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How to Study for the New Adaptive Digital SAT

This year, College Board—the organization responsible for designing and administering the SAT—has made several massive changes to the format of the test. While the SAT has always improved and refined the exam, this year’s changes are going to change the ways high school students all over the world prep for the standardized exam. If you’re planning to apply to college in the near future, then you’ll want to make sure you’re fully prepared for the new SAT.

The New Digital SAT

The College Board offered digital testing to some international students beginning in the spring of 2023, but 2024 is the first year that all US students are taking the digital version of the test. And the new, digital SAT isn’t just a computer-based version of last year’s exam. The format of the test has fundamentally changed in several ways.

First, the new SAT is adaptive, so the difficulty level of questions is largely based on a test taker's accuracy as the exam moves along. The new SAT is shorter than previous SAT exams, and with fewer questions the full test takes just over two hours. Whereas the prior version of the SAT and the SAT’s main competition—the ACT—each take approximately three hours to complete.

Reading passages on the new SAT are also much shorter. The prior version of the exam segmented the Reading and Writing and Language sections with around ten questions allocated to nine longer passages. Now, grammar and usage questions are combined with reading comprehension tasks in two composite Reading & Writing sections with more than 50 passages, each of which is between a sentence and a paragraph long and tied to a single corresponding question.

On the math side of the test, students can now use the (built-in) Desmos graphing calculator for the entire test, as opposed to just one math section. Scores for the digital SAT should be calculated much more quickly than with the previous SAT and most results are now made available in a matter of days, rather than weeks.

What is an Adaptive Test?

One of the biggest changes on the new SAT—and perhaps most mysterious, to those unfamiliar with the concept—is that it employs adaptive testing. Adaptive testing means that the content of the test is not predetermined. Rather, the questions you’ll see are determined by your performance. In other words, the test adapts to you based on how well you perform. This is what allows the new SAT to be 1/3 shorter than the old SAT. Adaptive testing allows the test to drill down on a student’s true scoring potential much more efficiently.

The particular form of adaptive testing used by the new SAT is what’s called multistage adaptive testing. This means that for both the Reading and Writing section and the Math section, you’ll begin with one module of questions. That module’s content will be pre-determined. However, how well you perform on that first module will determine whether the second module contains harder or easier questions than the first. Performing better on the first module means you’ll face tougher questions on the second.

Multistage adaptive testing also means that you can jump back and forth between questions within a module, effectively choosing what order you’d prefer to answer them in. However, you cannot jump from a question in one module to a question in another.

What to know for test Day

While the new SAT is a digital test, it isn’t a remote or at-home test. You still have to take the test at your school or an official testing center. You can use your own personal device, or a school-issued device.

The exam is administered through the Bluebook app, which is operated by the College Board. If your internet connection is interrupted, your progress should be saved and you should be able to reaccess it once your connection is restored.

How to Prep for the Digital SAT

First, you should make sure that you’re doing your SAT practice tests on the computer, preferably using the free College Board Bluebook practice app, rather than with a paper and pencil. This may be a big shift, since many test prep materials in the past have been printed, in order to match the format of the previous SAT. It’s extremely important to mimic testing conditions as closely as possible. This will put you in the best position to reap the benefits of your test prep.

For example, ensuring you’re familiar with the digital interface is important, so you don’t have to waste time learning anything new on test day. Additionally, you want to make sure you are prepared to take advantage of the test’s digital features, such as the ability to choose the order in which you answer questions in a given module.

Second, you should prepare for the test to possibly get harder as you go along. This is an important aspect of the psychological and time management dimensions of succeeding on the SAT.

Finally, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself is to work with a qualified tutor. MyGuru’s expert SAT tutors know the academic material inside and out, and they’re also on top of all the changes to this year’s test. They can work with you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and to chart a personally customized SAT prep course that will help you maximize your potential on test day.