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  • Zoe Fisher

Class of ‘25 Compares Digital and Paper SATs


College Board, which owns the SAT, recently released scores from March’s digital exam / Credits: Sara Weinrod


Walls administered its first-ever digital SAT in place of the traditional pencil-and-paper test on March 13. The digital version of the SAT, phased in by the College Board over the past year, is much different from previous versions.


The greatest difference between the exams is that the digital SAT is adaptive. Depending on how well a student does on the f irst half of each section, the second half will either be an easier or harder version.


Another big difference is that the digital test is much shorter, requiring 2 hours and 24 minutes for completion instead of the previous 3 hours and 15 minutes. In order to achieve this difference in length, the College Board cut 56 questions.


Third, the questions on the digital version are formatted differently than on the paper version. The reading and writing sections have been combined. Each question in this new section is based on an individual paragraph, as opposed to having a series of questions that follow a full-length passage. Finally, students can use the Desmos graphing calculator throughout the math section of the test.


The College Board has stated that the scoring and level of difficulty of the exams are exactly the same. However, this is not the conclusion many students have come to.


School Without Walls’ class of 2025 has a unique perspective on the changes in the test structure, as many students took both the paper version in the Fall and the digital version in the Spring. Students reported that for those who prefer shorter passages and the use of the Desmos graphing calculator, the digital SAT is much easier. Max Stacey (‘25) explains that, “on the paper [SAT] I struggled to finish each section as I found myself running out of time. But on the digital, I will f inish with 8-10 minutes left pretty consistently.” For many students, shorter passages help them go through questions faster, as they do not need to pause to look back at a long passage.


Moreover, the math modules are easier, according to Seojin Kim (‘25). “Since we had a graphing calculator for the [entire] math section, a lot of the harder problems relied less on us being able to calculate things or know algebra rules, and more on us understanding the larger concept well,” she said. Using the graphing calculator throughout made test-taking much simpler. Augusta Kankel (‘25) commented that “there were many questions where you didn’t need to do any math because you had Desmos.”


At the same time, the adaptive testing made the second math module on the March 9 exam much more challenging. Stacey said, “the practice tests that the College Board provided did not reflect the difficulty of the second math section at all.” The College Board is gauging how to create an effective adaptive test, and so the difficulty levels may change for future tests. However, because the SAT is graded on a curve, students’ scores will not be negatively impacted by a relatively more difficult test.


For decades, the SAT has been the most popular standardized test for American college admissions. However, in the past few years its relevance has diminished, as many universities went test-optional due to the COVID-19 pandemic, among other factors. Many high schoolers opted not to send their test scores to colleges, with some deciding not to take the SAT or ACT at all. However, this reality is beginning to change as many universities, including Dartmouth and Yale, have reverted back to requiring some form of standardized test scores in future admissions cycles. In line with these changing times, the age of the digital SAT has begun.


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