Is the Digital SAT Easier than the Paper SAT? The SAT Crash Course

As the SAT is officially going digital starting in March 2024, students have a lot of questions regarding the changes in the new SAT. Among those, the most frequently asked one is “Is the digital SAT harder or easier than the paper and pencil SAT?” This question may be highly relevant to students’ test prep journey since they may decide on the amount of time and effort they will set aside according to the difficulty of the exam. The short answer to this question is yes, depending on your personal traits regarding test-taking.

How do test takers’ qualities relate to the difficulty of the exam? It is because while the overall level of the test is designed to be similar, some of the changes made in the new SAT may be in favor of your preferences in taking an exam. In fact, the new SAT is far shorter than the older version of the exam, which some students may find an immediate advantage. In this article, we have summarized the modifications in the new SAT and divided them into three categories : the content, the format, and the testing method. Depending on your own comfort level on each area, you may be able to assess your personal difficulty of the new SAT test.


The Change in the Content

College Board announced that the digital SAT will maintain its degree of strictness in measuring students’ scholastic abilities. The overall consistency of the topics and varying levels of questions in the exam seem to prove their statement. However, in the new SAT, Reading and Writing sections have been integrated to one section, a change from the older SAT in which the sections were separate. Also, passages in the section have been shortened and there will be only one question tied to each passage. The questions will also be more brief and to the point, which may facilitate students’ thought process in question solving.

In the Math section, students are allowed to use calculator throughout the entire section. Students can bring their own calculator approved by the College Board or use the built-in graphing calculator in the testing app. Also, in-context questions that required reading skills from students in solving math problems now became shorter and more concise.


The Change in the Format

As previously mentioned, the digital SAT is significantly shorter than the paper SAT. The duration of the paper SAT was 3 hours in total, which is reduced to only 2 hours and 14 minutes in the new SAT. Despite the shortened time, students have more time per question in the digital SAT.

Another change, and the most remarkable one in terms of the test format, is that the new SAT uses adaptive modules. It is a new system in which students receive two sets of questions, the level of the second one determined by their performance on the first module. The first module is a mix of easy medium and hard questions and the second module consists of more difficult or easy questions based on how the student did previously. It is likely that students will earn more points by having questions right on the more difficult module than the easier module. Even if a student gets all the questions in the easier second module, there is a limit to the score that the student can get. This adaptive testing is certainly a new feature for everyone, it may take a few attempts for students to find out how they can utilize it to their benefit.

Student taking digital SAT practice test

The Digital Testing Method

Evidently, the digital SAT assigns the test in a digital form that is to be taken on a computer. College Board provides a testing app called Bluebook that students use to take the exam either on their own device or on the device managed by the testing site. In the app, students will have digital tools to help them take the test such as the built-in calculator for the Math section and the annotating tool for the Reading and Writing section.

These digitalized test taking format may be more comfortable for some students who are adept in reading passages and solving questions on screen. To develop these skills, it is encouraged that students take digital SAT practice tests on a computer before the test day.


Final Thoughts

As you may have noticed reading the article, there are several factors that indicate digital SAT may be considered easier that the paper-and-pencil version of the exam. The new test surely appear to be more streamlined in a way that helps students perform their best. However, to benefit from this change, students will need to familiarize themselves with the new format beforehand so they can fully concentrate on the questions on the exam day. All in all, your knowledge of the test will make the new SAT more manageable for you. Check out this article to learn more about SAT changes and how to effectively prepare for the new test!