The SAT is a standardized test administered to high schoolers in preparation for admission into American colleges and universities. Test scores are used to indicate what a student learned throughout high school and can help a student determine which higher education program is right for them. The SAT consists of four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math - No Calculator, and Math - Calculator.
While you are able to take the SAT any time starting your freshman year of high school, the College Board recommends that students take the test in the spring of their junior year, with the possibility of retesting in the fall of their senior year. The SAT is offered 7 times per year, in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December, on either the first or second Saturday of the month. You can take the SAT as many times as you want, but it is recommended to take it at least twice.
You can register to take the SAT on the official College Board website, where you will select a date and testing center (typically a local high school) near you. The deadline to register for an upcoming SAT is generally a month before the scheduled test date. The registration fee is $52, but late registration or changing an existing registration will cost an additional $30. Scores are released about 2 weeks after the test date. Students may log into their College Board account to view their scores. You may also receive your scores by mail for an additional fee.
The SAT is a 4-part, 3-hour test (not including breaks). There is a 10-minute break between the first (Reading) and second (Writing and Language) sections and a 5-minute break between the third (Math - No Calculator) and fourth (Math - Calculator) sections.
Students will be tested on their knowledge of critical reading, writing, and math - skills that you are expected to learn in high school. Mathematical concepts that you learn through the end of Algebra II may appear on the SAT.
Although the SAT used to be known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the redesigned 2016 SAT is an achievement test, rather than an aptitude test. Achievement tests strive simply to determine if a student has learned something they were taught (aptitude tests assess a student’s potential or ability to learn). The SAT is based on the core reading, writing, and math skills that may be required in first year college courses, in order to help universities determine if you are ready to handle college-level coursework.
The first section of the SAT is the reading section. This section consists of four single-passages and one pair of passages followed by 10-11 questions per passage. You will have 65 minutes to answer 52 multiple-choice questions. This will allow you 13 minutes per passage, which you will need to budget between reading the passage and answering the questions.
The passages in the SAT Reading section are about a variety of subjects. There will be one U.S. and world literature passage, two history/social studies passages, and two science passages.
The paired passages will be on the same topic, either history/social studies or science. The passages may provide differing opinions on a similar topic, or may focus on different elements of the same topic. You will be expected to relate the paired passages to each other and compare and contrast their content and purpose.
The passages will vary in difficulty; some may be straightforward and easy to read while others may be more complex or deal with challenging concepts. You may encounter passages from the 19th century or earlier, which may contain unfamiliar or antiquated language. Additionally, the history/social studies passages or the science passages may contain informational graphics such as charts or graphs, which you will be expected to understand and relate to the passage.
You may be asked questions about the main idea, speaker, tone, or word choice in a passage. You will also be asked to make inferences that can be supported by the passage.
The Writing and Language test is the second section on the SAT, beginning after a 10 minute break. You will have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions. This allows you 47 seconds per question. This test is made up of four passages, with various words and phrases underlined. The passages will consist of one nonfiction narrative, one to two informative or explanatory passages, and one to two argumentative passages. Your job is to determine whether or not each underlined portion needs to be replaced with one of the answer choices. The right answer, or the “best” replacement, will be grammatically correct, logical in the context of the passage, and as concise as possible. You may also have to answer questions regarding rhetoric, such as where a given sentence would best be placed in the passage.
Students will be expected to understand and recall grammar rules as well as be able to make decisions regarding the organization of the passage.
The final two sections of the SAT comprise the math portion of the test. The first part of the math portion is the non-calculator section. You will have 25 minutes to answer 20 questions, or about 40 seconds per question. 15 of these questions are multiple choice, while 10 are free response, or grid-in questions. The non-calculator section is used to assess your understanding and application of mathematical techniques and concepts, rather than spending time on basic computations that can be done in the real world with a calculator.
The majority of the math tested on the SAT is topics that are covered by Algebra II. However, there may be some questions that cover trigonometry or precalculus concepts. Only about 10% of the test covers these advanced concepts, so it is most important that you feel solid in your knowledge of algebraic concepts.
