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We recently sat down with Peterson’s Content Development Manager, Dr. Lacey N. Smith to discuss the upcoming changes to the SAT test and what students (and parents) need to know and how they should prepare.

Can you tell me some of the reasons why the SAT test is changing and when the changes to the SAT test will be implemented? 

Spring 2024 is when all students will begin taking the full SAT Suite of Assessments digitally. International students will begin taking the digital test earlier, in March 2023.

There are two main reasons why the SAT test is changing. The first is that the new digital SAT is both easier to take and easier to administer. The second reason is that the changes make the test more relevant. For instance, students will now be tested more directly on their academic and college-preparedness skills than on their ability to manage time or memorize test-taking strategies, as has traditionally been the case with standardized tests.

Will the upcoming changes to the SAT benefit students?

By making the test more approachable, easier to study for, easier to take, and ultimately more relevant to the actual skills students will need when they get to college, the new digital SAT should definitely benefit students. However, those who aren’t prepared for the changes may struggle a bit, so it is good to use knowledgeable resources (like Peterson’s Master the SAT test prep book) to prepare for the new format. 

It’s great to hear that the SAT will be easier and more relevant for students! Are there a lot of format and question changes to the SAT that students should be aware of?

Most of the changes are designed to make the test more accessible for students, so even though things will look and function differently, they should ultimately be more approachable. The main change is that for both the Reading and Writing section and the Mathematics section, the test will be administered in two modules, each containing half of the total questions for that section. Your score on the first module will determine whether you get slightly harder questions in the second module (and are thus eligible for the highest scores) or if you get slightly easier questions in the second module (meaning you won’t be able to score higher than ~600/800 for that section). The test literally “adapts” to reflect your Module 1 performance, which is why it’s called an adaptive test.

Other changes include much shorter reading passages each accompanied by a single question (rather than longer passages accompanied by multiple questions), shorter word problems in math, and the ability to use calculators for the entire math section. In general, all questions on the test will be shorter and/or more direct than they’ve been in the past.

A quick overview of SAT changes:

  • The length of the exam has been shortened from 3 hours to 2 hours and 14 minutes
  • It will be administered on a digital device using an app called Bluebook (instead of on pencil-and-paper, except for those who need to do so as an accommodation)
  • The digital application will give students useful tools for navigating the test, like a built-in graphing calculator, highlighting capabilities, reference sheets, and more.
  • The three sections on the old SAT (Reading, Writing and Language, and Math) have been turned into two sections on the digital SAT: Reading & Writing and Mathematics
  • You will only be able to move between and answer questions in one module at a time. When the module is submitted, you can’t go back.
  • Testing is adaptive, meaning it will be customized for you based on your performance. No two students will have the exact same exam.
  • Students should receive their scores faster–in days rather than in weeks.

Can you elaborate a bit more on the changes of the SAT Reading section?

In the past, there was one Reading section and another Writing and Language section. Now, both are combined into one Reading and Writing section. Students will not be required to write any kind of essay. Instead, they’ll receive 27 questions per module covering Reading, Writing, and Language Use simultaneously. Furthermore, rather than having to read long passages accompanied by multiple questions, the new Reading and Writing section features much shorter passages (about 25-150 words, usually) that are each accompanied by only one question.

With the SAT now only having two sections, can students switch between sections? I heard this will no longer be possible.

Students should definitely be aware that once they complete the first module for a section, they will not be able to go back to it. You can move around within the module, but once it’s submitted, you can’t return to it. Furthermore, once the Reading and Writing section is complete, you will not be able to return to it even if you finish early for Math.

Students should also be aware that to achieve the highest scores possible in each section, they will need to perform well on Module 1 so they can get harder questions in Module 2. If students don’t perform as well on Module 1 and receive an easier Module 2, their score will be capped around ~600 (out of 800) for that section.

You mentioned achieving the highest score possible in each section depends on the performance in Module 1. Does this mean SAT scoring will be different? What does adaptive testing have to do with questions and scoring?

For the most part, scoring will be the same. The score will be scaled based on the total number of questions you get correct, with no deduction for missed questions (which means it’s always a good idea to guess on questions you don’t know!). However, if a student does not perform well on Module 1, they will not be eligible for the highest scores in that section. It’s therefore very important that students do their best on Module 1 to access the possibility of those highest scores. It is helpful that the test adapts to a student’s actual skill level and knowledge points, but the modules have a big impact on scores so it’s important to be aware of how they affect scoring.

What are the rules now that students will be taking the SAT digitally?

Even though students will now take the test on approved digital devices rather than pen-and-paper, the tests will still be proctored (meaning they’ll be monitored) and most of the rules for testing centers and school testing days remain the same. These rules include the following:

    • Students SHOULD bring a fully charged testing device (requirements for devices can be found on the College Board website), an admission ticket, an acceptable photo ID, pencils/pens for scratch work, and an acceptable calculator if they do not want to use the built-in graphing calculator provided in the testing app
    • Students SHOULD NOT bring any prohibited items, including mobile phones (except to present an admission ticket, after which they must be stored away from desks), cameras, headphones/earbuds, earplugs, smart watches, fitness bands, reading material of any kind, highlighters, colored pens and pencils, correction tape/fluid, compasses, rulers, protractors, cutting devices, unacceptable calculators (approved devices can be found on the College Board website), privacy screens, weapons/firearms, or any kind of separate timer.
    • Students must arrive at the testing location on time with an acceptable Photo ID and admission ticket (printed or on mobile device). Students will not be permitted to begin testing late.

How should students prepare for their SAT exam?

With Peterson’s Master the SAT test prep book and test prep subscription options, of course! We provide a pre- and post-test in the book so students can tailor their study plan to their own needs. Students who purchase the book also have access to an adaptive-style digital test through petersons.com, giving them three different practice test opportunities in total. Our online SAT course also includes a host of other resources for those looking to get in some extra practice.