Digital SAT Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean that the SAT is an “adaptive” test?

So that the digital SAT test can take around two hours instead of around three hours, the SAT is now adaptive, meaning the test changes depending on how the individual test-taker is doing. The second modules of both the Reading and Writing and of the Math will change in difficulty based on how a student did on the first modules of each type. Students who perform better on the first modules will have more challenging questions in the second modules, while students who do not perform as well will have easier questions in the second modules.

What is the format of the Digital SAT?

The Digital SAT takes a little over two hours to complete, and is broken down as follows:

SAT Module

Reading and Writing One

32 Minutes, 27 Questions, Standard Difficulty

Reading and Writing Two

32 Minutes, 27 Questions, Adaptive Difficulty (easier or harder questions depending on how you did on the first Reading and Writing section)

Break—10 Minutes

Math One

35 Minutes, 22 Questions, Standard Difficulty

Math Two

35 Minutes, 22 Questions, Adaptive Difficulty (easier or harder questions depending on how you did on the first Math section)

How is the Digital SAT scored?

  • The SAT score is broken up into two halves: The Reading and Writing sections are scored between 200-800 points. The Math section is scored between 200-800 points.
  • The total SAT score is therefore between 400-1600 points, with a 1600 being a perfect score, and a 1000 being approximately an average score.
  • There is no penalty for guessing, so be sure to answer every question, including fill-in questions on the math.

How is the new Digital SAT different from the older paper-based SAT?

Digital SAT

About three hours long, including breaks and administration.

A little over two hours long; assesses the same skills as the longer SAT by having an “adaptive” format.

60 minutes for Reading

35 minutes Writing and Language

25 minutes for Non-Calculator Math

45 minutes for Calculator Math

Less time needed for test administration because students can download the testing app ahead of time.

One test form for all students on a particular test day

Different test questions for different students.

Paper test booklets with Scantron sheets for answers

Taken on a laptop that students provide or that the test center makes available.

Can go back to questions within a section before time is called

Can still go back and review questions. Questions can be flagged.

Students should bring their own watches and calculators—they are not provided.

Countdown clock and calculator built into the program, although students can still bring a watch and calculator if they would like.

Can write on the test booklet

Can write on provided scrap paper.

Experimental questions (ones that don’t count towards your score), if given, are in a section after the test.

A few experimental questions are incorporated into each test section.

Reading passages are 500-750 words long and have 10-11 questions each.

Reading and Writing texts no longer than 150 words. Each text has just one question accompanying it

Reading genres include fiction, social science, historical documents, and natural science

Will have a greater variety of reading genres represented. Along with the current SAT reading genres, there will be humanities, drama, and poetry excerpts.

Non-Calculator and Calculator Sections

Calculator permitted throughout the test.

Formula sheet provided at the beginning of the test section. Students need to bring their own calculators.

Formula sheet and digital calculator available in the program. Word problems are typically more concise than they currently are.

Why is the College Board making this change to the SAT?

  • Adaptive tests have a long track record of success. The GRE and GMAT, both of which are used for graduate school admissions, are computer-based adaptive assessments. These tests are shorter than they would otherwise be since they adjust the difficulty of the questions based on student performance.
  • Students have become more comfortable with computer-based assessments. With so many students learning remotely during the pandemic, digital learning has become far more common.
  • The test should be easier to administer. Testing administrators will not have to secure test booklets. If schools want to offer the SAT during the school day, they will not have to take as much time away from the classroom and can offer the test to different groups of students on different days.
  • Test security should be improved. Since students will have different test questions, it is far more difficult to cheat. Also, it will be far less likely that a test security breach will lead to score cancellations.  

 How do you register for the test? When is it offered?

Go to the College Board website and set up an account.

The SAT is typically offered seven times throughout the year in the following months: March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. Check on the above website link for the most updated information on test dates. Many schools may also offer an in-school test date; check with your guidance counselor for more details. Given the more flexible nature of the Digital SAT, schools will have more freedom to offer the test on days that work well for schools’ and students’ schedules.  

What is a good SAT score?

There is not a “passing” score on the SAT—a good score for you depends on your specific goals for college admissions. Check out the College Board website for detailed information on typical scores for admitted students at schools throughout the United States.

Will every question on the SAT count the same towards the score?

The College Board is developing a scoring manual as they gather more data from test-takers that will employ the principles of Item Response Theory—this is a scoring approach that looks at how you perform on individual test questions in the context of that general category of test questions. Using this will allow the test-makers to better assess student proficiency using fewer questions. Under this approach to scoring, performance on certain questions may carry more weight than performance on others. What does this mean for you as a test taker? First, do your very best on each and every question. With fewer questions on the Digital SAT than on the previous paper SAT, each question has more of an impact on your score. Second, look at closer to your actual SAT date to see the latest on how your test will be scored. For this book, we will rely on previous SAT test curves to give you our best estimate as to how your performance on your practice tests will roughly equate to scores on the actual SAT.

