Big SAT changes are coming! In fact, for some test-takers, the new SAT format has already arrived. So, what exactly is changing with the new version of the SAT, and how does the new SAT compare with the paper and pencil test it’s replacing?
In this article, I’ll break down the key differences between the digital and paper versions of the test. I’ll also discuss what is staying the same as the SAT transitions from paper testing to the digital version. Plus, I’ll include a comparison chart of the digital SAT vs. paper SAT that summarizes the most important changes.
Here are all the topics we’ll cover:
- When Can I Take the SAT Online?
- What Won’t Change with the Digital Test
- What Will Change with the Digital Test
- Digital SAT vs. Paper SAT: A Side-by-Side Comparison
- Key Takeaways
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- What’s Next?
Let’s start by discussing when you can take the SAT online.
When Can I Take the SAT Online?
The SAT is transitioning in stages to a digital test starting in March 2023, with international students gaining access to the new test first.
Here are the 2023 digital test dates for students outside of the U.S.:
- March 11, 2023 (registration closed February 24)
- May 6, 2023 (register by April 21, 2023)
- June 3, 2023 (register by May 19, 2023)
Keep in mind that you cannot register to sit for the digital version of the SAT on these dates if you are a student taking the test in the U.S. or U.S. Territories.
The digital test will not be available to high school students in the U.S. until spring 2024. (Digital PSATs will be available to students everywhere in fall 2023, however.) Currently, it’s expected that digital SATs will be administered in the U.S. March, May, and June of 2024 — the same schedule as the 2023 international rollout. However, dates for the U.S. digital rollout are not set in stone yet. So, if you’re a U.S. student hoping to take the SAT online in 2024, be sure to check the College Board website for up-to-date info on digital testing dates.
The good news is that, even if the digital SAT isn’t available in your area yet, you can take SAT online practice tests now. College Board has made some free digital SAT practice tests available for download to anyone preparing for the new SAT format.
U.S. students will make the switch from paper testing to the digital SAT in spring 2024.
Now, before we get into the changes to the SAT, let’s take a look at what is staying the same.
What Won’t Change with the Digital Test
The new SAT changes are significant, but a few key elements of the test will stay the same with the release of the digital version. Let’s take a look.
The digital SAT uses the same score scale of 400-1600 that the old, paper test uses. So, in each of the two sections in the new SAT (Math and Reading and Writing), the minimum possible score is still 200, and the maximum possible score is still 800.
Keeping the score scale the same means that test scores from the digital SAT will be basically comparable with those from paper SATs taken in earlier years. Additionally, score reports will look pretty much the same.
However, one benefit to the digital test is that score reports will be available within days instead of weeks after your exam. So, you will know how you performed — and whether you need a retake — much sooner than you could know with paper testing.
The digital SAT uses the same score scale of 400-1600 as the old, paper test.
Although the SAT is going digital, it’s staying put as far as where you’ll be able to take it. So, like the paper test, the digital SAT will be administered only in schools and designated testing centers. SAT School Day is not going away when the paper test does — it’s just going online.
So, students who take the SAT online will NOT be able to take it at home. And, of course, a proctor will still be present in the testing room at all times during your exam.
Like the paper test, the digital SAT will be administered only in schools and designated testing centers.
If you’re a student who needs to take a paper and pencil test, don’t worry. Accommodations that allow for paper testing will still be available to students who need them. In fact, after the transition to digital tests, College Board will still offer all the same accommodations that were available for the previous, paper-only SAT. So, extended time, text to speech, braille, etc., will still be available.
Keep in mind, however, that the structure and content of the SAT is changing for all students, regardless of whether you receive accommodations to take a paper and pencil test. So, if you receive such accommodations, you will see a new version of SAT paper tests that is on par with the new digital version.
The accommodations available for the digital version of the SAT will be the same as those for the old, paper SAT.
