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 studies. 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 probable 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 to the SAT Reasoning Test, some programs may require that you take one or 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, as well as 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.
|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)
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|
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, 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|
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
|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|
|No calculator||15 multiple-choice,
|With calculator||30 multiple-choice,
(incl. 1 Extended
|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.
|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|
|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
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
|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
|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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
As explained above, raw scores are converted to scaled scores, which appear on your SAT report. The scaled scores are also 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|
|Best Scores||Top 10% of all test takers||670-800||690-800|
|Top 25% of all test takers:
highly competitive place
|Ahead of the pack (50%+),
but won’t be as advantageous
when applying to highly
|May be enough to get into a
wide variety of college
programs, but will be below
average compared to the
|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|
|March||SAT only, no SAT Subject Tests||SAT only, no SAT Subject Tests|
|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|
|March||SAT only, no SAT
|SAT only, no SAT
|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.
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.