This Christian college SAT guide provides a useful introduction to the SAT. This standardized test administered by the College Board evaluates a student's college preparedness and their potential for academic success. Almost all colleges that require an admissions test accept the SAT. Schools consider the SAT score alongside an applicant’s high school GPA, letters of recommendations, personal essays, and other evidence of achievement. While some schools may not require any admissions tests, they may still rely on SAT scores to determine advanced placement and scholarship eligibility.
The SAT serves as an objective measure for college admissions departments and funding administrators to compare a student’s overall academic potential
Typically taken in the junior or senior year of high school, the three-hour SAT test assesses a student’s ability in three subject areas: writing, critical reading, and mathematics. Some schools may also require the optional 50-minute essay section. Excluding the optional essay, most of the test consists of multiple-choice questions, followed by a smaller number of grid-in, student-supplied answers in the math section.
The SAT serves as an objective measure for college admissions departments and funding administrators to compare a student’s overall academic potential to the national pool of applicants. The actual weight SAT scores carry varies from school to school. Schools evaluate SAT scores in conjunction with other evidence submitted by the applicant. In general, the higher a student's SAT score, the better their chances for admission and financial aid.
SAT Subject Tests
The College Board offers 20 different SAT subject tests in five disciplines: English, history, math, sciences, and languages. Subject tests provide an opportunity for college applicants to highlight their academic strengths and special interests. Some programs may require subject tests for admissions or advanced placement.
Each hour-long subject test consists entirely of multiple-choice questions in a paper format. Students can schedule their subject tests at the same testing sites where the SAT test is offered, but they cannot take these tests on the same day as the SAT. Test takers must pay a registration fee of $26 for one test date and can take up to three subject tests on one date. Each subject test costs $22, with the exception of language tests with listening components, which cost $26 each.
The SAT takes approximately three hours, excluding breaks and the optional essay. With the essay, the total test time increases by 50 minutes. Students complete the 65-minute critical reading section first, followed by the 35-minute writing and language component. The 80-minute mathematics section is divided into two segments: a no-calculator portion and a section of problems that require a calculator. The optional essay always comes last. Some test takers who opt out of the essay section may complete a nongraded experimental section, which the test developers use to try out questions for future tests. Except for the optional essay and the 13 grid-in responses included in the math section, the SAT uses multiple-choice questions, typically offering four answer choices.
Test takers can go back over answers for each section if enough time allows. The SAT does not penalize you for guessing. If you do not know the correct answer, but can eliminate one or two of the answer choices, you should guess between the remaining options. It is generally a good strategy to provide an answer for each question. Scores are based on the total number of correct answers. Each correct answer earns one point, and a blank non-response receives no points, but does not cause you to lose points.
The College Board has developed an online version of the SAT in response to recent trends that favor computerized testing. Many high school students are comfortable with all kinds of digital technology, and many prefer online testing. Several school districts use the online version of the SAT to accommodate students with special needs and to shorten turnaround time for scores. While the College Board does not plan to do away entirely with the pencil-and-paper version of the SAT, school districts adopting online testing must undertake specific preparations and develop new procedures. They must provide adequate security and technological support, in addition to training staff members to administer the test. For students, the best way to prepare for the SAT in the online format is to take advantage of free online self-assessment tools offered by the College Board.
How Does the Online SAT Work?
Students take the online version of the test in a controlled setting using supplied computers. The online version adheres to the same rules that apply to the paper test, meaning no personal laptops, no cell phones, and no watches or timers with audible alarms. The online testing platform developed for the SAT safely transfers the completed tests directly to the College Board processing center for grading.
The online version of the SAT costs the same as the paper format, which is around $48 for the SAT and around $65 for the SAT with the essay
The sections of the online test closely mirror the paper version. Students preparing for the SAT should take advantage of the free online practice tests offered by the College Board in partnership with Khan Academy. These practice tests use an almost identical format to the online SAT test. The practice tests display the time allowed for each section and the time remaining at the top of the page, and directions and navigation buttons at the bottom. Test takers receive electronic scratch paper and can highlight passages on the screen. They can also expect short snack and restroom breaks between sections. The online version of the SAT costs the same as the paper format, which is around $48 for the SAT and around $65 for the SAT with the essay.
