SAT®  PREP – WHAT IS THE SAT?

WHAT IS THE SAT?

What you need to know about the SAT, SAT scores, SAT test availability, and the SAT sections

ABOUT THE SAT

The Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, is a college entrance exam used by most colleges and universities in the United States to assess readiness for undergraduate-level work. The SAT exam tests your skills in math, reading, and writing, and includes an optional essay. The SAT is a standardized test, which measures your general academic ability against other students to determine your aptitude ranking and which university you’re likely to gain admittance into. For non-American students, it is likely that previous tests you’ve sat have been more content-based on what you were taught in classroom lessons.

The SAT is developed and administered by College Board.

SAT REASONING TEST VS. SAT SUBJECT TESTS

Virtually all U.S. colleges and universities require either SAT or ACT of their undergraduate candidates. In this context, and on our website, “SAT” without any specific mention refers to “SAT Reasoning Test”, or the general test – the one examining your math, reading, and writing skills in English.
In addition the SAT Reasoning Test, some programs may require that you take one more SAT Subject Tests. These are subject-specific, there are 20 of them, and they cover 5 academic areas: English, history, languages, mathematics, and science. Click here to learn more about the SAT Subject Tests.
In order to find out whether, in addition to the SAT Reasoning Test, you need to take one or more Subject Tests, and which, contact the admissions office of the university you intend to apply to.

SAT VS. ACT

Besides SAT, there exists another test used by U.S. colleges and universities for undergraduate admissions: the ACT.

To learn more about the ACT and the differences between the ACT and the SAT, please visit our special page.

Since most of SIGHT Test Prep’s students prepare for the SAT, this section’s pages are dedicated primarily to this test. However, we do provide preparation courses for the ACT as well, if needed.

To find out which of the two tests you have to take, contact the college or the university you intend to apply to.

WHAT ARE THE SAT SECTIONS?

The SAT has four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calculator), and Math (with calculator). There is also an optional essay that is recommended or required by some colleges.
The SAT tests reading and writing and language skills in the context of passages. This means that all of the answers to the reading questions will have support in the passage—no outside knowledge is necessary. For the Writing & Language questions, you’ll need to not only identify and correct grammar issues but also correct issues related to transitions and relevancy.

Section Skills Tested Number of Questions Duration
Reading Understanding complex passages and identifying words in context 52 65 minutes
Writing and Language Grammar and argument-building abilities 44 35 minutes
Math (2 sections) Algebra, problem solving, data analysis, and advanced math 58 80 minutes
Essay (optional) Written expression 1 topic 50 minutes
TOTAL . . 3 hours (without essay)

3 hours 50 minutes (with essay)

READING

The SAT Reading test is 65 minutes long and has 52 multiple-choice questions, each of which has 4 answer choices. There are 5 passages total: 4 single passages and 1 set of paired passages, with 500–750 words per passage or passage set.

SAT Reading Passages will draw from U.S. and World Literature, History/Social Studies, and Science. One set of History/Social Studies or Science passages will be paired. History/Social Studies and Science passages can also be accompanied by graphical representations of data such as charts, graphs, or tables.

The multiple-choice questions for each SAT Reading passage will be arranged in order from the more general to the more specific so that you can actively engage with the entire passage before answering questions about details.

Reading Test Passage Types

U.S. and World Literature: 1 passage with 10 questions
History/Social Studies: 2 passages or 1 passage and 1 paired-passage set with 10-11 questions each
Science: 2 passages or 1 passage and 1 paired-passage set with 10-11 questions each

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Skills Tested by Reading Test Questions

Information and Ideas: Close reading, citing textual evidence, determining central ideas and themes
Summarizing: Understanding relationships, interpreting words and phrases in context
Rhetoric: Analyzing word choice, assessing overall text structure, assessing part-whole relationships, analyzing point of view, determining purpose, analyzing arguments
Synthesis: Analyzing multiple texts, analyzing quantitative information

WRITING AND LANGUAGE

The SAT Writing & Language test is 35 minutes long and has 44 multiple-choice questions, each of which has 4 answer choices. There are 4 passages total, each of which has 11 questions.

The passages range from arguments to nonfiction narratives and will be about careers, history, social studies, the humanities, and science, with 400-450 words per passage.

Some passages and/or questions will refer to one or more informational graphics that represent data. SAT Writing Questions associated with these graphical representations will ask you to revise and edit the passage based on the data presented in the graphic.

