Many high school juniors and seniors prepare for their college applications by taking a college entrance exam, namely, the SAT or the ACT. The SAT, which has been around since 1926, is the oldest exam still in use today, and it’s notorious in pop culture. In the movie The Perfect Score, for example, a group of high schoolers tries to steal the answers to the SAT. Your best bet if you choose to take the SAT, is to know the ins and outs of the test, not to steal the answer key. Then, you can spend your time studying.


What is the SAT?

The SAT is a college entrance exam consisting of multiple timed sections that test reading, writing and language, and math. Reading and writing are tested together, and like math, scored on a 200-800 scale. A perfect score, then, is 1600 (800 in each of the two sections). There is an optional essay (required by some institutions) which is graded on three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing skills. Each dimension scores between a 2 and an 8. Without the essay, the SAT is a three-hour test consisting of 154 questions. If you elect to take the SAT with the essay, the test will take an extra 50 minutes. Colleges will use your SAT scores to compare you to other applicants.

What is the new SAT?

A new version of the SAT was implemented in March 2016. While the old SAT scored students on a 600–2400 scale, students will now receive their scores out of 1600. There are several other prominent changes. The new version emphasizes visual literacy more than the old. It asks students to analyze graphics in all sections of the test (including reading and writing, which are now combined). Vocabulary words are less obscure. Unlike the old SAT, the new SAT does not penalize you for wrongly answering multiple-choice questions, and multiple-choice questions only have four potential answers, not five. For the new SAT, the essay section is optional. Individual schools will decide if they will require it for admission. Additionally, there is now a math section that forbids the use of a calculator.

If you took both the old and new SAT, it is recommended that you report scores for both versions.

Section Subsection Length
Evidence-based reading and writing Reading 65 minutes to answer 52 questions
Writing 35 minutes to answer 44 questions
Math Test No calculator 25 minutes to answer 20 questions
Calculator permitted 55 minutes to answer 38 questions
Essay 50 minutes to respond to one prompt

When should I plan to take the SAT?

Ideally, you would take the SAT early in the spring semester of your junior year. If you take the test in January or February, you should have plenty of time to study before retaking the test in May or June if you so choose. You may also wish to retake the ACT or SAT in the fall semester of your senior year. If you are applying as an early admissions applicant to any school, October is the last month you can take the SAT or ACT to ensure your scores are reported in time. For regular decision applicants, you can take the test for the last time in December. When deciding when to register for the test, steer clear of times of the year when you will have extra schoolwork or extracurricular obligations.

Is it problematic to take the test multiple times?

It is not a problem to take the SAT multiple times. In fact, it is likely that your score will improve on the second try. If you have tested more than once, some schools allow you to report a “superscore.” Superscores are the highest scores you earned for each section of the test (regardless of which time you took it) and adding them together.

While it may help you improve your scores to take the SAT or ACT more than once, you should never take these tests for practice. Some schools require students to submit an “all score report” which includes scores from every day of testing. To prevent a low score from appearing in your report, make time to study beforehand and commit to the test on test day.

How do I register for the SAT and how much does it cost?

You can register for the SAT at www.collegeboard.org after creating a College Board account. Plan to register at least a month before your preferred test date. The test fee for the SAT with the essay section is $54.50, (or $43.00 without the essay section). Check your prospective school’s admissions requirements to see if you are required to complete the essay. If you register after the regular deadline, you will have to pay late fees. Your scores will be reported to four colleges for free.

Are there fee waivers for the test?

Yes, fee waivers are available to cover the cost of the SAT. If you qualify, you can take the SAT up to two times for no charge. Your high school counselor or an authorized community-based organization can give you a waiver if you meet one of the following requirements as listed on the College Board website:

  • You are enrolled in or eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Your family’s annual income is within the Income Eligibility Guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
  • You are enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that helps students from low-income families (for example, Federal TRIO programs, such as Upward Bound).
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home.
  • You are homeless.
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan.

If any of the above describes you, refer to additional information about SAT fee waivers.

How do I request to be on the waitlist for the SAT?

If you missed the late registration deadline for the SAT, you can request a spot on the waitlist for a particular test center. These requests can be made up to five days before the test date. Waitlist registration requires a fee and does not guarantee you a seat or booklet on test day. You will be admitted to the testing facility on a first-come, first-served basis after all other students have checked in. For more information, visit the College Board’s SAT Waitlist page.

How do I register for the SAT if I have a disability?

If you have a disability and you need extra time to take the test, extra or extended breaks, accommodations for a visual or hearing impairment, use of a computer, or any other test center accommodations for documented disabilities, you will need to submit supporting documentation for approval. Visit the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities page to learn more.

How do I register for a non-Saturday SAT date?

If your religious beliefs prevent you from testing on Saturdays and it is your first time registering for a College Board test, you will need to send them a letter from a religious leader on official letterhead that explains why your availability is restricted. You are required to register for the SAT through the postal service. For directions, visit the College Board’s Requesting Sunday Testing page. If your request for Sunday testing has been approved from a previous College Board test, you may register online.

