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SAT Questions and Answers by Advantage Testing

SAT Frequently Asked Questions

Advantage Testing SAT FAQ

About the SAT/Test Administration

How has the SAT changed due to COVID-19?

In January 2021, the College Board announced that they had eliminated all future SAT Subject Tests (except the May and June 2021 international administrations). Additionally, the SAT Essay will no longer be administered after the June 2021 test date.

Throughout 2021, some test centers may cancel their SAT administrations due to public health concerns. Make sure to check your College Board account and this website for test center cancellations.

How difficult is the SAT?

The content on the SAT is learnable and can certainly start to feel easy after substantial practice. However, many students find the test daunting at first. It takes dedication and hard work to become comfortable with all of the concepts tested on the SAT.

You can study for the SAT by yourself, in classes, or with a tutor. We have found that preparing for the SAT with one-on-one tutoring can help students develop a program tailored to their individual strengths and weaknesses. An experienced tutor will also help you break down and understand concepts that you may initially find difficult, helping you gain skills and confidence until such concepts are more familiar.

What are the subjects on the SAT?

The two main SAT sections are (1) Math and (2) Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (commonly known as “Verbal”). Within Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, the Reading Test covers comprehension and analysis of short texts from literature, history/social science, and science; the Writing and Language Test covers principles of grammar, syntax, idiom, and clear and effective expression. The two sections of the Math Test cover algebra, problem solving and data analysis, and certain advanced math topics. 

How many times can you take the SAT?

There is no limit to how many times you can take the SAT. In the U.S., the SAT is offered seven times each year—in June, August, October, November, December, March, and May. Most students perform better when they retake the SAT because they have had more practice and experience with the test content and format.

Even though you can take the SAT an unlimited number of times, you should not sit for every administration across multiple years. Take the test only when you feel sufficiently prepared and comfortable with the content. We recommend that most students take the SAT for the first time in the spring of their junior year, allowing time to retake the test the following summer and fall if necessary. Thus, we also recommend that students begin preparing in the second half of their sophomore year. Check out our college admissions timeline for more help planning your testing schedule.

What is the difference between the SAT and ACT?

Both the SAT and the ACT can be taken for college admissions, and colleges do not prefer one test to the other.

Scoring

  • SAT: 400–1600 composite scale
  • ACT: 1–36 composite scale

Test Length

  • SAT: 3 hours
  • ACT: 2 hours and 55 minutes + 40-minute optional essay

Reading

  • SAT: 52 questions in 65 minutes; passage-based reading comprehension; informational graphics included
  • ACT: 40 questions in 35 minutes; passage-based reading comprehension

English

  • SAT: 44 questions in 35 minutes; passage-based testing of grammar, usage, syntax, rhetoric, and punctuation; informational graphics included
  • ACT: 75 questions in 45 minutes; passage-based testing of grammar, usage, syntax, rhetoric, and punctuation

Math

  • SAT: no calculator section: 20 questions in 25 minutes (including 5 grid-in questions); calculator section: 38 questions in 55 minutes (including 8 grid-in questions); trigonometry, radians, volumes, complex numbers, congruence and similarity, simple rational expressions, higher order equations, circle-related topics; emphasis on algebra, problem solving and data analysis, and certain advanced math topics
  • ACT: 60 questions in 60 minutes; can used approved calculator; all multiple choice; arithmetic, algebra I and II, planar and coordinate geometry, trigonometry and precalculus including functions, conic sections, combinations and permutations, logarithms, and matrices

Science

  • SAT: no science section; science questions throughout the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Tests
  • ACT: 40 questions in 35 minutes; interpretation and application of scientific data presented in tables, pie charts, bar graphs, scatter plots, etc.

Essay

  • SAT: after the June 2021 administration, the College Board will no longer administer the SAT Essay
  • ACT: 40 minutes; optional; writing and composition, analysis and development of an argument; 4 scores: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions

If you are deciding between preparing for the SAT or ACT, we recommend that you take both a timed, full-length practice SAT and a timed, full-length practice ACT. Compare your scores and your overall comfort level with each test. Then prepare for and take the test on which you feel that you will eventually perform best.