The final section of the SAT occurs after a 5 minute break between the two math sections. You will have 55 minutes to answer 38 questions (30 multiple choice and 8 grid-in questions). Although this section allows the use of a calculator, not all questions will require a calculator, and may be able to be solved faster without a calculator. Questions on the calculator portion of the math test may involve more complex models and reasoning, since you won’t be held back by having to make calculations by hand.
The maximum possible score on the SAT is a 1600. Your total score is the sum of your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section score and your Math Section score. The raw score for each section is converted into the scaled scores, which are added together to create your total score.
Count the number of questions you got correct in Reading, Writing and Language, and the two math sections. The number of questions you got correct is your raw score. Each full length practice SAT provided on the College Board website will include a table like the one below that you can use to convert your raw score into a scaled score. While the method of calculating your scaled score is the same each time, the table may be slightly different, so be sure to use the one attached to your practice test. Practice tests taken on Piqosity are scored automatically.
For example, let’s say you got 42 questions correct on the Reading, 30 questions correct on Writing and Language, 18 questions correct on Math - No Calculator and 30 questions correct on Math - Calculator. In order to find our actual score, we must use the conversion table below.
Let’s fill out the table with our hypothetical raw scores.
The Reading and Writing and Language raw scores are converted using the Raw Score Conversion table. The converted Reading and Writing and Language scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to result in your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section score.
The Math - No Calculator and Math - Calculator raw scores are added together to create the Math Section raw score. That raw score is converted using the Raw Score Conversion table to determine your Math Section score.
The Math Section score and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score are then added together to create your total SAT score (which is sometimes called a composite score).
With a plethora of resources available, it is helpful for all students to do at least some preparation for the SAT. Below are some of the things you can do to get ready for test day.
1) Take a practice test: There are many full-length practice SAT tests available online. As you begin preparing for your test, it is helpful to take a full-length timed practice test, ideally under similar conditions that you will face on your actual test day. This is helpful to determine your weakest sections, and how much you need to improve your score to be competitive for your top college choices.
2) Start preparing early: Don’t wait until the day before your test to start preparing for the SAT . How early a student should start preparing may depend on how they are doing in school, but we recommend starting to prepare at least 2-3 months in advance of your first test.
3) Pay attention in school: Most of the material tested on the SAT is based off of what a student is expected to learn in high school. Pay attention in school and keep up with your homework - this will reduce the amount of time you need to study for the SAT. Taking advanced classes may also help to ensure you have learned all of the tested content on the SAT before your test day.
The night before your test, make sure to get a good night’s sleep. Late-night cramming will do you more harm than good. On test day, make sure to eat a healthy breakfast. Be sure to check over the following checklist before you leave for your test.
Your SAT admission ticket
Approved photo ID
Number 2 pencils and erasers
An approved calculator
A drink and snacks for the breaks
An approved watch (no smart watches or watches with alarms)
While you’re taking the SAT, it’s important to focus on only one section at a time. Although you aren’t allowed to skip around to different sections during the test, it may be tempting to spend time reflecting on previous sections. However, your mental energy will be better spent ensuring your optimal performance on the current section. You will have plenty of time to decompress and reflect after the whole test is finished.
There is no rule that you have to answer the questions in order they’re presented. In fact, it’s usually a good idea not to! In general, one of the best SAT test strategies out there is to answer the easy questions first before circling back to the harder ones. So, when you are reading through the questions, try to group them into three categories:
If you finish easy questions with time to spare, you can turn your attention to the "hard" and “hardest” questions, making educated guesses as needed.
There’s no penalty for wrong answers on the SAT, and therefore no benefit to leaving any of the multiple-choice questions unanswered. But don’t just guess randomly—here are a couple of SAT test strategies that maximize your guessing potential.
The SAT is a fast-paced test; you don’t want to lose time due to inefficiency. Here are some ways to help save time as you progress through your test.