# How the Digital SAT Adaptive Test Works

If you’re preparing to take the SAT for college admissions, you’ve likely heard that the College Board has made the digital SAT adaptive. You may be wondering, “Is the new SAT computer-based?” Or you may want to know how adaptive testing works and how the SAT’s being adaptive will affect you. If so, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’m going to discuss how the adaptive SAT works, the benefits of adaptive testing for test-takers, and more.

## Here are the topics we’ll cover:

Let’s begin by discussing what exactly being adaptive means in the context of the SAT.

## What Is the Adaptive Digital SAT?

In standardized testing, an adaptive test is a computer-based test that changes to fit the performance of the test-taker. If the test-taker gets questions correct, the test adapts by presenting harder questions. If the test-taker misses questions, the test adapts by presenting easier questions. So, by making the SAT computer-based, the College Board enabled the SAT to be an adaptive test.

Some adaptive tests are question-adaptive. In other words, they adapt with each question they present. Other tests are section-adaptive, meaning that they adapt from one section to the next. The digital SAT is section-adaptive. Let’s look at how it works.

### How the Adaptive Digital SAT Works

There are two main parts of the digital SAT: the Math section and the Reading and Writing section. Each of the two main sections is broken into two modules. In other words, there are two Math modules and two Reading and Writing modules.

The first module of each section is always a medium-difficulty module, with a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. Then, the test adapts with the second module. In other words, the digital SAT uses the test-taker’s performance on the first Math or Reading and Writing module to determine the difficulty level of the second corresponding module.

If a test-taker misses many questions in the first module, the test adapts by making the second module relatively easy, with mostly easy and medium questions. If the test-taker gets many questions correct in the first module, the second module will be composed of harder questions. A test-taker with mid-range performance on the first module will get a medium-difficulty second module.

KEY FACT:

The digital SAT adapts by adjusting the difficulty of the second module of each section in accordance with the test-taker’s performance on the first module.

Now, you may be wondering whether it’s fair for different test-takers to get SATs of different difficulty levels. So, let’s answer that question.

## Is the Adaptive Digital SAT Fair?

We’ve seen that, because the digital SAT is adaptive, test-takers get SATs of different difficulty levels. So, is this fair? The answer is yes; the digital SAT is fair. Here’s how.

On the SAT, harder-difficulty questions are worth more points than easier questions. So, by getting harder questions in the second module of a section, you get the opportunity to score higher on the SAT. Also, even if you don’t get as many questions correct as you would have if you had gotten easier questions, you can still score higher than you would have if you had gotten an easier second module. After all, you get more points per question than you would have if you had been answering easier questions.

So, the digital SAT’s scoring method makes the test fair for all test-takers.

KEY FACT:

The digital SAT fair because its scoring method takes the difficulty levels of the questions into account.

Another thing many people wonder about is why the digital SAT is adaptive. Let’s see.

## Why Is the Digital SAT Adaptive?

To understand why the digital SAT is adaptive, consider that students of many different skill levels take the SAT. Some have relatively strong skills, and some are less skilled. So, to test all these students, the SAT needs questions of different difficulty levels. To test less skilled students, the SAT needs relatively easy questions. To test students with stronger skills, the SAT needs harder questions.

Here’s the thing. The SAT doesn’t indicate much about test-takers’ skills by presenting less skilled test-takers with hard questions or more skilled ones with easier questions. Less skilled test-takers miss most hard questions, and more skilled test-takers get most easy questions correct. That information isn’t new.

By being adaptive, the SAT can avoid showing many hard questions to less skilled test-takers or showing many easy questions to more skilled test-takers. Once the test begins to determine a test-taker’s skill level in the first module of a section, it can present only questions that fit that test-taker’s skill level in the second section.

Thus, by being adaptive, the digital SAT can be efficient. It saves time by showing test-takers mostly questions that fit their skills and not showing them many questions that don’t. Now you know why the digital SAT is shorter than the paper-based SAT by 46 minutes! The adaptive digital SAT needs fewer questions, and thus less time, to be just as effective as the paper-based test.

KEY FACT:

The digital SAT is adaptive in order for it to be more efficient by evaluating test-takers’ skills using fewer questions.

So, if the digital SAT is shorter than the paper-based test, is it easier? Let’s discuss.

## Is the Digital SAT Going to Be Easier?

Regarding whether the digital SAT is going to be easier, one thing is certain. All else equal, it’s easier to take a shorter test than a longer test. So, the fact that the digital SAT takes 2 hours and 14 minutes, whereas the paper-based SAT takes 3 hours, makes the digital SAT easier to handle. Also, time-management will be less of an issue for digital SAT test-takers than for paper-based SAT test-takers, since the amount of time allotted per question on the digital SAT is greater. So, in at least those two ways, the digital SAT is going to be easier.

In other ways, the digital SAT is similar to the paper-based SAT. The test formats of both versions allow test-takers to skip around and answer questions in a module in any order. Also, many of the question types are similar on the two versions.

Meanwhile, as we’ve discussed, if you get questions correct on the digital SAT, you’ll see a second module with hard questions. Also, the College Board has been careful to make digital SAT scores comparable to paper-based SAT scores. So, while the digital SAT may be easier to handle, it’s not easier to score high on.

KEY FACT:

While the digital SAT is shorter than the paper-based SAT, the difficulty of achieving a particular score on the two tests is about the same.

Having seen how the digital SAT works, let’s now discuss how to prepare for it.

## How to Prepare for the Adaptive Digital SAT

The best way to prepare for the digital SAT is basically the same as what works for the paper-based SAT, mastering one topic at a time. So, to develop your SAT math skills, you’d first review a topic, such as Algebra, Geometry, or Trigonometry. Then, you’d answer practice questions involving that one topic until you were getting them correct consistently. For Reading and Writing, you’d prepare similarly, first reviewing a topic, such as Reading Comprehension or Vocabulary, and then practicing.

Of course, the biggest difference between preparing for the paper-based SAT and preparing for the digital SAT comes when you take practice tests. To best prepare for the digital SAT, you should take SAT practice tests in the digital testing format. That way, you get experience in using test-taking strategies that apply to the digital SAT. Also, you can learn to use the digital test features, such as mark for review and highlighting, so that you’re ready to take advantage of them on test day.

TTP PRO TIP:

The best way to prepare for the digital SAT is to master one topic at a time and then take SAT practice tests in the digital format.

Let’s now wrap up with the key takeaways from what we’ve discussed.