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What’s changing in the new digital, adaptive SAT? A lot and a little all at once. 

The SAT is evolving, featuring an adaptive model and new test formats. From blending reading and writing sections to changing how math is tested, it’s a new dance but the same steps. Academic Approach is here to guide students and educators through these changes with data-driven curriculum and strategies.

Change can be hard! Every few years, the College Board changes the form and features of their signature SAT exam. The good news? Math and grammar skills don’t change. What is changing is how the SAT will prompt students to show their skills. So, let’s take a look at how the SAT will test students on these skills. 


Like many computer-based assessments like the MAP and GRE, the SAT is moving to an adaptive model. This means which questions students see change based on how students perform. The digital SAT will not adapt at the individual item level. Instead, the test will adapt at the module level:  

The second module will have two iterations, an “upper” and a “lower.” The upper module will have a higher concentration of difficult questions, while the lower module will have a lower concentration of those harder questions. We know that there will be a ceiling on students’ scores if they take the lower module, but at this point the College Board has not released specifics on scoring. Be sure to check back here for updates as they become available.

Two sections?  

Yes, the new digital SAT has changed the format of the test sections. The Reading and Writing sections have changed the most over the test’s history, and this iteration is no expectation. Starting this year, the once distinct “reading” and “writing and language” sections will be blended into one “reading and writing” section. Familiar grammar questions will be tested in the same section as reading comprehension questions. This change reflects the connected nature of rhetorical, grammar, comprehension, and vocabulary skills in academic settings.  

Discrete passages.  

In the new Reading and Writing section, there will no longer be lengthy passages followed by multiple questions. Instead, each question will have its own short passage, between 25– 150 words. This is a major change from the previous 500-700 word passages and will mean students have fewer details to weigh when deciding their answers. At Academic Approach, we’ve developed new strategies to succeed on these items. 

Yes Calculator! 

One defining feature of the SAT of old was a “no calculator” section. This long-bemoaned section has finally been axed. Both modules of the SAT Math section will now allow calculators throughout. Additionally, the SAT will have an embedded Desmos calculator in the testing platform. At Academic Approach, we have developed curriculum and instruction to support students in their use of all the resources of the math section – like Desmos.  

More open-ended response. 

While students will likely cheer the availability of a calculator throughout the Math test, they may be frustrated by the higher density of open-ended response questions. These “student-produced response” items will be mixed in throughout the Math modules, as opposed to the previous version of the test, which concentrated these questions at the end of each Math section, and will appear with greater frequency on the digital SAT.

New dance, same steps.  

While the new digital, adaptive SAT will present its questions in new formats on the upcoming tests, the same math, grammar, and reading comprehension skills will be tested. At Academic Approach, we have worked hard to make sure our data-driven, research-based curriculum, tools, and instruction are aligned with the test to promote the impressive growth our students have achieved for years and years.  

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