Everything you need to know about the SAT

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We’ve put together everything you need to know about the SAT, and answers to the most frequently asked questions.

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SAT Basics

The SAT, along with the ACT, serves as one of the major components of a student’s admission decision at the vast majority of American colleges and universities. The SAT has five sections (with essay) for a total of 3 hours and 50 minutes. The SAT is scored on a 400-1600 point scale, with two subsections (Reading Comprehension/Writing and Language and Math) each receiving a score from 200-800. There is an optional 50-minute essay which receives a score from 6-24, but is not included in a student’s composite score.

Who takes the SAT?

Students hoping to secure a seat at the vast majority of American colleges and universities. The SAT (or ACT) is required for admission at over 90% of American colleges and universities.

What is tested on the SAT?

There are three main academic areas that are assessed on the SAT. In reading, students are measured in their ability to read for main ideas, understand tone, draw inferences, and define vocabulary in context. In math, students are assessed in their knowledge of concepts in arithmetic, geometry, and algebra (algebra I and a little algebra II). In writing, students are tested in their understanding of standard grammar usage.

When do most students take the SAT?

Most students take the SAT at least two times during their high school careers. The majority of students take the SAT for the first time during the spring of their junior year. If needed, students generally then will retake the exam during the fall of their senior year.

Where can I sign up to take the SAT?

Students must register for the SAT through the College Board’s website: http://sat.collegeboard.org/register

What is the cost to take the SAT?

The regular registration fee for the SAT is $54.50 (with the essay) or $43.00 (without the essay).

Why is the SAT important?

The SAT is important because it comprises between 25% to 35% of a student’s college admission decision. It is a single four-hour test that has a significant impact on a student’s collegiate prospects. By the end of junior year, several components of a student’s college admission – such as Grade Point Average and extracurricular activities – are relatively settled. This leaves the SAT as one of the final opportunities for a student to either solidify an otherwise strong application or to bolster a weaker application.

How should I prepare for the SAT?

There are several ways that a student can prepare for the SAT. Students should gain familiarity with the structure of the SAT. The SAT, at nearly four hours, is the longest test most students will take to that point in time, and being aware of this unique challenge is important. Students should also work to further develop the academic skills being assessed by the SAT. Understanding main ideas in a reading passage, working with triangles, and understanding subject-verb agreement are just a sample of the cross-curricular skills that are covered on the exam. Students should learn the particular way in which questions are asked on the SAT. As opposed to much of the math students experience in high school, questions on the SAT are asked in a less straightforward way, which means that students must be particularly adept at identifying the core concept being assessed in a given question. The easiest way for students to gain experience with the SAT is to complete a full-length practice exam under conditions similar to the actual test. This experience will provide results that can inform and focus student preparation.

Our approach to SAT Test Prep  
SAT Sample Question
  • If t is 30 percent of u and u is 6 percent of v, what percent of v is t ?
  • A 1.8%
  • B 5%
  • C 18%
  • D 50%
  • Answer: A

Is the SAT easier than ACT?

The SAT and the ACT assess many similar academic concepts, with differences in the ways that questions are asked, the rigor of the content, and the amount of time that students have to solve each individual question. Approximately 20% of students will have a SAT/ACT “test preference” – a test on which they naturally perform better – so it is important for students to gain experience with both tests before the end of junior year to know if they fall into this category.

Which colleges receive my SAT scores?

Only the college(s) to which students choose to send their scores to will see them. Students can pick up to four schools to send scores to for no additional cost when they register, but additional score reports are $11.25 each (via collegeboard.com’s “Score Sender” service).

Will colleges receive all of my SAT scores?

The College Board gives you an option called Score Choice which allows students to select one or more sets of scores that colleges will receive. Every college has a different policy concerning Score Choice – So it is important for students to check with their college counselor. Most colleges look at your highest individual 200 to 800 section scores. Some colleges only look at the SAT with your highest 800 to 1600 total. No colleges take the average of your scores on different tests.

Is the SAT essay really optional?

The SAT essay is optional in that students can receive a composite score without completing the essay. However, many colleges do require the essay for students who submit the SAT as their standardized testing score. For additional information regarding individual college/university preferences regarding the SAT essay, students can contact a guidance or college counselor.

Can colleges view the SAT essay?

Yes. Colleges can view student essays.

Should students choose “C” if they do not know the answer?

As there is no guessing penalty for questions on the SAT, students should not leave any questions blank at the conclusion of any section. Students should answer all of the questions they know, then the questions on which they can eliminate some of the answers before guessing, and then randomly guess on any remaining questions.

Are some test dates easier than others?

There is no statistical advantage in selecting one test date over another. Students should choose test dates that make the most sense for their schedule and their preparation.

What is a good SAT score?

There is no one “good” SAT score. The quality of a score depends on the school(s) to which a student is applying. A good way to set a goal score is to research the school(s) to which a student is interesting in applying and find the average or 75th percentile score.

SAT History
  • 1900 – Formation of the College Entrance Examination Board. This organization was established by university presidents to standardize the admissionprocess across 12 leading universities. The following year, the first College Boards, essay-only exams, were administered.
  • 1926 – The first multiple-choice SAT is administered to high school students.
  • 1937 – The College Board introduces Achievement Tests, now called SAT Subject Tests.
  • 1958 – Students are able to see their SAT results for the first time. Previous to this year, only high schools and colleges has access to the results.
  • 1994 – Antonym questions are removed from the SAT and calculators are allowed for the first time.
  • 2005 – Quantitative comparison and analogy questions are removed and the writing section is introduced to the test.
  • 2009 – The College Board introduces Score Choice.
  • 2014 – The College Board announces a comprehensive SAT/PSAT Redesign that will go effect in spring 2016.
  • 2016 – Redesigned SAT administered for the first time.
Still have questions about the SAT?

Check out more information about our approach to SAT Test Prep, or call an Academic Advisor. Our advisors are test prep experts, and they can answer your questions, offer advice, or help you create a test prep plan.

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