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Giving the SAT Online - 8 Tips on What This Means for High School Students

As of March 2024, the SAT exam — taken by a huge percentage of high school students in preparation for college admissions — changed to an exclusively online format. The Digital SAT can seem intimidating if you’re used to traditional paper-and-pencil standardized tests, and you may be uncertain of what has changed in this new format. In this blog post, we’ll break down the 8 most important things to know as you prepare for the Digital SAT, ranging from changes to the testing structure to managing technical difficulties during the exam. 


1. Know the testing structure modifications

With the new online formatting comes a new testing structure as well. The College Board has launched a new model of “Adaptive Testing”, meaning that the questions you’re given will vary based on your performance earlier in the exam. 


Both sections — Math and Reading and Writing — are now broken down into two modules of equal length. The questions in the first module are the same for all students, and contain a set of questions ranging from ‘easy’ to ‘difficult’. Depending on your performance in the first module, you’ll be assigned to one of two second modules. One contains simpler questions, the other is more challenging. 


While the idea of Adaptive Testing can seem stressful, there is one great advantage — this structure massively reduces the length of the exam. Since each secondary module will primarily contain either ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ questions rather than a combination of both, as was the case with the paper SAT. As such, the SAT is now only two hours instead of three!


One last difference — though the digital SAT is still majority multiple choice questions, several Math questions in each model will require you to input a numerical answer. While this unfortunately eliminates the possibility of correctly guessing an answer you were unsure about, keep in mind that there are limited questions of this type. 


2. Learn changes in scoring

Curious how Adaptive Testing might affect your score? There are two main questions that students ask regarding the logistics of scoring the new online SAT. Will I be aware of which module you’ve been assigned? Will taking the easier module negatively impact my score?  


First, you won’t be informed which module you were assigned, likely to reduce added stress while taking the exam. Nonetheless, you’ll likely be able to ascertain it based on the questions you’re given. Though I encourage students not to speculate about their scores during the exam — it can only amplify nerves and distract you — you’ll still probably be aware of whether you’re heading towards a higher- or lower-range score.


Second, getting the easier second module doesn’t mean you’d get a lower score than you would with the traditional format or with the more difficult module. Essentially, if you miss multiple questions on the first section, your potential score range will already be limited. Instead, you’ll be given questions that best match your abilities — you won’t feel frustrated by needing to answer questions that are either too difficult or too simple. Through this format, the scoring system is additionally able to calculate more reliable and accurate scores through increased differentiation of students with similar abilities.


3. Ensure your device is approved

In the past, SAT-takers only needed to worry about bringing the right kinds of pencils and appropriate calculators. Worst case scenario, you’d need to borrow a pencil or go without a calculator. However, with the Digital SAT, you need to come prepared with a device on which you can take the test. If you don’t have the appropriate technology, you will be fully unable to take the exam. 


Overall, your options are either a Windows or Mac device, an iPad, or a school-managed Chromebook. Whichever device you choose, it must be able to connect to wifi. The College Board lays out more details on acceptable devices here


Don’t have one of these devices? In the next section, I’ll lay out your alternatives.


4. Request a loaner device if necessary

To be honest, if you don’t have a laptop, iPad, or Chromebook, it is absolutely best to borrow one from a friend or family member. Some schools will additionally have laptops or tablets that students may borrow for standardized testing. I recommend borrowing it the night before, since you’ll be testing early in the morning and will need to prepare the device. Make sure it meets all eligibility requirements so you won’t be disqualified from testing. 


While there is an option to borrow a device directly from The College Board, I recommend this only as a last resort. You’ll need to request one very far in advance, and there is no guarantee that they’ll be able to accommodate your request. To eliminate the anxiety of lacking a testing device, or one that you’re unable to familiarize yourself with in advance, it’s much better to obtain one on your own if at all possible. 


5. Make sure your device is ready to go

You’ll take the Digital SAT using the Bluebook app, designed exclusively for the exam. Since the test will begin shortly after you get settled in the testing room, it’s absolutely essential that you download the app in advance. To be able to download the app, your device must have Windows 10 or later and 250 MB of available disk space. 


It’s also important that your laptop or tablet is fully-charged when you come to the exam. Though you’re permitted to charge your device during the test, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be near an outlet. Not to mention that there definitely won’t be enough for every student in the room!


6. Practice using the app

While the bare minimum requirement is to install the app before you come to the test, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Bluebook interface and the Digital SAT structure. Thankfully, The College Board offers official practice tests and questions on the app as well, so you’ll know how to navigate the new online structure by the time you take the official exam. 


7. Don’t worry too much about wifi

If you’re terrified of losing internet connection during the exam, you can relax. As long as you have wifi when beginning and submitting the Digital SAT, the Bluebook app can function without an internet connection during the exam itself. If you lose connection, you can continue testing, and your answers will be saved when you reconnect. 


If your wifi completely fails during the exam, making you unable to submit your answers, The College Board offers some extended submission time. They additionally provide a complete information packet for test proctors, containing troubleshooting tips for losing internet connection or other tech glitches during the exam. 


8. Know your options

If you’re feeling uncomfortable with the online format for any reason, remember that the SAT isn’t your only option. Even though the SAT is now exclusively online, the ACT still offers paper exams. The ACT is accepted by all colleges that require standardized testing, so there’s absolutely no disadvantage to taking this exam instead of the SAT. If you’ve primarily studied SAT practice questions, most of this work will still be applicable, as the testing structure is quite similar between the two. However, do know that the ACT has a Science section, which primarily focuses on interpreting scientific passages and graphs. It won’t expect any outside knowledge of the material; you only need to work with the information provided by the exam. While it’s worth taking some practice ACT exams before making the switch, keep in mind that the change in structure is minor. 



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Alexej is a graduate of Princeton University, where he studied Linguistics, Cognitive Science, and Humanities & Sciences. Alexej works in college admissions consulting and is passionate about pursuing research at the intersection of humanities, linguistics, and psychology. He enjoys creative writing, hiking, and playing the piano.


Image Source: SAT logo

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