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The 5 Most Significant Changes Coming to the SAT in 2024

Despite test-optional policies, the SAT isn't going anywhere...except online! These are the top changes you need to know about the new digital SAT exam.

Starting in March 2024, US students will take the new digital SAT on their computers and tablets for the first time. With most competitive colleges still using test scores in the admission process, students can demonstrate their readiness for college-level work by submitting strong SAT scores. You also may be able to win significant merit-based scholarships tied to your SAT performance. But with the new digital format, what are some of the most significant changes to the exam?

1. It will have adaptive sections

The paper-based SAT took over three hours to complete because students must tackle questions from a wide range of difficulties. The new digital SAT will be streamlined, taking only a little over two hours to finish because it will be “section adaptive.” This means every student will start with a module of moderate difficulty. Those who perform well will go on to a more challenging second module, but those who don’t will see an easier second section—which will affect scoring since the modules are weighted differently. It’s important for students to try their very best on every question since each one will have a significant impact on their score and will determine which module they'll move on to. Fortunately, the shorter test time should make endurance less of an issue. 

Related: 3 SAT Prep Steps to Help High School Underclassmen Get Ready Early

2. Reading and Writing passages will be shorter

While the current SAT has a few longer passages accompanied by several questions, each Reading and Writing text in the SAT will now feature a single question and be no longer than 150 words. Having several shorter passages tests students on a wider variety of literary genres, including drama, humanities, and poetry. Many students may find it easier to focus on the reading material since it is broken up into smaller chunks instead of longer, hard-to-follow sections. 

3. It will feature new question formats

Despite the shorter length of the SAT, there will still be plenty there to assess students’ critical-thinking skills, including new types of questions. Some of the new formats include:

  • Textual Evidence: Students will be asked to determine what findings would support or undermine a hypothesis.
  • Inference: Students must select an option that would most logically complete a selection of text.
  • Rhetorical Synthesis: After a series of bulleted notes, students must determine what choice best uses information from the text to accomplish a specific goal.  

Related: 5 Great SAT Prep Hacks to Succeed on Test Day

4. A calculator will be available throughout the Math sections

On the paper SAT, there’s a non-calculator Mathematics section. Most students I‘ve talked with are excited to learn that they’ll be able to use a calculator throughout the digital SAT. Although you’re still permitted to bring a calculator of your own, the SAT online program has a powerful graphing calculator by Desmos that you can use at any point during the Math section. This calculator will be especially helpful with problems about systems of equations, graphing parabolas, and graphing circles. Test takers will still be given scrap paper at testing centers, since writing out one’s work is an excellent strategy for arriving at a correct answer. 

5. Limited accurate SAT prep materials are available

With so many changes to the SAT, many of the current prep books and practice tests will be dated, so you’ll need to look in the right place. The College Board has made four digital SAT practice tests and one digital PSAT practice test through their Bluebook application. Barron’s also offers a free eBook with Digital SAT practice materials along with helpful articles and tips. You can supplement these free resources with updated preparation books like Barron’s Digital SAT Study Guide Premium and guidance from an experienced tutor. Additionally, you should work on bolstering your overall academic skills by taking rigorous courses, studying vocabulary, and reading independently, which will all help you prepare for the material covered on the SAT. 

Related: 3 Things to Consider About Standardized Test Prep Services

Future college applicants concerned about these new changes should keep in mind that the exam is more student-friendly and that the ACT, the other major college admission test, will remain in its current format for the foreseeable future—so if you want a little more predictability, go for that exam. When high school juniors take the digital PSAT for the first time, many students will begin to feel more comfortable with this streamlined version. The digital SAT has been administered internationally since March 2023, and so far, my students generally like it better than the paper version. You have nothing to lose by trying the new SAT for yourself to see what you think. For many, it could be a big boon to their application and admission chances.

Not sure if the SAT or ACT is right for you? Get some great advice from experts who can help you decide!

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About Brian W. Stewart

Brian W. Stewart

Brian W. Stewart, MEd, is the founder and president of BWS Education Consulting, Inc. and a nationally recognized SAT and ACT test preparation expert with 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, including the newly released Barron’s Digital SAT Study Guide Premium 2024.


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