Brian W. Stewart M.Ed. is the founder and president of BWS Education Consulting, Inc. and is a nationally recognized test preparation expert, having over 30,000 hours of direct instructional experience with a wide variety of learners from all over the world. He is the author of several best-selling Barron’s books on test preparation and is the author of Barron’s Digital SAT Study Guide Premium, 2024 (Barron’s Educational Series (August 1, 2023).
The SAT™ is undergoing the most significant change in its nearly 100-year history starting in March. As remote learning and test-optional admissions became mainstream during the pandemic, the College Board overhauled the SAT to make it more relevant to the needs of both students and institutions of higher learning. Some parts of the SAT will remain the same: the 1600-point scoring scale, the division into math and reading/writing sections, and the multiple-choice question format. Much, however, has changed; here are the most important things for higher education officials to know about the new Digital SAT.
- Students will likely find it easier to take the test. Unlike the current SAT, which takes over three hours to take, the Digital SAT will take just a little over two hours. Schools that want to provide a school-day Digital SAT will find that the shorter test length and reduced administrative paperwork make the new SAT a far more appealing option than the current SAT. This shift is made possible by the transition to a computer-based section-adaptive format. Students will start with a section of moderate difficulty; then, depending on how they perform on the first section, students proceed to an easier or more difficult section. Structuring the test in this way, the Digital SAT can provide similar information on student performance as the current SAT while taking about two thirds the time. The bottom line—if students want to try the Digital SAT, it is not overly time-consuming to do so.
- The Digital SAT tests a wider variety of reading materials. While the current SAT has just a handful of longer reading passages, the reading selections on the Digital SAT will be no more than 150 words each and will be accompanied by a single question. Having many more short texts allows the SAT to test students on a much wider variety of reading genres. Poetry, humanities, and drama excerpts will have a place on the SAT alongside an array of other fiction and non-fiction selections. Students who perform well on the new Digital SAT will thus need to demonstrate proficiency in understanding material from across the academic spectrum.
- Students will have access to a variety of built-in tools. If a student left their calculator or watch at home on the current SAT, they would be at a significant disadvantage. Fortunately, on the Digital SAT, there will be a built-in stopwatch and Desmos™ calculator that students can use as needed. In addition, the redesigned test will have several elements of universal design embedded into its testing interface, like the ability to zoom in on text, highlight selected words, and write annotations. Having all these robust tools built into the testing program will make the new Digital SAT a more user-friendly experience.
- Time management is less likely to be an obstacle. Students who find the current SAT to be challenging to finish are unlikely to find this to be the case on the new exam. According to the College Board, the Digital SAT is designed to focus on literacy and math achievement, not on test-taking speed. In fact, during the test design process, the College Board reduced the number of questions and increased the allotted section timing to be sure that students would not feel rushed. Based on the latest findings, 97 percent of students who have taken the Digital SAT have been able to complete all questions in a module with nearly seven minutes to spare.
- The new test will be more accessible for English-language learners. Students who do not speak English as their first language have sometimes found the following types of questions currently on the SAT to be challenging: figuring out the best idiomatic phrase to use, determining the proper tone of a writing selection, and working through lengthy mathematics word problems. The concepts tested on the Digital SAT are streamlined to focus on core concepts like punctuation, verb use, and transitional words. Additionally, the math word problems will not be as lengthy. With these adjustments, the Digital SAT will be better positioned to reliably assess college readiness skills.
- The Landscape™ tool can provide helpful context to an application. With the recent Supreme Court decision about affirmative action, colleges are exploring new ways to ensure their students come from a diverse range of backgrounds. In addition to new supplemental application essay questions, colleges can utilize the new Landscape™ tool from the College Board to better contextualize student applications. The tool provides information about school and neighborhood factors that can affect students’ educational outcomes, like average college attendance, median family income, and housing stability data.
- The Digital SAT will help safeguard admissions standards. Grade inflation for high school students has become increasingly elevated, with the average high school GPA increasing by “0.19 grade points, from 3.17 in 2010 to 3.36 in 2021, with the greatest grade inflation occurring between 2018 and 2021.” Such a shift makes high school transcripts less useful as a tool to differentiate among applicants. Additionally, the widespread use of generative artificial intelligence tools makes the job of college essay evaluators ever more difficult.
Based upon what the test maker has said and my own research as an experienced test prep instructor and educator, the newly redesigned Digital SAT gives colleges an excellent tool they can employ to assemble classes of students that are likely to succeed both in college and beyond. And securing a high score will be greatly advantageous to applicants, boosting their chances of getting in and securing merit-based aid.