The Difference Between the Digital and Paper SAT

How is the new digital SAT different from the paper SAT, and how can you and your students prepare?

The New Digital SAT: What to Expect this Spring 2024

The new digital SAT® launches in less than one month, and we’ve heard from many educators and students who are worried and concerned about the new test. What can students expect on the new SAT? How can educators best prepare? 

With so many questions out there, we thought we would compile everything you need to know right here. Let’s dive in and explore the four main changes to the new SAT and how you and your students can prepare for March.

  1. The Digital SAT is Adaptive
  2. Format Changes from the Paper SAT to the Digital SAT
  3. ELA Section Changes
  4. Math Section Changes
  5. How to Prepare for the Digital SAT

1. The New SAT is Digital AND Adaptive

The new SAT and PSAT tests are not only going digital, they’re also going adaptive. What does this mean? 

Unlike the paper test, where questions remain stagnant and unchanging, the digital SAT adapts to the specific student’s answers. For example, with the new SAT, students will encounter two parts in ELA and math. During the first part, they will work on their questions, jump forward or backward between questions, and have the opportunity to change their answers if they’d like. Then, based on the student’s performance on part 1, the system will provide a slightly easier or challenging second part.  

This new interface ensures that students aren’t seeing overly challenging content and getting discouraged, or repeating content they’ve already grasped and getting bored. It perfectly adapts to the student’s level and offers them the right level of challenge. 

2. Paper SAT vs. Digital SAT Format

The SAT is also getting a pretty major trim. Previously, the paper SAT was 180 minutes long with 154 total items between ELA and math. The new digital PSAT and SAT exams are now [all] 134 minutes with just 98 items in ELA and math. 

Despite these changes to the format, the scoring system will remain the same: the SAT will have the same scaled score range of 400-1600, the PSAT 10 320-1520, and the PSAT 8/9 240-1440.

3. Changes to the ELA Section

The ELA section of the new digital SAT will look significantly different. Rather than having two sections (English and Writing & Language), there will only be one section, Reading and Writing, with reading and writing items mixed together. This will be divided into two parts for adaptive testing purposes. Both of these parts will be 32 minutes long and consist of 25 operational questions and two pre-test questions.

Another big change is that the new SAT is dropping the lengthy reading passages and adopting shorter reading passages that are linked to a single question. So what used to be passages of 600-700 words paired with 10-11 items will now be passages of 30-150 words paired with one item. This will greatly benefit students as they won’t have to scroll up and down a page, or remember a long passage as they work through multiple questions on different screens. It will also lessen some of the stress if a student doesn’t understand a passage. If they don’t understand one passage, it will only cost them one question as opposed to ten or eleven.

Here’s a breakdown of the scoring categories for the new ELA section:


Information and Ideas 

  • Central Ideas and Details 
  • Command of Evidence (Textual) 
  • Command of Evidence (Quantitative)
  • Inferences 

Craft and Structure

  • Words in Context 
  • Text Structure and Purpose
  • Cross-Text Connections


Expression of Ideas

  • Rhetorical Synthesis 
  • Transitions

Standard English Conventions

  • Boundaries
  • Form, Structure, and Sense

4. Changes to the Math Section

In terms of the math section, Algebra content will continue to be the main focus of the SAT, making up almost half of the PSAT 8/9 and 35% of the PSAT 10 and SAT. A noteworthy change is the increased weight of the Advanced Math category on the SAT and a relative decrease in weight of the Problem Solving and Data Analysis category. Advanced Math will now make up 35% of the SAT, Problem Solving and Data Analysis 15%, and Geometry and Trigonometry 15%.

Here’s a breakdown of what each topic entails:

Algebra (35%)

  • Linear equations in one variable
  • Linear equations in two variables
  • Linear functions
  • Systems of two linear equations in two variables
  • Linear inequalities in one or two variables

Advanced Math (35%)

  • Equivalent expressions
  • Nonlinear equations in one variable and systems of equations in two variables
  • Nonlinear functions 

Problem Solving and Data Analysis (15%)

  • Ratios, rates, proportional relationships, and units
  • Percentages
  • One-variable data: distributions and measures of center and spread
  • Two-variable data: models and scatterplots
  • Probability and conditional probability 

Geometry and Trigonometry (15%)

  • Area, volume, perimeter
  • Lines, angles 
  • Triangles including right triangles

In addition, what used to be two sections (Math with Calculator and Math with No Calculator) has now been consolidated into one section, Math with Calculator. Just like ELA, this section will have two parts for adaptive testing purposes. Each part will be 35 minutes long and include 20 operational questions and two pre-test questions. 

With the removal of the Math with No Calculator section, students will now be able to use a calculator during the entire math section. Students will not need to bring their own as the new digital interface will have a graphing calculator built in.  

5. How to Prepare for the Digital SAT

“To be honest, I’m worried. I don’t think our 9th and 10th grade students have fully recovered from their pandemic learning loss; now we’re changing the test on them?” – Principal Austin Reynolds

Principal Reynolds isn’t the only one feeling this way. We’ve heard from hundreds of educators who don’t know how to prepare for the new test or where to even start.

At Horizon Education, we’re dedicated to ensuring that all our educators, administrators, students, and families understand the changes to the SAT and feel prepared for the new test this March. When you partner with us, we will work with your school or district to provide a sustainable, affordable, and effective readiness solution for the new SAT. 

Whether you’d like just the benchmark assessments or our entire curriculum offering, we will find a solution that’s right for you. Here’s what we offer:

Horizon Benchmark Assessments for the New SAT

Our benchmark assessments provide exam-like items that mirror the length, difficulty, and content standards of the new SAT. We also use a digital adaptive testing interface that mimics the new SAT format. You can give your students an authentic testing experience before the actual test, whether they’re on a Chromebook, laptop, or desktop.

Plus, with our proprietary scoring algorithm, Your students will get their results within minutes (instead of months) so they can see where they are struggling and remediate right away. With only a month to go until the new SAT, now is the perfect time to administer a benchmark assessment, identify your students’ strengths and weaknesses, and take immediate action.  This is a great opportunity for schools to provide a benchmark assessment for their 9th and/or 10th grade students during the same time 11th grade students are taking the state exam.

Horizon Readiness Courses for the New SAT

There’s no need to come up with your own curriculum for the new SAT! We have over 90 hours of curriculum that is aligned with the new SAT, including pre-built lesson plans, activities, support videos, and remediation. Our readiness courses are easy to implement in any classroom setting (including after-school programs or elective classes) and have been proven to boost scores by an average of +160 points. Give your students the support they need to improve their SAT readiness and gain testing confidence!

“I’m glad we are partnered with Horizon. If it wasn’t for [Horizon Education] we wouldn’t know where to start.” – Principal Reynolds

Don’t wait — schedule your free demo with us today. Let’s master the new SAT together! 

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