Weighing in on the digital SAT: 6 key points

Weighing in on the digital SAT: 6 key points

At this point, I’ve spent many months picking apart released dSAT questions and attempting to use their logic and patterns to construct hundreds of my own. I realize that I haven’t offered much in the way of opinions about the digital exam, but that’s mostly because I’ve been spending so much of my time over the last six-plus months trying to get the new editions of my SAT books finished. I assure you that I have been thinking very, very hard about the alterations.

So that said, are six key changes—both positive and negative—that I think are particularly deserving of attention, and I’d like to discuss them here.

1) Short-Passage, One-Question Format

Without a doubt, this changed makes the exam more streamlined and is ideally suited to the online format. Longer passages would require test-takers to continually scroll up and down, making the process of answering questions somewhat awkward and increasing the chances important information will be overlooked.

This shift also brings the SAT closer to exams such as the GRE and GMAT, which have been offered electronically for many years and feature primarily short passages.

As much as I appreciate the practical aspects of this decision, however, I still find it worrisome because it so clearly panders to ever-decreasing expectations about the amount that students in both high school and college should be expected/able to read. Anecdotally speaking, several colleagues who teach at the secondary and post-secondary levels have told me that they can now only assign a fraction of the reading they regularly assigned even five or ten years ago, and one (non-tenured) friend who teaches at an extremely selective university was recently reduced to bargaining with her students about the amount of reading they would tolerate—not for one assignment, but for the entire semester.

This really does not bode well.

In theory, at least, dealing with complex arguments in writing is one of the main purposes of college, and most serious ideas cannot be boiled down into a paragraph. Call me old-fashioned, but from my perspective a student who seriously cannot handle even 500-750 words of text is not ready for a university-level education. (more…)

“The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar, 6th Ed.” (final) is now available

I am happy to report that Amazon/KDP has approved the file for the final version of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar, 6th Edition, making both the grammar and reading books available for through Amazon and The Critical Reader.

At this time, we do not yet have copies of the new editions in our warehouse, so books must be sent directly from the printer. As a result, orders may take longer to arrive than would normally be the case. If you need the books urgently, please order directly from Amazon.

In addition, please note that if you are located outside of the United States and wish to purchase the books on Amazon, you must order through the corresponding Amazon page in your country of residence.

If you have a question regarding the new editions, please contact us directly.

Update: release of final versions of books for the digital SAT

I am happy to announce that the new editions of my SAT grammar book (6th ed.) and reading book (5th ed.) are undergoing final checks and are almost ready to be released.

Now for the less-good news: Because Amazon’s file-approval process has become unpredictable, there is unfortunately no way to set a firm date when the books will be available.

In the best case scenario, the books could be ready for purchase sometime this week (3/16/23); however, it is also possible that the approval process for one or both of the books will take up to several weeks, as occurred during a previous round of submissions.

I will post an announcement as soon as the books can be ordered, and in the meantime, I appreciate everyone’s continued patience.



To answer “student notes” questions on the digital SAT, ignore the notes and match the key words

To answer “student notes” questions on the digital SAT, ignore the notes and match the key words

Of all the pieces of advice I have for the Writing portion of the digital SAT, this is probably my #1, and it’s particularly important because it involves a new question type.

Whereas the paper-based post-2016 exam featured ACT knock-off “rhetoric” questions asking test-takers whether a given piece of information should be revised, added to, or deleted from a passage, the digital version has scrapped these items and replaced them with a much more complicated-looking type of question involving sets of bullet points representing notes that a “student” has taken about a topic.

Based on the material released by the College Board, it appears that this will be a very common question type: second in frequency only to questions involving transitional words and phrases, and potentially appearing as many as four or five times in a given module.

After working through a few of these questions, bouncing back and forth between the bullet-pointed information and the answer choices, occasionally losing track of exactly what I was supposed to be looking for and getting lost in a thicket of information, I had a classic “duh” moment: the questions themselves told me what type of information the correct answer had to contain—it was unnecessary to even look at the bullet points at all. (more…)

How to work through transition questions on the digital SAT

How to work through transition questions on the digital SAT

Note: The strategies covered in this post can also be applied to the paper-based. Just cover up the transition that is already in the passage; otherwise, the steps are basically the same. 

On many versions of the digital SAT, you can expect to encounter about five questions per module testing transitional words and phrases, making this the most common question type on the Writing portion of the test. To ensure you earn what are usually fairly easy points, it is crucial to have an understanding of how to work through these questions before you walk into the exam.

The most important thing is to avoid getting caught up in the details—questions are designed not so much to test particular words as they are to test three main categories of relationships, namely continuation, cause-and-effect, and contrast.

As a result, the fact that therefore might appear in one set of answers, whereas a second might contain thus and a third hence is effectively irrelevant. These words serve the same rhetorical purpose—to indicate a result in a cause-and-effect relationship—and it is the relationship that is really being tested. The words themselves are secondary.

1) Read the question but not the answer choices

A quick glance at the question will tell you that it is testing transitions.

If you happen to notice that the answers consist of, say, However, Moreover, Specifically, and Therefore, that’s obviously a sign as well, but initially you should not worry about the specific words involved. In fact, you should do your best to ignore them because they are more likely to confuse you than to help. (more…)

Now available: preliminary versions of the SAT reading & grammar books for the digital SAT®

Now available: preliminary versions of the SAT reading & grammar books for the digital SAT®

I am happy to announce that the preliminary versions of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar, Sixth Edition, and The Critical Reader, Fifth Edition are now available for international students preparing for the new digital SAT in March, as well as tutors working with International students and any U.S. students taking the digital school day SAT this spring.

If you live outside the United States and unable to order from Amazon locally, you can order directly through The Critical Reader. Students located in South Korea will be able to purchase books through our Korean distributor, JMK Education. As of 1/29/23, we are in the process of arranging to have an order shipped to them.

Both books have retained their core components but have been fully reworked to reflect the content and format of the digital SAT. While it is possible that there will eventually be some minor reshuffling of content (particularly in the grammar book, since it’s not entirely clear whether certain concepts will tested on the digital exam), I hesitate to call them beta versions because the bulk of the material is effectively final.  The only major changes planned at this point are the additional of end-of-chapter practice questions/explanations in the reading book, and full explanations for end-of-chapter exercises in the grammar book.

In order to make the books available on the various international Amazon sites, there was no choice to publish to the main U.S. site as well—so yes, the books are technically available there now. However, I am aiming to release the expanded versions of both books by April, so you may want to wait to purchase them if you are planning to take the digital exam in June or later and do not need to start studying urgently. 

Ensuring that the new editions matched the level of quality of the previous editions while getting them to publication in only a few months has been an enormously challenging process, and again, I very much appreciate everyone’s patience while I worked out all the unforeseen (but inevitable) last-minute kinks.

Note: comments on this post have been closed. If you have a question regarding book orders, please send us a message via the contact form, or email thecriticalreader1@gmail.com.