Understanding the Changes to the New Digital PSAT & SAT

The Applerouth Team
September 18, 2023
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min read

The wait is almost over! Next month, the College Board will release its new digital adaptive PSAT.

The Reading & Writing modules of the new test will be a big departure from previous years’ PSATs. On the other hand, although the Math section remains similar in many ways, the addition of the Desmos graphing calculator significantly changes how students should prepare.

So, let’s learn more about the changes to the new PSAT! 

Reading & Writing Section

Short Texts with One Question Each

Reading & Writing texts on the new PSAT and SAT are much shorter, with passages measuring in between 25 and 150 words: a substantial drop from the 600 to 800 words seen on previous paper versions of these tests. This shift to shorter reading plays well with the digital format of the exam, as test-takers don’t need to scroll to see the whole passage.

Also, each text is accompanied by only a single question. This may be a double-edged sword for some, as the shorter texts can be easier to process, but the sheer variety and number of texts may also be mentally taxing.

A Very Predictable Structure

The order of each Reading & Writing module will be very predictable. For example, the first set of questions will always be vocabulary-based “Words in Context” questions, which will progress in difficulty. The first half of each verbal module will consist of Reading question types, and the second half will be Writing question types (focusing mostly on punctuation, grammar, and revision).

The following list explains the order of question types per each module. Note that Standard English Conventions is the only verbal content area that is not ordered by question type but instead is sorted by difficulty.

  • Craft and Structure: Words in Context, Structure and Purpose, Cross-Text Connections (13-15 questions; about 28% of section)
  • Information and Ideas: Details, Central Ideas, Command of Evidence, Inferences (12-14 questions; about 26% of section)
  • Standard English Conventions: Fragments, Run-ons, Punctuation, Pronouns, Subject-Verb Agreement, Parallelism, Modifiers, Verb Tense, Idioms, Diction (11-15 questions; about 26% of section)
  • Expression of Ideas: Transitions, Rhetorical Synthesis (8-12 questions; about 20% of section)

New Questions Require New Strategies

Since the structure and question types are so formulaic, students can take advantage of this pattern. For example, since Words in Context questions appear first, students can read the first texts with a focused goal of defining the words in question.

Similarly, since the first half of each module will have Reading questions, students should expect to need to read these passages more thoroughly. On the other hand, the second half of each module has Writing questions, which can often be solved more quickly with a focus on mechanics rather than content.

And with only one task at hand, students should look at a question before they read the relevant passage. The question will usually provide a focus to the reading, or, at the very least, reveal what type it is. This way, the task of reading becomes more goal-oriented and strategic. On the digital adaptive PSAT and SAT, looking at the questions first before the passage becomes a no-brainer.

Here at Applerouth, we love active reading. While the shorter texts will put less strain on student’s working memories, it’s still a-ok to use annotation. Thankfully Bluebook, the College Board’s testing app, has annotation tools built into the Reading & Writing modules. Students should develop familiarity with these highlighting and annotation tools. This will help students to focus on the questions on the big day and not waste time exploring an unfamiliar testing platform.

New Types of Texts & Questions

Whereas the question types that appear on the new PSAT and SAT are predictable, the types of texts can be surprising. A greater range of literature has been added, including poetry and plays. Additionally, the historical range of texts has increased as Shakespeare has shown up on multiple modules. For those students who bristle at reading older texts, they would benefit from greater exposure to these classics.

The last question type to appear on each Reading & Writing module will relate to an unusual text type: a bulleted list. These rhetorical synthesis questions show a student’s set of research notes and the question asked to synthesize the information to answer a specific task.

Math Section

The Digital PSAT and SAT math sections measure students’ skills in pre-algebra, statistics, algebra, and geometry.

Questions appear in two formats: multiple choice and student-produced response. Unlike multiple-choice (MC) questions, student produced response (SPR) questions do not provide answer choices, so students must type in their own answers. These SPR questions also appear on the current paper SAT so the inclusion of these questions on the digital test is not new.

One aspect that is new for the digital PSAT and SAT is that calculators are now allowed throughout the Math section, so the ‘no-calculator’ math section that appeared on the paper version of the tests has been eliminated.

In addition, a Desmos-based graphing calculator is provided on the testing platform, called the Bluebook app, that students will use to take the digital tests. Understanding how to effectively use this calculator is key for students to hit their peak score.

Similar to the current paper tests, the digital PSAT and SAT Math section requires a deep understanding of a relatively small number of math topics which test fluency, conceptual understanding, and application. The successful student will not only understand how to solve an algebraic equation (fluency) but will also be able to create an algebraic equation or graph to model and solve a real-world problem (conceptual understanding and application).

Content Areas on the Digital PSAT and SAT

The digital PSAT and SAT math questions are divided into four content areas: Algebra (~35%), Advanced Math (~35%), Geometry & Trigonometry (~15%), and Problem Solving and Data Analysis (~15%). While they’ve changed the names of these content areas and shifted the question distribution a bit, the content covered by the digital PSAT and SAT is very similar to the content covered in the current paper test. The biggest change to the range of content covered is that complex numbers are no longer in the scope of the test.

College Board is also making an active effort to minimize the chance that students miss math problems because they got bogged down in reading comprehension. They aim to phrase the digital PSAT and SAT math questions precisely and concisely. Students can expect most word problems to be 50 words or fewer and stated plainly.

Digital SAT Math Calculator App

The use of a graphing calculator is permitted throughout the Math section. The Bluebook Application even includes a built-in calculator that is almost identical in design to Desmos—a free, advanced graphing calculator which many students are already familiar with from their classrooms.

While a personal graphing calculator is very powerful and can always be used for this test, the built-in calculator is often more efficient. In addition, the in-app calculator provides a way to work out solutions side-by-side with the problems as they appear on the screen. It is a great tool to tackle even the most challenging questions.

Applerouth is ready for the digital PSAT and SAT

Overall, although quite a bit has changed regarding the design and scope of both sections of the PSAT and SAT,  students who know what to expect will still be set up for success.

Applerouth is ready for these changes. We have spent months overhauling all of the verbal and math content in our course books to offer the most accurate and effective SAT prep materials and 1-1 tutoring for this new test. We are also continuing to stay in contact with College Board officials to ensure we stay informed on all updates to the new SAT.

To get started, we recommend taking a practice test in the Bluebook app! From there, our expert tutors can help students review their score report, identify key areas for improvement, and help better familiarize themselves with the digital test app so they’re prepared come test day.

Remember, the new exams will only affect the current junior class and younger students. Current seniors who are taking the SAT again this fall will be unaffected by these changes.

To get your student started, give us a call at 866-789-PREP (7737) or book a time to speak to one of our Program Directors.

Schedule a call with a Program Director.

Questions? Need some advice? We're here to help.

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