The most prevalent question format on the SAT Writing & Language Test will ask you to choose the best of three alternatives to an underlined portion of the passage or to decide that the current version is the best option. You will be asked to improve the development, organization, and diction in the passages to ensure they conform to conventional standards of English grammar, usage, and style.

Skills Tested by Writing & Language Test Questions

Expression of Ideas (24 questions): Development, organization, and effective language use
Standard English Conventions (20 questions): Sentence structure, conventions of usage, and conventions of punctuation

MATH

The SAT Math sections are the 3rd and 4th sections on the SAT test. During the first 25-minute SAT Math section, you are NOT allowed to use a calculator. During the next 55-minute SAT Math section, you are allowed to use your calculator.

Both SAT Math sections will begin with multiple-choice questions, each of which will feature four answer choices. Then you’ll be asked for some student-produced responses, more commonly known as “grid-ins”.

SAT Math Sections

Section Questions Duration
No calculator 15 multiple-choice, 5 grid-ins 25 minutes
With calculator 30 multiple-choice, 8 grid-ins (including 1 Extended Thinking question) 55 minutes
Total 58 questions 80 minutes
Section Questions Duration
No calculator 15 multiple-choice,
5 grid-ins
25 minutes
With calculator 30 multiple-choice,
8 grid-ins
(incl. 1 Extended
Thinking question)
55 minutes
Total 58 questions 80 minutes

SAT Math Content

The SAT Math Test is divided into four content areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math.

Content Area Questions Description
Heart of Algebra 19 Analyzing and fluently solving equations and systems of equations; creating expressions, equations, and inequalities to represent relationships between quantities and to solve problems; rearranging and interpreting formulas
Problem Solving and Data Analysis 17 Creating and analyzing relationships using ratios, proportions, percentages, and units; describing relationships shown graphically; summarizing qualitative and quantitative data
Passport to Advanced Math 16 Rewriting expressions using their structure; creating, analyzing, and fluently solving quadratic and higher-order equations; purposefully manipulating polynomials to solve problems
Additional Topics in Math 6 Making area and volume calculations in context; investigating lines, angles, triangles, and circles using theorems; working with trigonometric functions
Content Area Questions Description
Heart of Algebra 19 Analyzing and fluently solving equations and systems of equations;
creating expressions, equations, and inequalities to represent relationships between
quantities and to solve problems;
rearranging and interpreting formulas
Problem Solving
and Data Analysis
17 Creating and analyzing relationships using ratios, proportions, percentages, and units;
describing relationships shown graphically;
summarizing qualitative and quantitative data
Passport to Advanced
Math
16 Rewriting expressions using their structure;
creating, analyzing, and fluently solving quadratic and higher-order equations;
purposefully manipulating polynomials to solve problems
Additional Topics in
Math
6 Making area and volume calculations in context;
investigating lines, angles, triangles, and circles using theorems;
working with trigonometric functions

HOW IS THE SAT SCORED?

The SAT is scored on a 1600-point scale, with the Math and the Reading/Writing sections each awarded between 200 and 800 points. The optional essay is evaluated separately and doesn’t factor into the overall score. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so it’s always better to guess if you’re not sure. Find out what makes a good SAT score.

TECHNICALITIES

Your answer sheet is scanned, and your raw score is calculated by the College Board’s system. Because there’s no penalty for guessing for the SAT, your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly. Raw scores are converted to scores on a scale of 200 to 800 using a process called equating. This ensures that your score is not affected by different forms of the test or other students’ ability levels. This scaled score is what you see when you get your score report.

SCORING FACTORS

The SAT is scored on a 200 to 800 scale in each section in 10 point increments. The 2 sections (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math) will have scores provided separately. This relatively small scale means that small improvements in your score can make a big difference in your percentile rank (sometimes, a ten point increase in your score can boost your percentile rank by 5 points).

Remember that on the SAT, you are NOT penalized for wrong answers. Understanding the scoring and knowing how to approach each section is important part of doing your best on test day.

HOW IS THE SAT ESSAY SCORED?

SAT Essay responses are scored using a carefully designed process:

  • 2 different people will read and score your essay.
  • Each scorer awards 1 to 4 points for each dimension: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. 4 will be Advanced, 3 Proficient, 2 Partial and 1 Inadequate.
  • The 2 scores for each dimension are added.
  • You’ll receive 3 scores for the SAT Essay — one for each dimension — ranging between 2 and 8 points.