Is the SAT or ACT harder?

The SAT and ACT test similar concepts, and neither is inherently harder than the other. Some students tend to perform better on the ACT, while others tend to perform better on the SAT. Both the SAT and the ACT are accepted for admission to most U.S.-based colleges and universities. You should take the test with which you feel most comfortable. The most effective way to choose between the ACT and the SAT is to compare your scores after taking a full-length, timed practice ACT and a full-length, timed practice SAT.

What were SAT Subject Tests?

In January 2021, the College Board announced that they would no longer offer SAT Subject Tests. The last Subject Test administration in the U.S. was in December 2020, and the last international Subject Test administration will be in June 2021. To demonstrate your academic abilities in specific subjects, take as many AP Exams as you can.

SAT Subject Tests were one-hour tests (with standard timing) covering advanced material specific to a particular academic subject. The College Board offered SAT Subject Tests in Literature, U.S. History, World History, Mathematics Level 1, Mathematics Level 2, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, and Spanish.

Preparation and Strategy for the SAT

Why should I take the SAT?

The SAT is designed to evaluate a student’s college readiness by determining how well the student has mastered the core concepts of a high school curriculum. The SAT is an important component of applying to most U.S.-based colleges and universities. Some colleges now have Test Optional or Test Blind admissions policies, meaning they do not require SAT or ACT scores to apply. Admissions testing policies are frequently updated, so be sure to verify specific testing requirements on a school’s official website, and make sure the information you’re looking at is current. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for online, you can always call or email the school’s admissions office.

You can take the ACT instead of the SAT, as schools have no preference between these tests. Many students also submit AP Exam scores with their applications. While generally not required, AP Exams can show achievement over a range of academic subject areas in Math, Science, Languages, and the Humanities.

What is the best way to prepare for the SAT?

We have found that one-on-one tutoring is the best way to prepare for the SAT. An excellent tutor will be able to determine your individual strengths and weaknesses and tailor a preparation plan that will guide and motivate you to achieve your best score. However, depending on your goals, there are many ways to prepare for the SAT. For example, you can also take an SAT class or prepare on your own. If you are studying on your own, Khan Academy provides an excellent resource for online instruction.

When preparing for the test, make sure to study the underlying concepts on all of the sections of the test (not just the sections that you like best) and then practice what you have learned by taking timed, full-length practice tests. Taking practice tests is a key element to any preparation plan because you need to be able to complete the test within the allowed time limit. Practice tests will also help you grow familiar with the logistics of the official test, and develop the stamina necessary to maintain your focus throughout a full test.

When should you start studying for the SAT?

We recommend that students begin studying for the SAT in the middle of their sophomore years. This will give you plenty of time to learn all of the underlying math, reading, and grammar concepts and allow ample opportunity to practice applying them on timed practice tests. Most students who follow this timeline are prepared to take their first official test in the spring of their junior year, leaving plenty of time to retake the test the following summer and fall. See our college admissions timeline for more information to help you plan your test preparation schedule.

Can you study for the SAT in a month?

Generally speaking, studying for the SAT takes much longer than one month (we recommend studying for the SAT for approximately a year). If you have only one month to prepare, focus on taking timed, full-length practice tests. Review concepts on the questions that you miss. By taking full-length tests, you will become familiar with the test and develop the stamina needed to maintain your focus throughout the entire test. Reviewing the concepts on questions that you miss will help you pinpoint areas in which you need additional practice.

Should you take the SAT more than once?

Yes, scores often improve when students retake the SAT. Students are generally more comfortable with the test after they have taken it for the first time, and they have had more time to study and apply the concepts tested. If, however, your initial score is well above the 75th percentile of students admitted to your top-choice schools, then you most likely do not need to take the SAT again.

When should I consider retaking the SAT?

Most students benefit from retaking the SAT at least once, especially with additional preparation. We have found that students who retake the SAT are more comfortable after their initial test date and perform better on subsequent tests. Moreover, many schools allow students to submit only their best test scores through the Score Choice program. Some schools will also “superscore,” counting only the best Math and the best Evidence-Based Reading and Writing scores across multiple official test administrations.

