Is the Digital SAT Easier? Comparing the SAT and Digital SAT

Two students taking a test side-by-side.

Did you know about the new change that will take effect in 2024 in the United States regarding the SAT?

Yes, the SAT is bidding farewell to the days of cramped hands, pencil sharpeners, and…scantrons!

Students across the United States are in for a change as the College Board embraces the digital age and implements a digital SAT test. International students have already begun taking the exam digitally, and American students are next.

In this post, let’s examine whether the digital SAT is easier and compare it to the traditional one.

Overview of the SAT and the digital SAT

To begin, the SAT is a widely recognized standardized test that serves as a standard evaluation tool for college admissions in the United States. Although many universities, like the University of California system, are now test-optional, schools still prefer to see an SAT or ACT score on an application. Overall, these exams assess cognitive abilities and gauge college readiness.

As this assessment primarily targets students wanting to pursue undergraduate degrees, it’s important to understand the high school academic curriculum and the exam format itself. Remarkable SAT scores can be a huge boost on an application.

On the other hand, the digital SAT refers to the new format on a computer. In contrast to the traditional paper-and-pencil format, students take the digital SAT through a digital assessment platform. The transition to a digital format introduces various changes in test content delivery, question presentation, and response submission.

The digital SAT retains its counterpart’s fundamental purpose: assessing test takers’ cognitive abilities and college readiness.

Differences between the exams

Test Features
Digital SAT
Traditional SAT
Computer-based test. Paper-based test.
The test is composed of two distinct sections: the Reading & Writing section and the Math section. This test has three Sections: Reading, Writing, and Math (one part with a calculator, one part without).
2 hours and 14 minutes. It is a shorter test. 3 hours and 15 minutes.
It will feature a two-stage adaptive format. The difficulty level of the questions in the second module of each section will be determined based on the test taker’s performance in the first module. The paper-based SAT doesn’t have this adaptive feature.
In-context Question Length


The average in-context question length is shorter. This modification emphasizes the practical application of math skills in both academic and real-world contexts. The average question length was longer.
Passage Length
The digital SAT’s Reading & Writing section will feature multiple short passages instead of long ones. These brief passages include diverse topics and help indicate students’ college readiness. Notably, each short passage will be accompanied by a single question. This format evaluates students’ abilities better. In the new mode of examination, the average length of in-context questions in the SAT has been reduced compared to the previous format.
Throughout the Math section of the Digital SAT, students can use a calculator. However, test takers must adhere to the calculator policy if they bring their calculator. Alternatively, there is a built-in graphing calculator in the testing application. The section was divided into a no-calculator section and a calculator-allowed section.
Test Security
Adopting a two-stage adaptive format means each test is a bit more personalized. Test content and question order may vary among test takers, significantly reducing the potential for cheating or unauthorized collaboration. The SAT’s previous paper and pencil format did not incorporate the adaptive test feature.
Testing Days
7 different days per year. 5 different days per year.
Score Scale
A 400–1600 scale. The scoring scale is 1600.
The test fee is $60, along with any late registration and cancelation costs. The test fee is $60, along with any late registration and cancelation costs.
The results come out in around 10 days. The results take a few weeks.

Pros and cons of the digital SAT

Pros of the digital SAT

  • Shorter time duration: The test is shorter. What was around three hours was cut down to around two hours, which helps eliminate test fatigue.
  • Shorter sections: Reading passages are smaller, allowing more time per question.
  • Calculators: A built-in calculator is available for the entire math section on the test screen. In terms of the content, there is an emphasis on geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and word problems.
  • Computer-adaptive testing: The digital SAT adapts the difficulty level in the future modules based on the test taker’s earlier responses, providing a more accurate measurement on a standard scale.
  • Faster result announcement: Results come out within days, which is significantly less wait time compared to the paper-based version. This means students can send their scores to colleges promptly and make timely decisions.

Cons of the digital SAT

  • Navigation challenges: Some high school students may face difficulties returning to previous questions, potentially impacting their scores.
  • Device influence: Some students may have a harder time using a computer to take their test than if it were paper and pencil.
  • Cybersecurity concerns: The digital SAT introduces the challenge of cybersecurity and safeguarding against potential breaches to test content or personal information.

How do they score the digital SAT?

The digital SAT score is based on the following criteria:

Correct answers count. There is no penalty for guessing! Therefore, students should attempt every question.

The resulting score is then converted to a reported score on a scale of 200 to 800. The total score range for the digital SAT is 400 to 1600, while the section scores range from 200 to 800.

The All Tester Percentile, previously known as the User Percentile, indicates a student’s relative performance compared to others. For example, if a student’s score is in the 70th percentile, 70% of the comparison group achieved scores at or below that student’s score in the test experience.

Tips for taking the digital SAT

Take practice tests

First of all, if you need more specific studying tips, read this step-by-step digital SAT study guide for more. The best way to prepare for this exam is to take real practice tests. A huge tip is to familiarize yourself with the Bluebook test-taking platform. Also, use College Board digital SAT practice questions. You should even take multiple practice tests (yes, multiple!).

Use the available tools

  • Utilize time management tools in Bluebook, such as flagging difficult questions to review later to get a better SAT score.
  • Use the visible timer that counts down the remaining time. You can also minimize it on the screen.
  • Use the built-in DESMOS calculator available throughout the Math section, or bring your own approved calculator if preferred.
  • Use the reference sheet in the Math section, which provides standard formulas for reference.
  • Use the passage annotator feature in the Reading and Writing section to highlight important parts and leave notes when you decide to go fully digital.
  • The eliminator tool helps you cross out answer options you have ruled out.
  • Prepare for the combined Reading and Writing Section by practicing reading, language usage, and understanding of rhetoric.
A student practicing for the digital SAT
Image by storyset on Freepik


The big picture: Is the digital SAT easier?

Drawing a definitive conclusion on whether the digital SAT is easier is subjective and dependent on individual experiences and preferences. However, the digital SAT has advantages that may contribute to a more favorable test-taking experience for some students.

These advantages include a shorter duration, shorter reading passages, the ability to use a calculator throughout the Math questions, and quicker results.

On the other hand, the digital format also introduces new challenges, such as potential difficulties with navigation. The SAT’s difficulty, whether digital or paper-based, lies in the content and the individual’s level of preparedness.

Finally, students can still receive accommodations for the digital SAT if needed. Check out what accommodations the College Board offers. Make sure to research this before your test registration to ensure you have what you need.

If you need help with the SAT exam preparation, try one of Lessonpal’s online SAT prep tutors, an affordable and accessible online tutoring marketplace. Students and parents can easily find and book lessons or lesson packages that suit their needs and goals. This can be a valuable resource to complement your digital SAT preparation and enhance overall academic learning.

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