Digital SAT Tutoring Myths and Facts

The SAT will be making the most significant change in its history when it switches from a linear, paper-based test to an adaptive, computer-based test in March of 2024 for students in the United States.  Given this overhaul, many tutors and test prep companies may not present the reality of what high quality Digital SAT and Digital PSAT test preparation should entail.  Let’s break down the three biggest Digital SAT Myths and set the facts straight. 

Myth #1:  You can use the same materials to prepare for the Digital SAT as you did for the paper SAT. 

Fact:  The Digital SAT has many never-before-seen SAT question types that require a complete overhaul to current test prep. 

The Digital SAT has many new types of questions:

  • Rhetorical Synthesis writing questions that ask you to integrate information to accomplish a task
  • Targeted Quantitative and Textual Evidence questions that ask you to determine what would support or undermine an argument
  • Poetry, Humanities, and Drama Analytical Reading questions
  • Mathematics questions that allow the use of a built-in Desmos Calculator
  • Individual Digital SAT reading/writing questions accompanied by short texts of no more than 150 words (instead of the current multi-question passages of up to 750 words)

Given all these changes, using the same old books and materials as used with the current SAT will not work.  To make the changes even more significant, a major source of material for many test prep providers will no longer be available.  The Question-and-Answer Service currently allows students who take the SAT in March, May, or October to pay for access to their test booklets and answers.  Many test prep providers make copies of these booklets and use them as the material for their students.  The College Board is putting an end to this practice by no longer having the Question-and-Answer service.  Periodically, new practice tests will be made available online, but there will be far less material available directly from the test makers. Given this lack of material, many test prep providers may suggest that the paper-based Question and Answer services will work to prepare students for the Digital SAT.  While there are some overlaps in the math and grammar content of the old SAT and the Digital SAT, it would be a disservice to students to not have a new body of material ready to go for the redesigned test. 

Myth #2:  The same strategies and methods that worked on the paper SAT will work on the Digital SAT. 

Fact:  The adaptive nature and new interface of the Digital SAT demand major changes to testing strategies and instructional methods. 

The Digital SAT will have a section-adaptive format in which the second module of the Reading/Writing and the second module of the Math will be easier or more difficult depending on the student’s performance on the earlier module of each type.  This means that each question will have more of an impact on the score and that students may feel more stressed when they try to predict whether they are taking the easier or more difficult module.  Digital SAT tutors should be able to help students develop a personalized plan to manage their pacing and test anxiety given these new parameters.

The Digital SAT has an extremely useful Desmos calculator embedded into its interface, enabling students to use new approaches to attack inequalities, systems of equations, parabola problems, and absolute value questions.  A high-quality Digital SAT tutor can show students how to fully take advantage of this new calculator tool, along with other embedded tools like the annotation feature, answer-eliminator, and countdown timer. 

Currently, the strategies for the paper-based SAT reading passages are geared towards helping students focus for longer periods of time to absorb the general meaning of a 750-word text.  Also, students on the paper-based SAT can skip around on questions when they don’t fully understand the meaning of the text, trying more specific and easier questions before attempting broader and more difficult questions on a given passage.  With the Digital SAT reading questions, students will need to think deeply about shorter selections of text and thoroughly consider argumentative evidence on several questions.  There will also be a much greater emphasis on vocabulary knowledge with words-in-context questions, so students should be sure to bolster their knowledge of complex words.  Tutors must update their instruction to reflect the new reading comprehension strategies needed to succeed on the Digital SAT. 

Myth #3:  Everyone should just take the ACT since it is familiar. 

Fact:  Tutors should recommend the Digital SAT or the ACT based on what is best for the student, not for the tutor. 

The ACT has remained in roughly its current form for many years, and there is a wealth of preparation books and released tests available for students and tutors to use.  Since the Digital SAT represents a true revolution in test prep, the business models of many tutors may be at risk—they will no longer have the Question-and-Answer services available from College Board to create their curriculum.  Thus, many tutors may recommend that students steer clear of the Digital SAT.  While the ACT may be better for some students and the Digital SAT better for others, be wary of those who may recommend the ACT simply because it has been around for longer.  Many students will like the new format of the Digital SAT and should not be dissuaded from trying it simply because a switch to this test would be inconvenient for the tutor. 

If you need help preparing for the Digital SAT, we at BWS Education are ready to go with updated methods and materials to help you do your very best. We had the first publication about the Digital SAT to market in August of 2022, a comprehensive Digital PSAT book released in May of 2023, and an upcoming Digital SAT book coming out in August of 2023. All these books have questions and strategies fully aligned with the very latest information from College Board.  We have also compiled a wealth of free Digital SAT Resources for anyone to use.  When you prep with BWS, you will work with tutors who are at the very cutting edge of the transformation of the SAT.  We look forward to working with you. 

Devices for the Digital SAT

The College Board has recently updated the details about the devices requirements for the Digital SAT and Digital PSAT. The following types of computers/tablets are permitted:

–Windows laptop or tablet

–Mac laptop

–iPad

–School-managed Chromebook

I highly recommend that you purchase or borrow one of these devices before the actual test date for these two reasons:

  1. You can download the BlueBook App ahead of time and practice with it prior to the actual test. On test day, you will use the same application for the actual test.
  2. While the College Board will provide you with a device if you need it, you will have to apply for the device at least 30 days in advance to allow for shipping. You can make this request when you register for the Digital SAT. Even with this application, an adult reference (a school counselor or teacher) will need to fill out a questionnaire confirming you need the device. Given these obstacles to borrowing a device, you will be much better served by finding a device well in advance and practicing with it ahead of time.

Best of luck to those taking the first international Digital SAT on March 11th!

–Brian W. Stewart

Digital SAT Update

The College Board just released the test specifications for the new digital SAT. Here is the most important information about what is changing on both the SAT and PSAT as they switch to digital formats in 2023 and 2024. The most important change is that the SAT and PSAT will now be adaptive–the difficulty of the later sections will change based on the performance on the first sections.

Reading and Writing

  • The Reading and Writing sections will be combined–students will see both Reading and Writing questions on the same test section.
  • Each question will be on a single passage that ranges from 25-150 words.
  • There will be new genres of passages presented, along with the continuation of fiction, historical documents, science, and social science. Students will now have some poetry and drama selections.
  • There will be two Reading/Writing sections, each taking 32 minutes, each having 27 questions.

Math

  • The topics covered in the math will remain virtually identical to what is covered on the current SAT and PSAT.
  • There will still be multiple choice and student-produced response questions.
  • The math test will be broken up into two sections of 35 minutes, each having 22 questions.

Takeaways

The SAT and PSAT are largely staying the same. Even the evidence-based questions on the reading, which I though might go away on the digital format, will remain. The grammar and math concepts will overlap with what is currently tested. The new digital SAT and PSAT should be less intimidating to students–the time constraints are quite generous, and students will need to stay focused for just over two hours to complete the exam.

I would encourage you to check out the sample questions available from College Board to get a taste of what is to come.

Please visit our blog for further updates on the new digital SAT and PSAT.

–Brian Stewart