Many students and parents who were familiar with the old paper-based SAT are wondering whether the new Digital SAT will be easier. The Digital SAT is designed to maintain the same level of rigor and predictive value for colleges as the paper SAT—otherwise, it wouldn’t be a useful tool to assess freshman-year readiness. The College Board has done extensive research to ensure that Digital SAT scores align with paper SAT scores. That being said, students I have tutored have generally found the new Digital SAT to be much less intimidating and more approachable than the paper SAT. Here are ten reasons why most students will find the Digital SAT easier than the paper SAT.
1. Test fatigue is much less of an issue. While the paper SAT was over three hours long, the Digital SAT is only a little over two hours. This is possible because of the section-adaptive format of the Digital SAT: students start with modules of average difficulty and then progress to either more or less challenging modules based on their first module performance. Most students find that sustaining their attention for a little over two hours is quite manageable, making the Digital SAT less overwhelming than the paper SAT.
2. Less time wasted on double-checking. On the paper SAT, many students found it difficult to avoid looking back at their previous answers since they could easily be seen. Also, they had concerns about their bubbling in of the paper answer sheets. On the Digital SAT, students will only view one question at a time, making it much easier to compartmentalize their focus on one task. Also, students click on the answer instead of physically bubbling, and they can easily see that the answer choice they selected is recorded by the computer.
3. Calculators are available throughout the math section. The paper SAT had a no-calculator section; even though all the problems on this section could have been done without a calculator, many students found it more challenging than the calculator math section. On the Digital SAT, students can bring a calculator of their own to use for the math sections. Moreover, they have access to the powerful Desmos™ calculator that is built into the testing interface. The functionality of the Desmos™ calculator allows students to easily graph parabolas, systems of equations, and even tables.
4. Fewer questions on obscure grammar concepts. The Digital SAT focuses on grammar fundamentals: subject-verb agreement, verb tense, punctuation, modifier placement, and transitions. Unlike the old SAT, which also tested idioms, diction, and wordiness, students will find that they can focus their grammar study on certain concepts. For example, understanding the rules of semicolon and colon usage can go a long way on the Digital SAT.
5. The question stems are more predictable. Unlike the paper SAT, which had a wide variety of question wording, the questions on the Digital SAT are quite consistent. Students will find certain question stems repeated over and over:
Which choice completes the text with the most logical and precise word or phrase?
Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?
Which choice most logically completes the text?
Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English? Which choice completes the text with the most logical transition?
Having these consistent question stems allows students to get in a better testing rhythm and devote more time to thinking about their answers instead of trying to understand what they are asked to do.
6. The reading and writing selections are concise. The old paper SAT had just a few reading and writing passages, each of which was several hundred words. If a student found a topic uninteresting on these sorts of passages, it was easy for them to lose focus. On the Digital SAT, the reading and writing passages are no longer than 150 words and are accompanied by a single question. While a shorter text doesn’t necessarily mean an easier text, it does mean that students will often find them less daunting than the longer old SAT passages.
7. Proctor errors are less of a concern. I have had some past tutoring students experience proctor errors during their testing—in particular, the proctor called “time” too early or too late. Since the timing on the Digital SAT is done within the testing application, students need not worry about time being called early. If they hide the countdown clock, it will automatically reappear when 5 minutes remain. That way, students can be sure they answer every question before they run out of time.
8. Students can use their own tablet or computer. Familiarity brings comfort—students can practice on the same tablet or computer they want to use on test day. Students can take control of their testing process by ensuring their computer is fully charged and in good working order. There should be a minimal disconnect between practice tests and real tests when the device is the same for each.
9. The questions are less wordy. Both the reading/writing and the math questions on the Digital SAT are generally shorter than those found on the paper SAT. If students take their time carefully reading the questions, they are unlikely to make careless reading errors.
10. The Digital SAT is almost exactly like the Digital PSAT. While there are slight differences in the content tested on the SAT and PSAT, the two tests have the same format and time restrictions. Students who took the PSAT in the fall will feel comfortable knowing that they have already seen the computer interface and question types they will see on the Digital SAT.
All told, students should look at the new Digital SAT not as something to be feared, but as an outstanding opportunity to demonstrate their academic skills to colleges.