Should I study for the SAT?

Yes. The key to success is learning to identify the types of questions unique to the SAT and the strategies for solving them. There are time limits for each section of the test, so it is important to develop time management skills before test day. Some families pay for their children to see tutors or to attend test prep classes. However, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to study on your own. You can purchase a study guide at most major bookstores or use free internet resources.

What do I bring to the test with me?

  • A print-off of your Admission Ticket
  • A valid government-issued or school ID with your full name and picture. Students over the age of 21 must bring a valid government-issued ID.
  • Two #2 pencils (no mechanical ones)
  • An effective eraser
  • A calculator approved by the SAT
  • Extra batteries
  • A watch with the alarm on silent (suggested)
  • A healthy snack (suggested for the break)
  • A water bottle (suggested for the break)
  • Extra clothing layers (suggested)

What do I do the night before and morning of my test?

For advice on readying yourself for test day, visit this Student Caffé blog post.

How soon are scores available?

SAT scores will be available to view online and to send to schools about three weeks after your test date. Check the College Board site for updates as your test date nears.

How are scores sent to schools? How much does it cost to send scores?

When you register, you may pick up to four schools to which your scores will be sent for free. You will have nine days after your test date to change your choices through your College Board account. If you wish to send your scores to more schools, you can do so for a fee through the College Board site.

You may not want to use your four free score reports. If you take the SAT more than once, some schools allow you to choose which tests you to consider (Score Choice). In that case, you may want to review your scores before you send them out. Score reports are automatically be sent out by the testing agency as soon as they become official, so those schools will have access to your scores as soon as you do. If you don’t do as well as you hoped, you may want to retake the test and ask that only your highest scores be sent to the schools. However, if you are nearing deadlines or your schools require submission of all available scores, it is in your best financial interest to use the free reports.

If you forgo the free score reports or need to send your scores to more than four schools, each score report will cost you $12.00 to send.

Do all schools require students to submit their SAT scores?

The majority require you to submit either SAT or ACT scores, but many schools are now test optional. For a full list of “test optional” and “test flexible” schools, click here.

Do I need to submit score reports from all test days to schools?

It depends on the college. Some will allow you to choose which day of testing you would like them to review (Score Choice) and others will require all of your scores. Having to send all of your score reports is not always a bad thing. Schools may give you an SAT superscore by reporting the top score from each section of the test, no matter which day they were achieved. Consider the following scenario: You earned a 670 in reading and writing and a 700 in math the first time you took the SAT, and then you earned a 690 in reading and writing and a 680 in math the second time. A college that honors superscores would say you received a 690 in reading and writing and a 700 in math overall. To discover what test score policy your school follows, review its freshmen admission requirements page or call an admissions counselor.

How do I make sure a college sees my SAT superscore?

If some of your colleges allow you to choose which test day scores you would like them to review, the College Board will let you tailor your SAT report for each school. If you use the “SAT Score Choice” feature, you will not be charged extra to customize your report. It is best to check the admissions policy of all the schools to which you are applying. Some schools passionately oppose SAT Score Choice, and you do not want to compromise your chances of acceptance by overlooking their policies.

How do I use my score reports to determine my chances of acceptance at a particular college?

Colleges often post a profile of their most recently admitted freshman class. You can usually find the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile SAT scores for these students. If you received a score higher than the 25th percentile score listed, you will have scored better than 25% of students who were admitted the previous fall. Your chances of acceptance are high if your test scores and GPA are above the 75th percentile. However, it’s important to remember that test scores and GPA are not the only factors in admission. If your scores are low, significant achievements in extracurricular activities and community service, strong recommendations, and a challenging high school curriculum could tip the scales in your favor.

If you are looking at a college’s admitted students’ profile, the scores listed from the fall of 2015 will reflect the old SAT grading scale. Students who took the SAT before March 2016 received scores from three sections: critical reading, writing, and math. A perfect score for each was 800, for a total of 2400 points. Now, students receive two section scores: one for reading and writing and one for math. A perfect score is now 1600. If a college reports composite scores from before the switch, you can get an estimate of the new SAT ranges by multiplying the old scores by two-thirds. However, for a more accurate calculation, try to find percentile scores broken down by section. Old SAT math ranges will still apply for the new SAT scoring system. For an estimate of the new reading and writing section ranges, however, you will need to average the old reading and writing scores. To do this, add them together and divide them by two.

What are the national averages for the SAT?

The average score for the SAT is a 500 in each section, for a composite score of 1000. An excellent score (top 25% of students) is a 1200.

How long does it take for colleges to receive SAT scores after the order has been placed?

Generally, it takes less than a week for schools to receive your scores, but it may take another week for the college to process them and add them to your admissions profile. If you are worried about deadlines, the SAT offers faster delivery options. Rush reports arrive in two days (not including weekends and holidays) for a $31.00 fee. It may take up to a week after delivery for a college to process your scores.
 

Page last updated: 04/2017