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Why the Digital SAT Proved Tougher Than Expected

The first sitting of the new digital SAT occurred last month on March 9, and students recently received their scores. For many test-takers, March SAT results did not align with score expectations. A quick browse of online discussion forums shows that many students scored significantly lower than their practice test averages, resulting in frustration and confusion about the best way forward. Students seemed to have the most trouble with the module 2 math section as well as the science topic reading passage.

B2A predicted these scoring trends and wanted students to be wary of the new format. A January blog post warned students against having expectations of the test being easier. Although the digital format and shorter time may be appealing, these changes can give a false sense of confidence when students are in fact underprepared. 

Unexpected difficulty

One of the most significant changes with the revised SAT is adaptive testing: students transition to an easier or more difficult second part of each section depending on their performance in the first half. For example, a student who performs well on the first part of the reading section would move onto a more challenging second module. A student who performs poorly would move onto a less difficult second module (and be unable to earn all points possible).

For a student who performed well enough to access the harder second module, transitioning from an easier set of questions to more difficult ones could have been somewhat shocking and led to heightened test anxiety.  The module format highlights the importance of practice when it comes to test preparation. 

Although College Board (which manages the SAT and PSAT along with AP exams) offers free test prep resources including practice tests and officially partnered prep curriculum on Khan Academy, these sites’ prep materials were judged to be easier than the actual test. This means that students need to prepare above the level set by these practice materials.

It isn’t abnormal for a College Board standardized test to be more difficult than what was advertised, but it is especially apparent in this transitional time with the digital format: students and prep programs are still getting used to the changes in format and learning more about how to best approach new content.

Planning for future testing

There are no SAT tests offered during summer break. Rising juniors should consider undertaking extensive test prep this coming summer to be in the best position to secure their goal score before the end of their junior year.

Even for students who took the PSAT last fall and felt satisfied with their results and adjustment to the digital format, significant time is needed to adapt testing and studying strategies to match the new format and content. Check out B2A’s blog post on building SAT/ACT prep and testing schedules for further points to consider.

Upcoming SAT test dates include the following:

  • May 4: Register by April 19 or April 23 for late registration

  • June 1: Register by May 16 or May 21 for late registration

Students interested in testing on these dates can consider B2A’s remaining spring cram classes: March 23-April 27 for the May test date and April 13-May 18 for the June test date.

Rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors can review their options for fall test dates. Expected fall semester 2024 test dates include the following:

  • August 24

  • October 5

  • November 2

  • December 7

Expected spring semester 2025 test dates include the following:

  • March 8

  • May 3

  • June 7

Key takeaways

The first sitting of the digital SAT left many students shocked by unfamiliar questions, unexpected difficulty, and resulting unsatisfactory scores.

The digital format may be more appealing and simpler in some regards, but the content and skills expected of test-takers are proving to be far above what students are directed to prepare for using College Board prep resources alone.

To support students in preparing for standardized testing, B2A offers many classes throughout the year: end-of-semester cram sessions, full-length summer sessions, fall and spring semester sessions, and winter and spring break sessions in addition to 1:1 tutoring. Students can also reach out to their front desks to take free diagnostic tests for the SAT and ACT.


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