OTHER FACTORS

Remember that your SAT score is not the only factor that will be considered. Whether or not you are admitted to a college program (and whether or not you receive scholarship money) can depend on several factors. In addition to focusing on achieving the best SAT score possible for you, you should also work on obtaining the best GPA possible, writing a spectacular personal statement, taking a challenging course load and, and rounding out your application with extracurriculars.

WHAT IS A GOOD SAT SCORE?

If you’re trying to figure out your SAT score goal for 2019 admissions, you’ll want to look at the SAT averages for the schools you’ll apply to. There are great resources like the College Board where you can search for averages at a wide variety of colleges.

The SAT is based on a 1600-point scale, with 2 sections—Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing—scored between 200 and 800. There is also an optional essay, which is evaluated separately. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so your raw score is the sum of the number of questions you answer correctly. Raw scores are converted to scaled scores, which are used to determine percentile ranks. The percentile indicates how well you did compared to other test takers. For example, if you score in the 72nd percentile, you did better than 72% of test takers.

What does this mean for you? Here’s what you need to know about your SAT score:

Score Level Percentile Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score Range Math Score Range
Best Scores Top 10% of all test takers 670-800 690-800
Competitive Scores Top 25% of all test takers: highly competitive place in admissions 610-660 600-680
Above Average Scores Ahead of the pack (50%+), but won’t be as advantageous when applying to highly competitive programs 540-600 530-590
Below Average Scores May be enough to get into a wide variety of college programs, but will be below average compared to the testing population 530 and lower 520 and lower
Score
Level
Percentile Evidence-Based
Reading and
Writing Score
Range
Math
Score
Range
Best Scores Top 10% of all test takers 670-800 690-800
Competitive
Scores
Top 25% of all test takers:
highly competitive place
in admissions
610-660 600-680
Above
Average
Scores
Ahead of the pack (50%+),
but won’t be as advantageous
when applying to highly
competitive programs
540-600 530-590
Below
Average
Scores
May be enough to get into a
wide variety of college
programs, but will be below
average compared to the
testing population
530 and lower 520 and lower

WHEN IS THE SAT OFFERED?

The SAT is administered 7 times a year in the U.S., on specific months, and less frequently outside of the U.S.

Note that the test session dates in and outside the U.S. do NOT coincide, so if you are in Europe (like the vast majority of our students), you have to check College Board’s website very carefully for the so-called International SAT Administration Dates.

The registration deadlines are usually one month before the test administrations, and the scores are available about 10 days after the testing day for the multiple-choice sections and within 4 weeks for the essay. Sometimes the waiting time for the score reports can be longer.

The situation might be even more complicated with the SAT Subject Tests, as the latter can be administered only on the same date as the SAT (the general test), but you cannot take the SAT and an SAT Subject Test on the same day. You can, however, take one, two, or three SAT Subject Tests on the same day – but you don’t have to. In addition, not all subjects are offered at every testing session. For an extreme example, the Subject Test “Italian” at international locations is offered only once a year (in June).

In other words, sitting for the SAT test supposes careful planning well in advance: it may be necessary to take the SAT in one month and one or more SAT Subject Tests in the following months. All this while keeping the score report availability dates in mind – so that the universities you are applying to receive your score report well before their admissions deadlines.

To help you, here is some very general data about the SAT administrations – but remember to always double-check the College Board’s website for the specific information regarding the test dates, registration deadlines, and score report availability – for both the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests.

Month Testing in the U.S. Testing outside the U.S. Remark
January no no
February no no
March SAT only, no SAT Subject Tests SAT only, no SAT Subject Tests
April no no
May yes yes
June yes SAT Subject Tests only, no SAT Scores are available 6 weeks after the test date, for both the multiple-choice sections and the essay
July no no
August yes yes
September no no
October yes yes
November yes no
December yes yes
Month Testing in
the U.S.
Testing outside
the U.S.
January no no
February no no
March SAT only, no SAT
Subject Tests
SAT only, no SAT
Subject Tests
April no no
May yes yes
June* yes SAT Subject Tests
only, no SAT
July no no
August yes yes
September no no
October yes yes
November yes no
December yes yes

*Scores are available 6 weeks after the test date, for both the multiple-choice sections and the essay.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TAKE THE SAT?

The fee for taking the SAT is 49.50 US dollars, and for taking the SAT with Essay is 64.50 US dollars.

If you are testing outside the United States, a “non-U.S. regional fee” will be added, which for any European country is 47 US dollars.

For up-to-date information on the fees associated with the SAT, possible fee waivers, and the costs of the SAT Subject Tests, please check College Board’s official website.