However, if you have reached your goal on your first test, you should not feel obligated to take the test again. Don’t take the test for the first time until you feel comfortable with the content (students often choose the spring of their junior year) and then retake the test a few times if needed (students often do this in the summer following junior year and the fall of senior year).

How SAT Scoring Works and Why SAT Scores Matter

Why are SAT scores so important?

SAT scores often play an important role in college admissions decisions. The SAT is designed to test your readiness for college-level work, and all colleges want to enroll students who will be able to succeed there. However, keep in mind that SAT scores are only one part of your application. Typically, colleges also evaluate your high school transcript and GPA, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and application essays. SAT scores provide a common measure for colleges to compare students.

Is your GPA or SAT score more important?

At most colleges in the U.S., both your GPA and your SAT score are important for college admissions. Your GPA reflects how you have performed in your high school coursework; your SAT score demonstrates how you have performed on a standardized test intended to measure core academic skills.

Remember that your college application also includes application essays, letters of recommendation, and your extracurricular activities. While each component of your college application is important, you will be evaluated across multiple dimensions.

How is the SAT scored?

The maximum score on the SAT is 1600. You will receive two main scores, each on a scale from 200 to 800, in two separate categories: (1) Math and (2) Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (commonly known as “Verbal”).

Your will also receive two Cross-Test Scores, scaled from 10–40, in Analysis in Science and Analysis in History/Social Studies. Additionally, the SAT records seven “Subscores,” scaled from 1–15, in the following topics: Words in Context, Command of Evidence, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving & Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. These subscores may offer some insight into determining your areas of relative strength and weakness, but they are rarely considered independently in college admissions.

What is the average SAT score?

From a nationally representative sample, the 50th-percentile SAT total score is 1010, the 50th-percentile Math score is between 500 and 510, and the 50th-percentile Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score is between 500 and 510.

For students who graduated in 2019, the mean SAT score was 1059, the mean Math score was 528, and the mean Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score was 531.

What is a good SAT score in 2021?

Each year, median and mean SAT scores change slightly, but every year, what defines a “good” SAT score depends on your goals. First, keep in mind that everyone starts their SAT preparation at a different point, and your goal score should be one that you can achieve with hard work and sustained study. Second, SAT scores vary greatly among colleges and universities, so ideally your goal score is within the range of the schools to which you are hoping to apply. For example, if your score is above the 75th percentile of students enrolled at your top-choice college, you can feel confident that you have a “good” score.

The two primary SAT components are (1) Math and (2) Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (commonly known as “Verbal”). Each of these is scored on a scale from 200 to 800, for a total SAT score ranging from 400 to 1600. For students who graduated in 2019, the mean Math score was 528, the mean Verbal score was 531, and the mean SAT total score was 1059.

Many colleges with competitive admissions have average scores that are much higher than these national averages. Check the websites for the schools to which you plan to apply to find the mean and 75th percentile SAT scores of enrolled students.

Note that prior to 2016, the SAT provided three main scores scaled from 200 to 800, for a total score from 600 to 2400, so obviously, a total score from this period will be much higher than a total score from today’s test!

Does the SAT have an essay?

In January 2021, the College Board announced that the SAT would no longer have an essay after the June 2021 test administration. The optional SAT Essay was not previously calculated in your main SAT scores. Most colleges and universities did not require the SAT Essay for admission.

Is a 1400 on the SAT good?

Based on a nationally representative sample, a 1400 is at the 97th percentile. Thus, for most students, a 1400 is a very good score. SAT scores, however, should always be assessed within the context of the individual student’s goals. For example, a 1400 is below the average score of students enrolled at some highly selective universities. The best general advice for all students is to make sure your goal score is within your reach and within the range of the institutions to which you are planning to apply.

Do colleges look at SAT scores?

Most U.S.-based colleges and universities require the SAT or ACT for admission and will look at your test scores when deciding whether to admit you. SAT scores allow colleges to form a basis of comparison for applicants from different high schools. However, your test scores are only one part of your college application. Colleges and universities also consider your GPA and the rigor of the classes that you took in high school, your application essays, your letters of recommendation, and your extracurricular activities.

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