Is the Digital SAT Harder Than the Paper SAT?

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Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown are among the Ivy League institutions that have opted to reintroduce standardized test scores for admissions. With the reinstatement of these scores and the shift from paper to online, many SAT candidates are wondering if the digital SAT will be more challenging. 

Paper vs. Digital SAT Comparisons

A key contrast between the paper SAT and the new digital SAT lies in the structure of the latter, which is multistage and adaptive.

In the digital multistage adaptive SAT, each section (Reading and Writing, Math) comprises two stages, or modules. In the initial module, students tackle 27 questions, with two being unscored for test development purposes, before advancing to the subsequent module. The questions in the second module adjust based on the student's performance in the first. Strong performance in the initial module prompts more medium and hard problems in the second, while weaker performance results in predominantly easy and medium questions. The final section score is determined by accuracy and question levels in the second module.

Despite the primary distinctions between the paper and digital SATs, they share some key features. Both assess similar knowledge and skills, and they employ the same 1600-point scale for scoring, enabling students to super-score their SAT section scores from multiple tests. 

Will the digital SAT be harder than the Paper SAT?

This question is on the minds of many SAT candidates. Changes in the test format, schedule, and content have led to updates in study materials and practice solutions, causing some confusion among test-takers.

According to the College Board, difficulty of the SAT, whether taken digitally or with paper and pencil, remains the same. The digital SAT evaluates the same skills and knowledge as the traditional format. Additionally, scoring percentiles will be consistent across both formats, allowing for direct score comparison. The College Board also conducts validity tests on the digital SAT to ensure it remains comparable to the paper-and-pencil version.

Despite these reassurances, our students who took the digital test shared a different experience. They found the real digital test to be tougher than the practice tests they had done earlier. This raises questions about individual experiences versus standardized assessments, emphasizing the importance of preparation and adaptability when approaching the SAT.

Reddit discussions are abuzz with students expressing their frustration regarding the disparity between the practice and actual tests. Even Practice Test 4, considered the most challenging, appeared like "cakewalk" compared to the actual math tests and most found themselves struggling with time constraints and resorting to guessing on unanswered questions.

"[The] Collegeboard needs to realize the large gap in difficulty between the bluebook tests and the actual tests."

While opinions regarding the English section vary, ranging from those who perceive minimal differences to others who find it notably harder, students who have taken the digital test tend to express more dismay, particularly on the math second module. They point out a significant gap in difficulty between the practice tests in the bluebook format and the actual digital test.

How to Prepare for Digital SAT Success

Since the digital SAT evaluates similar knowledge and skills as the traditional paper-based SAT, students still need to grasp various question types, passages, and review grammar rules and math content. However, transitioning to a digital format introduces new challenges. Students must become familiar with navigating the digital interface, managing time effectively, and typing essays.

5 Tips for the Digital SAT

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Digital Format: 

Take the time to practice using digital study materials extensively to become comfortable with the format. This includes learning how to navigate the test interface, using the digital tools provided to answer questions, and effectively managing your time. Use practice tests as a way to become familiar with the digital format and its features.

2. Avoid basing answers on probability or patterns in the choices.

Questions may yield answers of A, B, C, or D. These choices may appear consecutively or sporadically throughout the test. Use the option eliminator tool to remove incorrect choices and help identify the best answer.

3. Familiarize yourself with the features of the integrated Desmos graphing calculator.

Get accustomed to utilizing the Desmos graphing calculator integrated into the system through practice and carefully review the information available on the Math reference sheets. If you prefer to utilize your own approved calculator, make sure to practice with it in advance.

4. Avoid leaving questions unanswered

Despite time constraints, strive to avoid leaving questions unanswered during your SAT. While it may be tempting to skip challenging questions, every question left unanswered represents a missed opportunity for potential points. If you encounter a particularly difficult question, make an educated guess rather than leaving it blank. Remember, there's no penalty for guessing, so it's advantageous to provide an answer for every question.

5. Focus on Time Management:

Given the frustration expressed by students over timing issues, some recommend experimenting with hiding the timer during practice. While this might not be suitable for everyone, it's worth trying to see if it helps alleviate pressure and allows for a more focused approach to each question. Ultimately, finding the right balance between time management and accuracy is key, so explore different strategies to determine what works best for you.

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