This section measures reading comprehension using five separate passages and one set of paired passages. It assesses critical reading, text analysis, and use of context clues. The passages are based on U.S. and world literature, natural science, history, and social science. The reading exam comprises the first section in both the online and paper versions of the test.
Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
Test takers must read the passages and answer all 52 questions in the allotted 65-minute time period, making time management crucial. One of the most common pitfalls is to get bogged down in the details and not budget enough time to complete all the questions. The first question on the reading section usually asks for the purpose or main idea of the passage. Rather than beginning by answering this question, keep in mind that the author's point of view may not be fully developed until the end of the passage. You should try to answer the other questions first, returning to the question about the main idea once you have a clearer understanding of the entire passage.
- Use the Process of Elimination: Move back and forth between the passage and the questions, using only what you need to answer the multiple-choice questions. Eliminate as many of the wrong answers as you can before choosing your response. /li>
- Beware of Bias: The SAT does not test you on your opinion. Avoid interpretations from your personal point of view, and steer clear of extreme positions among the answer choices. Instead, choose responses supported by the evidence./li>
- Break it Down: Multiple-part questions can mislead inattentive test takers. An incorrect answer on one part of the question can lead to more wrong choices. As in the above tip, look for evidence to support your answer./li>
- Read Selectively: Read carefully but focus on what you need to answer the questions, rather than trying to remember and absorb every single detail presented. Compare the language in the answer choices to sections in the passage before you choose your answer.
This writing and language section measures a broad range of skills: command of evidence, expression of ideas, word choices in context, standard English conventions, and critical historical/social studies analysis. The test consists of 44 multiple-choice questions that must be answered in 35 minutes. The four passages include one non-fiction narrative, one or two informative/explanatory texts, and one or two persuasive arguments. Students must interpret the passages, find mistakes, and fix or improve them.
Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
One of the biggest challenges to doing well on this section is navigating the format. Each of the questions corresponds to a number embedded in the text. Students sometimes find this format confusing. Online practice tests can help students learn what to look for in the passages and how the questions are connected to the numbered sections of the text. Another pitfall that students should avoid is rushing through the passages without taking the time to figure out the purpose of the piece. Pay attention to the differences in writing style and word choices for each type of passage. Informative or explanatory articles do not typically offer opinions, persuasive essays often use forceful language to build their arguments, and personal narratives use emotion-laden vocabulary.
- Look for Answers in Standard English: This section can trick you with answers that reflect the way people speak in everyday conversation. Always look for the response that is written in a grammatically correct way.
- Eliminate Wrong Answers: Some questions will try to mislead you. When in doubt, do not spend too much time on any one question. Instead, before you attempt to hazard a guess, try to eliminate the obviously wrong responses.
- Answer as You Read: Because of the time limitation and number of questions, begin by reading the questions first, and then go over the passage looking for what you need. Skip around the passage and look for similarities in language to the answer choices.
- Review Punctuation: Each passage in the writing section includes approximately two questions about proper punctuation. When preparing for the SAT, make sure to spend some time reviewing punctuation and grammar rules.
The 80-minute math section covers algebra, arithmetic, data analysis, probability, and some trigonometry and geometry. It measures problem solving, modeling, algebraic structure, and using tools strategically. The math test places less emphasis on abstract problems and focuses more on math skills required for college courses and the ability to use mathematical reasoning to address real problems in practical scenarios.
Of the 58 questions total, 45 use a multiple-choice format with four answer choices. Some questions are delivered in multi-part formats. The remaining 13 questions are grid-in responses, requiring test takers to "bubble in" their responses on the test answer sheet. The 25-minute math section with no calculator includes 15 multiple-choice and five grid-in questions. The 55-minute math portion with a calculator consists of 30 multiple-choice and eight grid-in questions, including one extended thinking question.
