The New Adaptive SAT Is More Efficient, More Secure, and Perhaps More Accurate

Written by CIT Consultant Anne Weber


The high school class of 2025 will be the first in the US to take the newest version of the SAT, which will be rolled out in the spring of 2024. Our previous article listed the upcoming changes, but we wanted to take a closer look at perhaps the most significant change–adaptive testing. 

Because the new SAT will be delivered to students digitally versus on paper, adaptive testing is now a possibility. Many of these high school students will have experienced adaptive testing in nationalized tests, perhaps without ever knowing it. 

What is adaptive testing? A test that uses an algorithm to feed a test-taker questions based on how they answer previous questions. If a student answers easier questions correctly, they will receive harder questions. 

Why is the SAT using adaptive testing? For many reasons that we’ll detail below including, but perhaps not limited to: security, efficiency, and relevance. 

Let’s dig into the SAT’s adaptive testing approach.

Each section of the SAT will be broken into two modules. In the first module, the student will answer a randomized mixture of easy, moderate and difficult questions. Based on how the student performs on that mix of questions, the second module will adapt, giving the student level-appropriate questions in the second module. 

Inside each module, a student can go back and review their answers. However, once that module is completed and the student is working on a new module, the student cannot go back to review or change questions from a previous module.

More difficult questions in each module will be worth more points. This scoring method has will-be test-takers fretting. But the College Board asserts that those receiving easier, less valuable questions are not being penalized any differently than they would have been with a paper exam. Current paper methods require students to get ALL questions correct in order to receive a perfect score. Test-takers missing early (easier) questions could never earn a perfect score. Therefore, an adaptive test that provides on-level questions is perfectly suited to each student and accurately represents their abilities. 

The College Board also notes the efficiency of the new delivery method is an advantage to students in other ways. A shorter test (cut by about a third) is less taxing, reducing third-hour fatigue. Additionally, on average a student will have more time to answer each question than in previous year, thus reducing stress. 

There has been little to nothing written on the release and reactions of the new digital and adaptive SAT internationally in 2023. So while we might infer that as a positive sign for the US roll-out for Spring 2024, we still see these advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages to the new SAT:

  • Efficiency: shorter test and shorter turn-around time for scores
  • Security: no 2 tests alike and no way to share tests
  • Fairness in scoring: takes into account the difficulty of questions, allocating more points to more difficult questions and does not penalize for guessing

Disadvantages to the new SAT:

  • Stress on students: “Am I being fed too easy of questions?”
  • No review: Students can’t go back to previous modules to review/change answers
  • Perceptions: Students are skeptical of the fairness of scoring


Sources: The College Board, Prep Scholar, Princeton Review, Applerouth