Now that we know the major aspects of the SAT that will stay the same, let’s talk about the major SAT changes on the digital test.
What Will Change with the Digital Test
The most obvious change associated with the new SAT format is that the test will no longer be on paper (unless you’re receiving paper testing accommodations). 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’ll have the option to take the SAT online either on a school-owned device or your own device. Furthermore, you’ll be able to use a device that operates on either a Windows or Mac system. You will not, however, be able to take the SAT on a cell phone.
You cannot take the digital SAT on a cell phone.
Along with a digital test come some built-in features that aren’t possible with a paper and pencil SAT. Let’s review what those are, starting with the biggie: adaptive testing.
Along with digital testing comes a major change to how the SAT functions. The new SAT online incorporates what is known as adaptive testing. Specifically, the digital SAT uses a section-adaptive model.
So, each SAT section will be broken into 2 “modules,” and your overall performance on the first module in a section will affect the difficulty level of the second module in that section. Thus, how you perform on the first Reading and Writing module you complete affects the questions you see in the second Reading and Writing module. Likewise, how you perform on the first Math module you complete affects the questions you see in the second Math module.
Importantly, since the adaptive testing the digital SAT uses is section-based, rather than question-by-question, you’ll still be able to skip around within a module and change your answers to previous questions in that module if you need to. So, in that sense, the digital test will feel similar to the paper test.
The digital SAT uses section-adaptive testing, meaning that your overall performance on the first module in a section affects the difficulty of the second module in that section.
We’ll talk more shortly about how the SAT sections are changing. For now, let’s look at some of the new in-test features that come along with the digital test.
With the new SAT online format, you’ll see some new on-screen tools in your test. Let’s take a look.
- Digital timer: An on-screen countdown clock will let you know how much time you have left in a module. You can keep the timer visible on-screen or choose to hide it. Either way, you’ll get an alert when 5 minutes remain in the module.
- Mark for review: You’ll be able to flag any question that you want to return to before the module 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 built-in features of the digital version of the SAT, let’s get into the key changes in the test’s structure and content. We’ll start with one of the most talked-about SAT changes: test length.
The digital SAT is a significantly shorter test than the current paper and pencil SAT.
Whereas the old, paper SAT takes 3 hours to complete, the digital test takes only 2 hours and 14 minutes.
Let’s talk about some of the changes that allow for the shorter test.
The new SAT format brings with it a new section structure. 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 old test.
Instead, there will be a “Reading and Writing” section. The Reading and Writing section will essentially be a mix of “Reading” style questions and “Writing and Language” style questions. (However, you won’t see all the same question types you see in EBRW. Don’t worry — we’ll discuss.) So, within the same section, you’ll see some questions that focus on your ability to interpret the meaning of a passage or synthesize information and some that focus on grammar. Additionally, instead of receiving an EBRW score, you’ll get a “Reading and Writing” score.
As we already discussed, each section will be broken into 2 modules. So, you’ll see 2 Math modules and 2 Reading and Writing modules.
Along with this restructuring, sections on the digital test are shorter than those on the old test. Each Math module is 35 minutes, for a total of 70 minutes spent on the Math section, and each Reading and Writing module is 32 minutes, for a total of 64 minutes. Note that each module is separately timed, and once time is up in a particular module, you can’t go back to that module.
On the digital SAT, each of the 2 Math modules is 35 minutes and each of the 2 Reading and Writing modules is 32 minutes.
Along with shorter sections and a shorter test overall, the new SAT involves fewer questions. Let’s discuss.
Whereas the 2 Math sections on the paper SAT total 80 minutes and 58 questions, the Math modules on the digital test total 70 minutes and 44 questions. Furthermore, the section times and number of questions are evenly split between the 2 modules. 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 are becoming two 32-minute Reading and Writing sections that contain 27 questions each.
So, in total, the SAT online will have around half as many questions as the old, paper version. 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 SAT.
The new SAT presents a total of 98 questions, instead of 180.
