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How the Digital SAT Is Structured

If you’re getting ready to take the brand new digital SAT this spring, your mind is probably buzzing with questions. How will it be different from the paper version of the exam? Is the structure still the same? Are there any special considerations to keep in mind for the digital SAT that didn’t come into play on the paper test?

Never fear! We’re here to answer all your burning questions about the digital SAT. Keep reading to learn about the structure, format, and overall experience of the test.

Section Breakdown

The traditional paper-and-pencil version of the SAT is composed of 5 sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math with and without calculator, and optional Writing. The new digital SAT will pare that down to only 2 sections: Reading and Writing and Math. As a result, the duration of the exam will also be drastically reduced. Instead of being about 3 hours long from start to finish, the test will only take 2 hours and 14 minutes to complete.

Let’s go over what students can expect to encounter in each of the 2 new sections.

Reading and Writing

On the paper version of the SAT, the Reading section has 52 questions and takes 65 minutes to complete while the Writing and Language section has 44 questions and takes up 35 minutes. The digital SAT will combine these sections into one unified Reading and Writing section that includes 2 modules. Each module will feature 27 questions, and students will have 32 minutes to complete them, bringing the total allotted time for the entire section up to 64 minutes.

There will also be major changes in regard to the format of the questions themselves. The paper version of the SAT includes about 9 reading passages total across the Reading and Writing and Language sections. The passages are between 500 and 700 words in length. Students answer a few questions about each passage before moving on to the next one.

The digital SAT will have very different reading passages compared to the paper version. Passages will be much shorter, with each one only totaling between 25 and 150 words. Students will only answer one question per passage as opposed to reading a passage and answering several questions. So, students taking the digital SAT can expect 27 smaller passages in each module of the Reading and Writing section instead of 4 or 5 longer passages per section. Though the passages on the new test will be shorter, it’s important to remember that they will still be challenging.

Another change comes in the form of structuring. On the paper SAT, reading passages in the Reading and Writing and Language sections are grouped together by topic. The Reading section, for example, features at least one passage about each of the following subjects: literature, history, and science. The Writing and Language section offers passages about the humanities, science, careers, and history.

Students taking the digital exam may notice that passages will no longer be structured based on topic. Instead, they will be grouped together according to the skill set they are designed to assess. They will likely cover a wider variety of topics compared to the paper test, even including a few questions about poetry. The skill sets that will be tested are:

  • Information and ideas: 12 to 14 questions.
  • Craft and structure: 13 to 15 questions.
  • Expression of ideas: 8 to 12 questions.
  • Standard English conventions: 11 to 15 questions.


The Math portion of the paper SAT is split into 2 sections, one that allows the use of a calculator and one that does not. The With Calculator section is 55 minutes long and contains 38 questions. The Without Calculator section is significantly shorter, only taking 25 minutes and featuring 20 questions. 

The digital SAT will allow students to use calculators throughout the entirety of the Math section. Like the Reading and Writing section, the Math portion will be broken up into 2 modules, each 35 minutes long and containing 22 questions. The digital exam will still feature a mix of multiple choice (33 total) and grid-in questions (11 total).

The questions in the Math section of the digital SAT will also be more concise compared to the paper version’s questions. Often, the paper SAT includes word problems that further test students’ reading comprehension while assessing math skills. Math questions on the digital test will be much shorter and focus solely on evaluating math skill sets. The skill sets being tested will remain the same though. They are:

  • Algebra: 13 to 15 questions.
  • Advanced math: 13 to 15 questions.
  • Problem solving and data analysis: 5 to 7 questions.
  • Geometry and trigonometry: 5 to 7 questions.

Adaptive Format

You may have heard that the SAT will adopt a new adaptive format when it goes digital. But what exactly does that mean? The digital SAT’s adaptive format does just what you think it would do. It adapts to each student in order to obtain a more accurate measurement of their skills and knowledge.

Every student will receive a randomized set of questions that could be different, or at least in a different order, from their fellow students. Once they complete the first set of questions (the first module), they will then receive one of two versions of the second module depending on their performance in the first one.

So, let’s imagine you sit down on test day. First, you will complete Reading and Writing Module 1. Then, you will take either the easier or more challenging version of Reading and Writing Module 2 depending on how you did with Module 1. After Module 2, you will take a short break before repeating the same process with modules 1 and 2 of the Math section.

Available Tools

A major advantage of the digital SAT is the addition of virtual tools for students to use throughout the test. For example, those who do not have access to their own personal graphing calculator will be able to use a Desmos graphing calculator directly within the Bluebook testing app. You can even access the calculator online prior to exam day to test out its features. We recommend doing so to familiarize yourself with the calculator and its capabilities.

Students will also be able to use helpful features like Mark-for-Review and Strikethrough tools. The Strikethrough tool will be essential to anyone who uses the process of elimination strategy, as it allows you to cross out answer choices virtually. The Mark-for-Review tool is great for checking your work or returning to questions that you may have been struggling to answer.

One feature that students will either love or hate is the countdown clock. It can be extremely useful for time management because it enables students to physically see how much time they’re spending on a question and make the decision to move on if necessary. On the other hand, those who experience test anxiety may find that the countdown only worsens their nerves. Anxious students will be happy to know that they can choose to hide the countdown clock, though it will automatically remind everyone when 5 minutes remain in the current module.

Check out Prep Expert’s catalog of SAT prep courses to learn more tips and tricks for test day from SAT experts! If you want to know more about the digital SAT go to and join our webinar.

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