In the evolving landscape of standardized testing for students applying to US colleges and universities, the arrival of the new Digital SAT is important to note.
As students in the US prepare for this new format rolling out in March 2024, it’s useful to look towards their peers outside of the US for insights about their experiences preparing for this test, because international students have been taking the Digital SAT since March 2023!
In this piece, we’ll share the knowledge our international tutors have gained spending thousands of hours guiding dozens of international students through the new test, delving into some noteworthy nuances of the Digital SAT and providing you with answers to some frequently asked questions from students and families all across the globe.
Overview of the Digital SAT and Student Reactions
Fewer Questions, Shorter Duration
The Digital SAT has fewer questions than the paper-based SAT (98 questions vs. 154 questions) and is shorter in duration (just over 2 hours vs. 3 hours). This is in sharp contrast to the ACT which has 215 questions and is around 3 hours in length. It comes as no surprise that the majority of our international students have warmly welcomed fewer questions and a shorter exam!
Time Per Question
The average time per question has increased to 82 seconds, compared to the ACT’s average of 48 seconds per question. This increase allows students to digest the questions fully and approach the problems thoughtfully, regardless of their typical testing speed. Students have found the Digital SAT’s more relaxed pacing has reduced the pressure to move as quickly through the test, enabling them to focus more carefully on the question at hand.
Bluebook App: Your New Best Friend
The College Board has an application called Bluebook which students use both to practice the test and to take the official test. It’s clear that the College Board has invested time and effort over the years into developing the Bluebook app. Students like the app’s friendly user interface and seamless experience, and while this may seem a somewhat trivial point, it can make a difference when students are spending dozens of hours on the app.
One of our international students remarked that "The digital format was less daunting than the paper format." Another noted that the tools within the test, such as “Mark for Review,” are helpful. "I marked the ones I had more difficulty with to revisit them,” she said. “I think that was an especially useful way to organize my time."
Bluebook also allows students to take the test on their own laptop/device. Students’ familiarity with their own devices has enabled them to focus on the test itself as opposed to spending time familiarizing themselves with the controls of another device. This small difference can make test day feel a little more comfortable.
Long Reading Passages? No More!
On the Digital SAT, the Reading and Writing section features shorter, self-contained passages with one very short piece of text per question. Yes, you read that right! Compared to the long-form passages found in the ACT and the paper SAT, students have found it easier to identify key concepts within the text, leading to the reduction of search time.
Focus on Grammar and Vocab
The shorter passages and concise questions require a rigorous foundation in English grammar and vocabulary. You are required to show a strong understanding of the English language's nuances according to standard English conventions. Successful students have found that they need to invest more time into honing this skill. The fundamental concepts tested on the Digital SAT, however, have not changed significantly since the test has changed format.
Unsurprisingly, students have welcomed the ability to use the Desmos graphing calculator which is built into the test throughout the math sections. It’s available for the entirety of the section, so becoming a pro at using Desmos well is a core skill that all students should develop.
Your FAQs: Answers from the Field
There don't seem to be enough practice materials. What should we do about that?
This was a concern for many international students, and we continue to hear this question from students in the US as they begin to notice that official College Board materials are sparse in comparison to the many years’ worth of paper SAT practice materials available.
Fortunately, in addition to the four official Digital SAT practice tests in Bluebook and the additional four linear (nonadaptive) practice tests available in PDF format, there is an ever increasing amount of practice material available for students as the US launch of the Digital SAT nears.
Applerouth has our own curriculum with hundreds of practice problems—plus two full-length digital section-adaptive practice tests (and counting!)—developed by our team of Digital SAT experts to replicate the real digital test.
Additionally, the College Board recently updated their Educator Question bank to include hundreds of Digital SAT-specific questions which students can leverage alongside their mentors to create custom, targeted question sets to supplement the other materials.
That said, the number of full-length official practice tests remains limited, so we encourage students to use those wisely and sparingly. As always, working with a tutor is the best way to ensure that you utilize the available resources in the most impactful way possible! To get started, reach out to an Applerouth Program Director at 866-789-PREP (7737) or book an appointment here.
What if I'm changing over from paper SAT prep?
A lot of the material is transferable between the tests, and a thoughtful approach with what has changed on the Reading & Writing and Math sections will keep your prep efficient and focused without having to reinvent the wheel.
One of the first things we focus on with students switching from the paper-based SAT is becoming a Desmos expert. This can help many students capture points quickly on the Math section, which often serves as a motivation booster as they move over to the Reading & Writing section. Read more of our tips for switching between paper and digital testing here.
Another aspect that is new to students is the test’s section-adaptive modules. This means that how well you do on the first module of each section will determine whether you get an easier or harder version of the second module. When surveying students on their experiences one said, “When I realized that I was in the harder module difficulty, I felt relieved and had more confidence” while another commented that “I could tell I got the harder one for English but I couldn't tell which for math and I was thinking about it.” Our tutors are trained to help students apply strategies regardless of the module they receive.
Do I need to be worried about technical difficulties on test day?
It’s prudent to always be prepared for the unexpected, but, thankfully, we have not seen a huge volume of technical difficulties.
Of course, please do take every possible step to avoid issues from your end, where they are the most likely to occur. For example, declutter your laptop, update the Bluebook app and download the test to your computer ahead of test day, and ensure you arrive charged to full battery.
Luckily, though, as students are using their own laptops and will be practicing using Bluebook for weeks or months ahead of test day, we have often found that students have enjoyed a seamless experience. However, similar to a paper-based test, issues outside of students’ control can still arise!
In short, while there are some key differences between the paper-based and Digital SAT, the core concepts tested have not changed drastically. The new test is shorter, with fewer questions, and there is a clear focus on competency versus how quickly you can navigate the sections.
That being said, the ACT can still be a right-fit test for students, particularly for those who do not enjoy math as much.
To navigate the new Digital SAT test with confidence, feel free to reach out to an Applerouth Program Director who would be happy to discuss whether this test is the right fit for you and to clarify when and how to approach your test prep with success!