Goodbye Paper and Pencil! Hello Digital SAT

By Candice Sunseri

The new digital SAT is coming to the US in 2024, but international students have already been taking it for a year. Recently I attended a presentation with an international college advisor and an international test prep company to hear their take on what the new SAT is all about after a year of testing data. The big change, of course, is it’s digital—meaning students will now take it on a computer instead of with pencil and paper. But there are plenty of other changes:

  • The test is going from four to two sections, only one verbal section and one math section.
  • It’s been shortened to two hours from the current three-hour time.
  • Students can flag questions to skip or go back (no more forgetting you skipped a question and getting your bubbling off track!) and students can go back and make changes as long as they are still working in that section.
  • Scores will be released within days, not weeks.
  • Each student takes a completely different test of questions, so no cheating for students in later time zones (which has been a problem internationally).
  • Students will have more time per question.


    The test is now adaptive, meaning students will receive easier or harder questions as they go along, depending on how many they are getting right or wrong as they take the test. This seems like it could hurt students, but both of the presenters agreed that students should not worry about the adaptive aspect of the test. The College Board has had students take two tests a week apart with the paper and pencil test and the adaptive test and they are finding the scores are very similar. Test Prep companies who’ve been working with European students are seeing a very small difference (less than 20 points) between the old version and the new adaptive version.


    The digital SAT will still use the 1600-point scale. There’s a formula sheet at the beginning of the math section, just like now. Students will still take it at school or a test center on a Saturday at 8am (but the College Board may move it to other days and times eventually). Students who need accommodations will find those the same, too.


    The College Board has released 4 full-length tests to practice on (look for the Blue Book app) with two more coming this fall, along with a question bank students can use to practice. Students should practice learning to use the tools and the new interface. The reading section has changed, so for students taking the 2024 SAT, they should definitely practice with the new material for that section. Kahn Academy will be releasing more free practice material soon. The test prep companies say that 6 hours of tutoring and 2-3 practice tests will be enough to adjust to the new test. If you are prepping on your own, follow those same guidelines to ensure you will be familiar with the new format.


    The students who have taken the new digital SAT have had very positive responses. Hey, it’s an hour shorter and you have more time per question, so what’s not to like? The test experts say that students are adapting to it quickly. Students were happy about the integrated Desmos calculator that can be used for all math questions. (If you haven’t used Desmos, practice with it before you take the test.) They are also using the tools like flagging questions to come back to them later, highlighting important parts of the reading passages, and crossing out the answers they know are wrong.

    Overall, it seems like a positive improvement and students seem to like the Digital SAT much more than the paper version. We advise practicing with the new interface and calculator before the test, but students may find they like playing around with the digital version enough that they will be motivated to practice more.

Candice Sunseri is an independent college consultant who lives in Ventura County, California. She’s had previous careers as a book and a magazine editor, high school librarian, and mom, all of which have contributed to her skill set as she guides students through college essays and applications.