Does the SAT potentially offer accommodations?

For students whose test-taking is impacted by a documented disability, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or visual or motor impairments, the SAT may offer accommodations. The most typical accommodation is extended time, although some students may receive more specific accommodations like extended breaks.

One interesting potential accommodation with the Digital SAT is that you could be eligible to take the test in a paper-based, non-adaptive format. Should you take this paper-based, non-adaptive SAT, the test is longer: the Reading/Writing Modules each have 33 questions last 39 minutes, and the Math modules will each have 27 questions and last 43 minutes. Should you have this format for your test, you can download a longer non-adaptive practice test from the College Board.

If you have an IEP or 504 plan with your school, talk to your guidance counselor or school administrator about applying for accommodations on the SAT. Having an IEP or a 504 plan will not necessarily lead to having accommodations on the SAT, but it usually helps. Allow plenty of time to apply for accommodations—at least 7 weeks. Visit the College Board website for the latest details on requesting SAT accommodations.

Does the SAT offer accommodations for English language learners?

Students who are actively enrolled in an English as a Second Language program at their school may be able to take the SAT with 50% extra time, translated test directions, and the use of a bilingual dictionary. This service is currently available on school-day SATs, but not on the national test dates on weekends.

What are the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT?

The SAT and ACT have many similarities:

  •  They both test English grammar.
  • They both test high school math up through pre-calculus.
  •  They both test reading comprehension.
  • They both assess students’ ability to analyze graphs and charts.
  • There is no guessing penalty on either test—be sure to answer every question.
  • Colleges throughout the United States that use test scores in admissions (the vast majority of colleges) will accept results from either the SAT or ACT.

 There are some important differences:

  •  The SAT is given in a digital, adaptive format; the ACT is given in a non-adaptive, typically paper-based format. The Digital SAT will be shorter than the ACT, with a little over half the testing time of the ACT. The ACT gives the same sets of questions to all students, and the questions will not change from section to section based on student performance.
  •  The SAT gives students more time to complete the same amount of material. For example, on the SAT math, you have about 95 seconds for each question, while on the ACT, you have about 60 seconds for each question. So, if you are more comfortable taking your time in completing the test, the SAT may be a better fit than the ACT. If you like a faster test with slightly more straight-forward questions, the ACT may be preferable.
  •  The SAT focuses more deeply on certain math topics, emphasizing algebra and word problems. The ACT has a broader array of math topics, including things like matrices, logarithms, and hyperbolas.
  • The ACT has a Science section, while the SAT tests scientific skills throughout the test. The final section of the ACT is a stand-alone science reasoning section, which assesses your skill in analyzing experiments, scientific research, and scientific theories. The SAT has questions on each section—even the Writing and Language—that will ask you to interpret graphs and charts.

What should I do right before the SAT?

Immediately before the SAT, prioritize sleep and relaxation. You will do far better on the SAT if you are well-rested and have a positive mindset. In the week before the test, try to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Since the SAT is very much a critical thinking test, the better rested you are, the better you will be able to read, problem solve, and edit. Some practice shortly before the test is perfectly fine to do, but make sure you are not staying up late and cramming.

What should I bring with me to the SAT?

  • Admissions ticket
  • Computer or tablet with the testing program already installed. You will be allowed to use your own computer or tablet for the Digital SAT. Be sure to download the testing program well in advance so that you can become familiar with the testing interface and will not have to download the program on test day. If you do not have a computer or table you wish to use, the testing site will provide one for you.
  • Calculator with fresh batteries—most any graphing or scientific calculator is fine. There is a calculator with graphing features given in the program, but most students will find it easier to use their own calculator. Check the College Board website to see if your calculator is approved.
  •  A snack and a drink to have during your breaks (don’t have food/drink out on your desk)
  •  Do not have your cell phone with you during the duration of the test—you are welcome to use it after the test has concluded, but the proctors do not want to see phones used during the test to prevent possible cheating.
  •  Pen or pencil. You can use your preferred pen or pencil to write on the provided scrap paper.
  •  Watches, paper, and highlighters are not needed. The test program gives you an annotation feature and a countdown timer that you can view or hide, and the testing site will provide you with scrap paper. 


Barron's Digital SAT in the News
  • PRESS RELEASE: Barron’s Introduces a Study Guide for the All-New Digital SAT®