questions in total.
Whereas the 2 Math sections on the paper SAT total 80 minutes and 58 questions, the Math sections on the digital test will total 70 minutes and 44 questions. Furthermore, the section times and number of questions will be evenly split between the 2 sections. So, students will no longer have to endure 1 Math section that stretches on for nearly an hour.
Similarly, the 65-minute, 52-question Reading section and 35-minute, 44-question Writing and Language section that make up EBRW on the paper test will become two 32-minute Reading and Writing sections that contain 27-questions.
So, in total, the SAT online will have around half as many questions as the current version of the test. For many SAT test-takers, the reduction in the number of questions is sure to be one of the biggest benefits of taking the new test.
The new SAT will present a total of 98 questions, instead of 180.
Another major and much-welcomed change to the SAT is that there will be significantly shorter Reading passages and Writing passages on the test. In fact, all passages in the Reading and Writing sections will be approximately 100 words. Furthermore, there will be only 1 question associated with each passage.
As you may know, the current version of the SAT presents Writing passages that are 400-450 words each, alongside 11 questions each, and Reading passages that are 500–750 words each, alongside 10-11 questions each. So, the reduced word count and question distribution on the new SAT represent a huge change.
Of course, with 27 questions in each Reading and Writing section, you can expect to see 27 different passages in each section, since there is only 1 question per passage. So, you will see many more passages on the new exam. However, given how short each passage will be, the time you need to read and digest passages will be dramatically reduced.
If you are wondering how short 100 words really is, this paragraph and the preceding one, which together are 7 lines long, are exactly 100 words. So, you can expect the new passages to be about this size.
All passages in the Reading and Writing sections will be approximately 100 words, and there will be only 1 question associated with each passage.
Word Problem Length
Reading and Writing isn’t the only section getting shorter passages. The average length of word problems in the Math section also will be reduced. This reduction will not be like the dramatic one associated with Reading and Writing passages. Rather, you can expect that, overall, the new word problems will be slightly shorter than or on the short side of the current ones. Still, any reduction in problem length is likely to be welcome by test-takers.
The average length of word problems in the Math section will be slightly shorter on the new SAT.
As of this writing, the College Board has released limited information about the mix of questions that will appear on the new SAT. The biggest clue we have so far is this small group of sample questions that the College Board released. The College Board is expected to release full-length practice tests in the new format in fall 2022.
Regardless, the SAT will remain a test of college readiness, and all indications are that the skills and concepts tested will remain basically the same. Let’s look at what we know right now about the question types on the new SAT.
The math concepts tested on the new SAT will be the same as those tested on the current SAT. So, you’ll see the same topics in algebra, geometry, data analysis, and trigonometry.
A slightly smaller percentage of those questions will be multiple-choice, however. On the current exam, about 80% of Math questions are multiple-choice, while the other 20% are student-produced response questions, which require test-takers to write in an answer. On the new version of the exam, that split will change to roughly 75% / 25%. So, given that there will be 44 Math questions on the SAT, you can expect there to be a total of around 33 multiple-choice questions and around 11 student-produced response, or grid-in, questions.
Reading and Writing Section
The Reading and Writing section will test the same broad skills:
- English grammar and usage
- punctuation use
- word meanings in context
- sentence structure
- the purpose of specified parts of a passage
- effective expression of ideas and passage revision
- your understanding of the main purpose of a passage
- your ability to draw inferences based on a passage
- how to logically transition from one idea to another within a passage
and so on.
However, it’s likely that the manner in which those skills are tested will have to change in some ways, given how much shorter passages will be. We can’t yet say for sure what all those changes will be, but we can make some educated guesses.
For instance, on the current SAT, some Reading questions ask about the “overall structure” of or “overall sequence of events” in a passage. These questions can be valuable assessments of reading comprehension when we’re dealing with passages that are, say, 6 paragraphs and 90 lines long. However, the value of such questions becomes more limited when we’re dealing with passages that are roughly 10 lines or less. So, although we can’t say for sure just yet, passage structure questions — at least in their current form — seem unlikely to cross over to the new SAT.
Similarly, certain types of revision questions on the current exam likely won’t make sense given the new format. For example, a Writing question on the current SAT might ask us to determine which paragraph of a passage to place a certain sentence in. Of course, since passages on the new SAT won’t be multiple paragraphs long, such a question won’t work.
All that said, to be on the safe side, I would wait until the College Board releases full practice materials to make any firm conclusions about which question types won’t survive the format change.
One final, major change to the SAT is that the new version will allow test-takers to use a calculator in both Math sections, rather than just one.
As I mentioned earlier, there will be an on-screen graphing calculator built into the digital test. So, you’ll have access to that calculator throughout the Math sections. However, you’ll also have the option of bringing your own calculator to use during the Math sections.
In other words, there will no longer be a “No Calculator” Math section on the test.
The digital SAT gives students access to an on-screen calculator to use in both Math sections. There will no longer be a “No Calculator” Math section on the test.
Paper vs. Digital Test: Key Differences
Now that we’ve delved into the details of the SAT changes we know about so far, let’s review the major differences between the paper and digital versions of the test:
In this article, we’ve learned that there are some major changes to the SAT on the horizon. Remember, these changes will roll out in three stages:
- In spring 2023, high school students in countries outside of the U.S. will switch over to the digital SAT.
- In fall 2023, both international and U.S. students will switch to the digital PSAT.
- In spring 2024, U.S. students will switch to the digital SAT.
Remember also that, although many things are changing about the SAT, some important things will stay the same. You’ll still take the SAT at your school or at a test center, and your test will still be scored on a scale of 400-1600. Additionally, accommodations — including paper tests — will still be available to students who need them.
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