Another major and much-welcomed change to the SAT is that there are shorter reading passages and math passages on the digital test.
All passages in the Reading and Writing section will be around 100 words. Furthermore, there will be only 1 question on each passage (or passage pair).
As you may know, the old version of the SAT presents Writing passages that are 400-450 words and have 11 questions each and Reading passages that are 500–750 words and have 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 SAT. However, given how short each passage will be, the time you spend reading and digesting 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 SAT passages to be about this size.
As for math passages, the average length of word problems is somewhat shorter on the digital test. This change helps ensure that all students, regardless of their English language ability, have an even playing field on which to showcase their math skills.
Passages in Reading and Writing are about 100 words each on the digital test, with only 1 question per passage. The length of word problems in the Math section is also reduced.
One change that many students who take the SAT — or will in the future — are excited about is that the new SAT allows test-takers to use a calculator for all Math questions.
So, there is no longer a “No Calculator” Math section.
As I mentioned earlier, there will be an on-screen graphing calculator built into the digital test. You’ll have access to that calculator during both of the 2 modules that make up the Math section. Additionally, you have the option of bringing your own calculator to use during both modules.
There is no “No Calculator” Math section on the new SAT.
Now that we’ve covered the major structural changes in the new version of the SAT, let’s talk about the notable content changes.
Regardless of the digital test rollout, the SAT remains a test of college readiness. So, overall the skills tested remain largely the same. However, there are some changes to the question types that appear on the SAT and which skills are emphasized. Let’s take a look.
The math concepts tested on the new SAT are the same as those tested on the old version. So, you’ll see the same topics in algebra, geometry, data analysis, and trigonometry.
However, a slightly smaller percentage of these Math questions are multiple-choice on the new test. On the old version, about 80% of Math questions are multiple-choice, while the other 20% are student-produced response questions, which require you to write in an answer. On the new SAT, that split is roughly 75% / 25%. So, given that there are 44 Math questions on the new 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.
On the new SAT, about 75% of Math questions are multiple-choice, and about 25% are grid-in.
Let’s look at the 4 broad topic categories that Math questions on the digital test fall into.
4 Math Topic Categories
In the new SAT Math section, you’ll see questions that fall into the following 4 broad categories:
- Algebra (13-15 questions): concepts such as linear equations, linear functions, and linear inequalities
- Advanced Math (13-15 questions): concepts such as nonlinear equations, nonlinear functions, and equivalent expressions
- Problem-Solving and Data Analysis (5-7 questions): ratios, rates, percentages, probability, scatterplots, statistics, and more
- Geometry and Trigonometry (5-7 questions): area and volume, right triangles, circles, and more
Check out our comprehensive breakdown of SAT Math topics for information about the exact types of Math questions you’ll encounter on test day. You can also try the Target Test Prep SAT Math course for 5 days for free!
Reading and Writing Section
The biggest content changes you’ll see on the digital version of the SAT are in the Reading and Writing section. That said, the section will test the same broad skills that EBRW tests, including
both reading comprehension and English grammar skills.
However, given the much shorter passages on the digital test, some EBRW questions are no longer practical. For instance, a Writing question on the old 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 aren’t multiple paragraphs long, such questions don’t work.
Similarly, there won’t be any questions that ask you where to move a sentence within a paragraph, whether to keep or delete a sentence, whether to add a sentence, or how to most effectively combine two sentences.
On the flipside, the new SAT might present a passage that features a series of bullet points and ask us to select the answer that effectively synthesizes them to achieve a certain aim. Since old SAT passages never featured bullet points, such a question was not possible on the old test.
A few other key differences between the old and new versions of the test — you’ll no longer see passages that are excerpts of historical documents, but you may see questions that feature lines of poetry, something that the old SAT didn’t have.