Can You Use a Calculator on the SAT?
The section of the math test that does not permit calculator use emphasizes math fluency, including more concept-based than arithmetic-based questions. The calculator part of the test focuses on reasoning and complex modeling. Even in the section where test takers may use a calculator use, they may find that, for some questions, using reasoning ability rather than the calculator results in quicker responses.
Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
Time management poses a major challenge for test takers. Students whose strengths lie in the humanities sometimes become flustered by the time constraints as they try to make sense of the math content involving formulae and functions. Even students who earn consistently high grades in math may grow frustrated by the pacing and complexity of multiple-part questions. Before taking the SAT, students should determine what their objective is for the math test; are they seeking an acceptable score or do they need a high score for advanced college placement or scholarships? Then, they should determine their strengths and weaknesses, using practice tests to focus on improving problem-solving skills in trouble areas.
- Review Formulae and Functions: Review common formulae used in algebra problems. Make sure you understand functions in graphs and equations. Work on solving problems on practice tests or consider studying with a math tutor.
- Identify Weaknesses Before Taking the Test: Figure out your weaknesses in basic and advanced algebra, data analysis, and geometry. Take many practice tests, focusing on the problems you get wrong until you get them right.
- Use Your Calculator Strategically: Learn how to use your calculator correctly. Become familiar with shortcuts and graphing functionalities. Most importantly, remember that too much reliance on your calculator can slow you down. Before you start plugging in numbers, determine what the problem is asking you to solve.
- Prioritize Time Management: Requiring students to answer 58 questions in 80 minutes, math test requires excellent pacing. Read long and multi-part questions carefully and do not spend too much time on any one question.
Should You Do the Essay Section?
Because the essay is optional, students often ask if it helps or hinders their admission chances. While some schools do not require the essay, the College Board maintains a list of all colleges and universities that require or recommend it. Even if you have not yet decided where to apply, you should consider completing the essay so that you can submit the score later if a school requires it. If your intended school does not require the essay, submitting your score may slightly increase your chances for admission, especially if you're applying to a more competitive institution. When making the decision, students should keep in mind that the essay section increases the cost of the SAT and adds 50 minutes to the otherwise three-hour testing time.
In the essay section, test takers analyze a written passage showing how the author has developed a persuasive argument. Scorers judge test takers' reading, writing, and analysis skills. Students should demonstrate how evidence and rhetorical devices contribute to the argument and present their reasoning in a logical and clearly-written format.
The Essay Prompt
The SAT uses the same or a nearly identical essay prompt in every exam. The prompt asks students to read the passage and construct an essay explaining how the author uses evidence, reasoning, stylistic or persuasive elements, and emotion to support claims and build the argument. The actual passages, while different on each exam, have been written for a broad general audience. They all use logical reasoning and evidence and are always pulled from published work.
Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
The essay requires students to organize and present their argument within 50 minutes. Test takers should map out the structure of their essay before they start to write. SAT graders are looking for a clear thesis statement, easily identifiable arguments, between two and four key points supported with evidence, and a succinct conclusion that reinforces the thesis without restating it word for word. The best way to prepare for this section is to practice writing essays on a variety of different topics, but all following the same prompt used in the SAT. Students can find sample essays to help them prepare on the College Board website.
- Just the Facts: The best essays focus mainly on the evidence presented by the author. Students must evaluate the facts, statistics, and statements from authority figures, as well as analyze how well these examples help the author build his or her argument.
- It's Not About You: Your task is to discuss how well the author builds a case, not whether or not you agree with it. Recognize your personal biases and keep your point of view and personal experience out of your analysis.
- State Your Thesis Upfront: Place a well-crafted thesis statement near or at the end of your first paragraph that summarizes what your essay intends to argue. What is the author of the passage trying to establish, what evidence did they use, and how well did they make their case?
