Nearly 100 years after the SAT was first administered, the College Board has just implemented a major makeover for its widely used college admissions exam. This all-new Digital SAT format, now made up of “modules” that adapt to students’ in-test performance, will fully replace the current SAT in 2024.
The last change to the SAT in 2016 removed several aspects of the exam that made it more difficult to take: penalties for incorrect answers, the mandatory essay section, and extra answer options for multiple choice questions. Likewise, this year’s SAT changes have been implemented to better fit the needs of today’s high schoolers and, thus, more effectively measure their math and ELA reasoning skills.
The New Digital SAT Format: What’s Changing?
In the wake of recent criticisms of college entrance exams that question whether or not they still matter, it’s clear that the College Board decided to implement its SAT renovation now to maintain the test’s relevance as a measure of student knowledge and college readiness. So, what are the specific changes, and how do they improve the test-taking process?
The most substantial update is that the SAT is now fully digital, which means that students can take it on their own (approved) devices—so long as they download the Bluebook app ahead of time. Note that fully remote SAT testing is not available, so students must still take the exam in a testing center. This shift from paper to screen mirrors schools’ increasingly online curricula and comes with all the benefits of online testing, such as allowing fewer opportunities for cheating and streamlining the administration and grading process. (Students will now get their scores sooner than ever before!)
The digital SAT structure is also significantly shorter. The previously-separate reading and English sections have been combined into one “Reading and Writing” test, and the “No Calculator” and “Calculator” math portions are now a single, calculator-permitted math test. Plus, page-long reading passages for reading and English questions have been replaced with paragraph-length mini-passages, increasing the likelihood that students will stay concentrated and engaged with the test material.
Number of Questions
Reading and Writing
64 minutes (two 32-minute modules)
54 (27 per module)
70 minutes (two 35-minute modules)
44 (22 per module)
134 minutes (2 hours 14 minutes)
The final significant change to the SAT as a whole is: students won’t all be taking the same test. In fact, some students will have an easier test than others. Don’t be too bewildered—the use of “modules” has allowed the College Board to deliver a more personalized and accurate SAT experience.
What are SAT Modules?
Since the SAT is now digital, the test can be modified in ways that aren’t possible for a physical, paper test. One major change to the exam is its division into modules, which let the exam adapt to individual students’ capabilities—as opposed to the “one-size-fits-all” approach of the ACT and the previous versions of the SAT.
Each section of the digital SAT format is composed of two equal-length modules—so, Reading & Writing has two (32-minute, 27-question) modules, and Math has two (35-minute, 22-question) modules. A student’s performance on the first module determines what kind of second module they get.
Adaptive testing, which describes tests that change based on the test-taker’s accuracy, allows for a more accurate and fairer exam experience because it’s more personalized, taking student ability into account when administering and scoring the exam. Testers also have a better experience taking an exam that fits their skill level. Students who struggle with SAT content are presented with a second module that isn’t overwhelmingly difficult, while students who excel aren’t spending too much time on questions that are too easy.
Let’s cover what to expect from the different types of modules on this Digital SAT format and how the scoring takes difficulty into account.
The “Normal” Module 1
Module 1 of each Digital SAT section is nearly the same* for every tester on that day and consists of a mixture of easy, medium, and hard questions from all topics. In the Math section, questions are arranged from easiest to hardest; similarly, in the Reading and Writing section, questions that test similar knowledge are grouped and arranged from easiest to hardest. This transparency with difficulty and content topics is provided in order to allow students to budget their time accordingly, giving them the best opportunity to demonstrate what they know.
A tester’s performance on Module 1 results in an invisible, temporary “score” that the Digital SAT software uses to determine which Module 2 is administered.
* According to College Board’s Assessment Framework for the Digital SAT Suite, each student taking a Digital SAT exam “… is administered a highly comparable but unique version of the test.” This means that you and your peers won’t have an identical Module 1, but your respective versions will be very similar.
The “Adaptive” Module 2
Because the second module is dependent on a student’s Module 1 performance, there are multiple versions of Module 2: an easy version (which we’ll refer to as Module 2A) and a hard version (Module 2B). If a student gets roughly two-thirds of the Module 1 questions correct, they will be administered Module 2B for the next portion of the test. If they don’t get about two-thirds correct, they’ll get Module 2A.
How do these modules compare? First of all, questions from all of the test’s content domains are present on all modules. For example: even though Advanced Math is an objectively more complex topic than Algebra, all math modules will have roughly the same amount of Advanced Math questions. When we discuss differences in difficulty, that comes from individual question difficulty. So, you’ll see the same topics no matter which module you get—those topics will just be tested through more difficult questions if you’re administered Module 2B.
As you expect, Module 2B is the most difficult of the three modules. Module 2A is easier than both Module 2B and Module 1. Though each module has a mixture of easy, medium, and hard questions, Module 2A has a greater quantity of easy questions while 2B has more hard questions.
Modules and Test Scores
How does module difficulty affect scoring? Since it’s unfair to use the same scoring for students who took exams of different difficulties, SAT scores now take into account which second module a student receives. This means that there is a cap on how high a student’s score can be if they are given Module 2A—even if they answer every question right on it. If a student gets Module 2A for a section of their SAT (whether Math or Reading and Writing), their score for that section is capped at around 590.
So, don’t purposefully miss more questions on Module 1 in hopes of getting the easier module—you won’t be able to break 600 points for that portion of the exam!
How to Prepare for the Digital SAT
If the new digital SAT format is on your horizon, we hope you now understand how the modules work! The test-taking process for this new SAT is designed to be easier to take, which should let your knowledge and months of preparation shine. If you’re looking for a digital SAT practice test that can help you get accustomed to this new adaptive format, Piqosity is here to help!
Along with our full-length, online ELA and Math courses for grades 5-11, we offer full SAT, ACT, and ISEE test prep courses, each of which includes 12 practice exams, dozens of concept lessons, personalized practice software, and more. In addition to our upcoming digital SAT course, we’re also offering a free digital PSAT! This practice Digital PSAT is designed to help you prep ahead of time for the exam’s new format, available by signing up for a Piqosity community account.
Our free community account allows you to try out all of Piqosity’s features. When you’re ready to upgrade, Piqosity’s year-long accounts start at only $89. (Secure a 10% off coupon by joining our mailing list!)