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4 Insider Secrets to Help You Prep for the New SAT

The first U.S. administration of the digital SAT was newsworthy, but not for the reasons anyone hoped it would be.

Reports were that the test was much harder than expected, with questions testers felt they hadn’t seen before on official SAT practice content, and scores for some testers were far off from what their practice tests had led them to expect. But subsequent tests have been much more consistent, and new official practice materials released shortly after the March test have made practice much more representative of test day.

Now with several digital SAT administrations in the rearview, the dust is settling on this new test and we have a strong sense of what to expect and how to prepare for the year ahead. Here are four key insights that we gathered from the new SAT.

1. The test is evolving.

As we experienced back in 2015 during the last major SAT overhaul, the current SAT is making and will continue to make small adjustments to the presentation and difficulty of the test questions it includes.

As a result, the first four practice SATs in Bluebook, released last year, are not quite comprehensive practice for the real thing. And although the two newest released practice SATs are seen as more representative of testing day than the first four are, they don't exactly cover everything either. So expect a few curveball questions on the official test date, especially in Math.

Still, don’t let these small shifts scare you off. The differences are minor and stay wholly within the confines of the tests' stated content domains. Just make sure you don’t limit your prep to those six official practice tests.  

2. Bluebook is imperfect but invaluable.

Although the Bluebook tests don’t provide perfectly comprehensive practice for test day, they are still the closest you are going to get to an authentic test experience.

They are also the best way to get savvy with the actual digital tools you will use on test day. Mastery of the built-in graphing calculator is a powerful way to boost Math section scores. 

Our advice is to use the Bluebook tests to practice with digital tools, time management, and test strategy. But don’t put too much stock in the score you get on them. Treat them as an approximation of what test day scores might look like, not a perfect score predictor. 

RELATED READING: 10 Important Standardized Testing Terms You Need to Know

3. Other practice materials are catching up.

Unsurprisingly, the major outfits (Princeton Review, Kaplan) had books out before the digital SAT rolled out in the U.S. But at the time of their release in 2023, not only had there been no U.S. administrations, but there had only been a couple international administrations of the digital test. This means those books were likely to be heavily influenced by the available practice material (those first four Bluebook tests).

Now there’s been an opportunity to see how the practice tests measure up to the real thing, and the new round of books released in 2024 are likely to be much more reliable sources of practice.

The "indie" books are catching up as well. While there are still no signs of updates from some of our favorites (looking at you, College Panda), many of the best known (Meltzer, PWN, Black Book) have updated their materials for this new test.

4. Scores will continue to vary.

Even if there are no changes to SAT content or scoring at all over the following year, you should still expect some variability in your score across different practice and/or official test administrations. This is because some variability is built into the test in a few ways. 

First, a single test often doesn’t test every available test topic. For instance, pronoun-antecedent agreement in grammar or “completing the square” in math may show up on some tests and not others. Second, the same number of wrong answers can produce different scores, depending on the difficulty of the questions you missed. Make a simple calculation error on a couple questions that the test considers hard, and you might find your score dropping 30 points instead of 10.

Practically, our advice is to neither be overconfident nor overly discouraged by results on practice tests that exceed or fall short of expectations. It is not that uncommon to end up 40 points above or below expectations on any one test.

READ MORE: 5 Things You Need to Know About Your SAT Score Report

With all the above in mind, it would serve anyone preparing for the SAT to plan to do a few things:
  • Use up-to-date materials from reputable authors/companies to study.
  • Use Bluebook for the best practice with test strategy and digital tools.
  • Use performance across multiple recent practice tests to get the best sense of how you’re likely to do on the real test.
And remember, don’t stress a single bad result, even on an official test. I’ve walked students through this process hundreds of times. When practice results are consistent then, in almost every case, official test scores will follow. If not on your first test, then on your second or third. Sometimes it just takes a little persistence to get there.