Now that the new Digital SAT has arrived and has been administered for the first time internationally, it’s time for U.S. students and parents to start thinking about what this means for them. The Digital SAT launches in the U.S. next March (and the Digital PSAT arrives this October), so current Sophomores in particular will have to closely consider how this might affect their test preparation and college admissions process.
Much has been made of the fact that the Digital SAT is shorter and simpler than the current Paper SAT, and the College Board has introduced some very student-friendly features that make the exam more convenient overall. But is it actually easier than the current test?
In some ways, yes. Absolutely. While leading a training recently to help a major test prep provider through this transition, I had a chance to speak with some of the top tutors in the country and almost everyone was in agreement that the exam felt much easier than the current paper test. Beyond the fact that the Digital SAT is shorter, Reading and Writing skills have been combined into a single section and every question is accompanied by its own short passage. That means there will be no more long and dense historical passages with arcane diction and sentence structures and no more giants blocks of dry text on volcanos and moon rock - and thank god! In addition, the College Board and has narrowed the number of skills that are tested on both grammar and math (goodbye imaginary numbers and polynomial division), which should make the exam easier to study for than ever before. And most importantly, the exam makers have built in an extremely powerful DESMOS graphing calculator into the testing app, which when used correctly can make many otherwise difficult math problems an absolute joke - so much so that many of the tutors I spoke with felt like using the built in calculator was cheating!
Yet, it’s not all good news. There are some elements of the exam that will be more difficult - in particular the fact that the exam is taken on a computer which makes annotation basically impossible (there is a text highlighter but in my experience it is completely distracting and useless). In addition, the College Board has added a few poems and excerpts of old plays to the Reading and Writing section (including some by Shakespeare), which some students may have difficulty with, and has also greatly increased the amount of vocabulary directly tested on the exam. This means that vocab studying and flash cards are probably about to make a big comeback in SAT preparation, though the words tested are generally simpler and more commonly used. What’s more, the adaptive nature of the test could also provide more of a challenge for high-performing students as the second module of each section will get significantly harder if you do well on the first one. Finally, the scoring on the Reading and Writing section appears to include much harsher grading at the top end of the scale (some wrong answers on easy questions could result in up to a 40 point loss), so there will be little room for error if you are aiming for the highest level scores.
In other words, the SAT will become an easier exam to both prepare for and take, but it may not necessarily be an easier exam to achieve a top score on. It will still require a great deal of work and conscientious effort, but this process may be more manageable and more feasible to achieve. What all of this news means is that many students who might feel like they are “bad test takers” or who feel like they just couldn’t handle the current SAT and ACT should strongly consider trying out the Digital SAT. They might just find that this new testing option could allow them to achieve scores that they may not have ever thought was possible before.