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In March, the College Board rolled out its first-ever fully digital, adaptive SAT in the United States. There have now been three iterations of the exam (March, May, and June), which have allowed us to glean some information about test administration and student experiences as rising juniors begin to consider their test prep options.

Refresher on the Digital SAT Format

The SAT is now both digital and adaptive; students can no longer take a paper-pencil exam. 

  • Digital: students take the SAT on College Board’s Bluebook app, which students can download onto their own device or one provided by their school. Each student receives a different exam in Bluebook. 
  • Adaptive: the SAT includes two sections – Reading/Writing (English) and Math. In each section, students will first get a module with a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. Depending on their performance on the items in the first module, they will advance to either an easier or a harder second module, which will broadly determine their score range.

The scoring remains the same as the paper-pencil SAT: the maximum score on each section is 800, for a maximum composite score of 1600. A student’s score is scaled based on the problems they get correct (or incorrect).

What We’ve Learned

Every time the College Board makes a change to an exam, we expect a rocky transition, which is why we counseled students away from taking the SAT this spring. We wanted to be sure all the bugs were worked out and that we had a handle on what students should expect. Here are some things we’ve heard so far.

Administration Concerns

Fortunately, testing has gone more smoothly than many expected. College Board’s first digital, adaptive exam actually took place in fall 2023, when schools administered the PSAT. Several testing issues occurred during that exam, but aside from individual issues with devices, those seem to have been ironed out before the March SAT.


College Board released four Bluebook practice exams in advance of the March test. Students have found the official exams to be more challenging than the Bluebook tests suggested they would be; this was especially true for the harder second math module. Further, it appears that it’s not necessarily content that is more difficult, but rather the need to utilize several skills on the same problem, which can also be more time-intensive. College Board has since released two additional Bluebook exams, which may match the official SAT’s problems a bit more closely. While the original Bluebook exams are still useful, students should know that they might not be fully reflective of the exam’s difficulty. 

Promised Advantages

When College Board announced that the SAT would go fully digital, it touted a few major advantages:

  1. Shorter test. This is undoubtedly true; the time it takes to complete a full exam is about 45 minutes less than it took to finish a paper-pencil SAT (or an ACT). The Reading and English passages are also much shorter, with each Reading/Writing item referring only to one short passage instead of having multiple problems refer to a long passage. Not surprisingly, many students welcome a shorter exam.
  2. Security. Each student receives their own test in Bluebook. This change certainly helps mitigate any suspicions of cheating, which could lead to scores being delayed or even canceled for entire rooms of test-takers. However, it also comes with a substantial drawback on the test prep side; because every student gets a different test, College Board is no longer releasing items from official exams. Thus, we are forced to rely on the other materials it releases, including the Bluebook exams, to gauge the type of content tested and its difficulty.
  3. Score releases. Ideally, digital exams can be scored quickly, even within a couple of days, but this has not yet come to pass; scores have come back in about two weeks, which is similar to both the ACT and the previous version of the SAT. Given the newness of the test, College Board may have wanted to review the results before it felt comfortable sending them to students, so it is possible turnaround time will improve in the future.

Implications for Test Prep

Now that we have a better sense of how the digital SAT is actually being administered, we have started to take on students interested in taking the exam in the 2024-25 school year. College Board has released its full list of test dates for next school year; the fall administrations and deadlines are as follows:

Test Date Registration Deadlines
Regular Late
August 24, 2024 August 9 August 13
October 5, 2024 September 20 September 24
November 2, 2024 October 18 October 22
December 7, 2024 November 22 November 26

Aside from the apparent discrepancies in question difficulty, we can help students understand the structure of the exam, the concepts that are tested, and the strategies and skills required to perform well. We also help prepare high-scoring students for the fall PSAT, which is administered on Bluebook and has an identical structure to the SAT.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you are interested in learning more!


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