Digital SAT vs Digital ACT

Choosing between the SAT and ACT has always been a difficult task for high school students. With the recent announcements of digital formats for both exams, that choice has become even harder. Join us as we guide you through the ins and outs of the digital SAT and ACT to help you make an informed decision about which test is the right choice for your individual needs.

Breaking Down Both Tests

Let’s explore the information you need to know about the digital formats of the SAT and ACT. How have the tests changed? How have they remained the same? What can you expect when you sit down at the computer on test day?

Digital SAT

The digital SAT, or DSAT, became available to international students in Spring 2023 and will officially roll out to U.S. students in Spring 2024. From that point onward, all students must take every part of the SAT Suite of Assessments online. There will no longer be any paper options available other than practice materials, although many of those can already be found online.

Many aspects of the SAT will change with the move to a digital format. Perhaps the most notable change is the difference in length. The traditional paper-and-pencil version of the SAT takes about 3 hours to complete (with an extra 50 minutes for the optional writing section). Students will complete the DSAT in 2 hours and 14 minutes. 

The current version of the SAT includes 5 sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (with and without calculator), and the optional Writing test. The DSAT contains only 2 sections, each one broken down into 2 modules: Reading and Writing and Math. The reading passages and math questions featured in these modules will be much shorter in comparison to the questions that appear on the paper exam. There will also be less questions overall. Thus, students will be able to complete the test faster.

Another notable change in regards to structure is the switch to an adaptive testing format. Based on how students perform on the first module of each section on the DSAT, they will receive a different version of the second module in that section. For example, students who perform well on harder questions will have a more challenging second module. This adaptive format is designed to assess the individual skills of each student more precisely.

There will also be new tools available for use on the DSAT. Students can still bring their own graphing or scientific calculators if they appear on the College Board’s list of approved devices. However, there will be a Desmos graphing calculator built into the online testing platform that students can use throughout the entirety of the Math section. Students can also access other tools like a countdown clock, online notepad, math reference popout, and question marker.

Many students may be excited to hear that the DSAT will feature faster scoring as well. Students may wait weeks for their score reports to become available after taking the traditional SAT. With the DSAT, scores will be accessible online within just a few days, making it easier for students to send out scores to meet early admissions deadlines or retake the test if needed.

Despite these changes, the goal of the SAT remains the same: to assess students’ skills and college readiness. The digital version of the test will create a better testing environment for students by becoming more clear and concise and adapting to students’ individual abilities. College Board, the administrator of the DSAT, has also stated that the digital test will be administered more often and with greater flexibility compared to the paper exam.

Digital ACT

Unlike the DSAT, the ACT’s switch to an online format does not feature a huge amount of change. An online version of the ACT has been available for state and district testing since 2016 and international testing since 2018. Now, the administrators of the test have chosen to expand the digital format to make it accessible for students on national test dates as well. 

The national digital version of the ACT is currently still in its pilot phase. It is only available at a limited number of testing centers for the December 2023 pilot test, which will be taken by 5,000 students. However, after the pilot phase, the digital ACT will gradually expand to more and more testing centers throughout the country. The goal of the pilot is to gather feedback and use it to make a better testing environment for ACT test takers.

The digital ACT will have the same length, structure, and content as the traditional ACT and will still function as a measurement of skills and college readiness for students. The goal of the digital format is to make the test more accessible to an increased number of students. Those taking the online test will have support for screen readers as well as access to necessary features such as text-to-speech functionality, zoom, and answer masking.

Major Differences Between the Digital Tests

Both the DSAT and the digital ACT aim to alleviate test anxiety and provide greater accessibility for students via their online format. They also both offer carefully crafted assessments of a student’s skills, abilities, and college readiness. However, there are a few notable differences to keep in mind as you consider each option.

The first major difference is length. The DSAT format has drastically reduced the amount of time necessary to complete the SAT. The digital ACT, on the other hand, remains the same length as its paper counterpart. The DSAT can be completed in 2 hours and 14 minutes while the digital ACT will likely require about 3 hours or more depending on whether or not students choose to include the optional writing section. Those who experience fatigue from long tests may want to pay attention to this difference.

Another notable difference between the tests is the breakdown of sections. The digital ACT includes 4 multiple choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The DSAT only has 2 sections: Reading and Writing and Math. Students who perform better in science and math may feel more drawn to the ACT for the Science section, but it’s important to note that many of the questions in the ACT Science section will also assess reading skills. Overall, both tests aim to assess the same skills in slightly different ways.

How to Choose the Right Test Option for You

One of the best methods to figure out whether to take the ACT or SAT is to try out the practice exams. You can find practice ACT and SAT exams online and effectively recreate the testing environment you will experience when you sit down to take the real digital exams on test day. Assess and compare your scores on each test using a conversion chart. But, most importantly, take note of which test feels better for you. Do you feel more comfortable taking one over the other? If so, factor that into your decision alongside your practice scores.

Ultimately, the ACT and SAT are both difficult tests that require a large amount of preparation and hard work. If you notice yourself gravitating more towards one than the other, you may want to go with your preference. It will most likely be easier and more enjoyable to study for a test that better holds your interest.

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