Additionally, you won’t see all those pesky questions featuring words that are easily confused (think affect/effect or advice/advise) or testing your ability to catch redundant statements (“declining downward” or “currently happening at the present time,” and so on).
The new SAT features some poetry excerpts and some bulleted statements.
Let’s look at the 4 broad topic categories that Reading and Writing questions on the digital test fall into.
4 RW Topic Categories
Reading and Writing questions on the new SAT fall into 4 broad categories:
- Information and Ideas (12-14 questions): questions that ask you to identify the main idea of a passage, draw inferences based on a passage, interpret information in passage or an associated table, or choose a statement among the answer choices that logically completes the passage
- Craft and Structure (13-15 questions): questions about the main purpose of a passage, the overall structure of a passage, the function of a specific part of a passage, the meanings of words in context, or the connections between ideas in two different passages
- Expression of Ideas (8-12 questions): questions that ask you to select the appropriate transition words to connect two sentences in a passage or that ask you to synthesize bulleted notes to accomplish a specific goal (aka “rhetorical synthesis” questions)
- Standard English Conventions (11-15 questions): subject-verb agreement and pronouns-antecedent agreement, modifier placement, verb forms, appropriate use of plurals vs. possessives, punctuation, and sentence structure — in other words, grammar!
If you have any experience with the paper SAT, you can see that the actual concepts and skills tested on the SAT haven’t changed dramatically. They’re just somewhat pared down, and in a couple of cases, tested in new ways.
We now know the major structural and content differences between the old, paper version of the SAT and the new SAT online. Now that we’ve delved into the details, you can use the following chart to compare the major aspects of the two versions of the test.
Digital SAT vs. Paper SAT: A Side-by-Side Comparison
|Digital SAT||Paper SAT|
|Testing Time||2 hours 14 minutes||3 hours|
|Math Section||2 modules:|
35 minutes / 22 questions (each)
55 minutes, 38 questions;25 minutes, 20 questions
|Reading and Writing Sections||2 mixed sections:|
32 minutes / 27 questions (each)
|2 separate sections:|
65 minutes, 52 questions (Reading);35 minutes, 44 questions (Writing)
|Calculator Use?||Both Math modules||1 Math section|
|Reading Passage Length||about 100 words|
Reading: 500–750 wordsWriting: 400-450 words
|Questions per Reading Passage||1||10-11|
|Score Reports||2-3 days||2-3 weeks|
In this article, we’ve learned that the new SAT format represents a major change to the test. A shorter test with fewer questions, shorter reading passages, and calculator use for all math questions means that many students will probably be quite happy with the changes.
Nonetheless, students will still have to master many of the same skills and concepts they needed for the old, paper test. Moreover, some important aspects of the SAT will stay the same. You’ll still take the SAT at your school or at a testing center, and your test will still be scored on a scale of 400-1600. Additionally, accommodations — including paper and pencil tests — will still be available to students who need them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Can you take the SAT online in 2023?
If you’re in the U.S. or a U.S. Territory, you cannot take the SAT online in 2023. If you are taking the SAT outside of the U.S., then digital testing dates are available in March, May, and June.
Can you take the SAT at home?
Students are not permitted to take the SAT at home, regardless of whether they are taking a paper or digital test. The digital SAT will be administered only in schools and testing centers, just like the paper SAT.
Is the paper SAT more difficult than the digital version?
Some students may consider the old, paper version of the SAT more difficult than the new, digital version because the old test is longer, contains longer reading passages, contains more question types, and allows for calculator use in only one Math section.
However, students should be aware that many (if not most) of the same skills and concepts tested on the old SAT are also tested on the new one.
Is the PSAT online or on paper?
Both students in and outside of the U.S. will switch to the digital PSAT in fall 2023. Note that paper testing accommodations will still be available to students in need after the digital PSAT launches.
Are you just beginning your SAT test prep? These 5 steps for success will get you started on the right foot.
Not sure how long you may need to study? Get expert advice here on planning your study schedule.