- The Five Paragraph Rule-of-Thumb: Well-written essays often follow a five paragraph format. Include an introduction containing your thesis, a presentation of the author's evidence followed by a discussion of how it is used, and end with a conclusion that reinforces the thesis without being repetitive.
SAT scores range from 400 to 1600 points. Each of the two halves of the test, the evidence-based reading and writing section and the math section, are scored between 200 and 800 points each, and then added together for a total score. The optional essay receives three scores, ranging from two to eight for each of the following scoring areas: reading, analysis, and writing. Cross-test scores range from 10 to 40 and show how well the test taker analyzes texts and solves problems in history, social studies, and science. Subscores range from one to 15 and provide feedback on a student's performance in seven skill areas, including standard English conventions, words in context, and problem solving and data analysis. Raw scores are converted into a scaled score that takes into account variations of different tests and test dates.
|SAT Section||Score Range|
|Evidence-Based Reading and Writing||200-800|
What's the Difference Between Score Ranges, Average Scores, College Readiness Benchmarks, and Percentile Ranks?
No single test score provides a perfect measure of a student’s abilities. Many factors can affect test performance. Most schools consider SAT score ranges, which can run from a few points below to a few points above a student's earned score, compensating for testing variations that might affect the reported score. The mean scores for each subject area measure how well a student has performed in relation to the average test taker. Score reports also include a college-readiness benchmark for each of the test sections. Test takers can demonstrate their preparedness for college-level work by scoring at or above these benchmarks. Score reports also feature a percentile ranking, showing the percentage of test takers whose scores fall below the student’s overall score. Most schools require applicants to send all of their official scores, including any subject test scores, directly from the College Board.
What's an Average Score on the SAT?
|SAT Section||Average Score|
|Evidence-Based Reading and Writing||533|
Most students register online for the SAT by creating a College Board account. Those eligible for mail-in registration can obtain information and a paper application from their high school counselor. Students may choose to participate in the free student search service that matches them with scholarship programs and schools seeking applicants who meet certain criteria. When registering, students may authorize the College Board to send their score reports, free of charge, to up to four schools. Students can cancel or reschedule their test date through their College Board account.
When Should You Take the SAT?
Students typically take the SAT in the spring of junior year. This allows enough time to retake it, if needed, in the fall of their senior year. Students typically receive their score reports two to three weeks after the test, and colleges receive them within 10 days after that.
How Much Does the SAT Cost?
The basic registration fee costs around $48, or around $65 with the essay. Students with demonstrated financial need may qualify for fee waivers. Check with the College Board for waiver requirements.
How Many Times Can You Take the SAT?
The College Board does not limit the number of times a student can take the test. Retaking the test may result in a higher score, but test takers should keep in mind that some schools require students to send in all of their scores with their application materials.
At-Home Study Methods
Students interested in preparing for the SAT at their own pace can find many different kinds of resources for home study.
Printed Study Guides
Hard-copy study guides serve as comprehensive resources for practice tests and tips. The College Board offers an official printed study guide, and students can find several others through various test prep companies.
Students who know their weaknesses find flashcards a convenient way to strengthen targeted areas. Flashcards can improve test-taking skills in each of the the SAT subject areas, but work particularly well for building vocabulary.
A private tutor may be a good solution for students who need assistance with certain subjects or whose learning styles benefit from one-on-one mentoring. Quality tutors can be expensive, charging between $50 to $200 per hour.
Many test preparation services, including the College Board, offer study apps designed for mobile devices. These apps often include diagnostics to help students pinpoint weaknesses and gauge their readiness for the test.
Online Practice Tests
Taking a real-time practice test is one of the best ways to prepare for the SAT. The College Board, in association with Khan Academy, offers eight official, full-length practice tests.
SAT Prep Courses
Some of the most popular prep courses are self-paced, delivered entirely online or through video classes. Others involve in-person instruction over several weeks and sometimes offer personal tutoring. Industry leaders like Princeton Review feature both online and in-person courses that cost between $300 and $1,600 depending on the format. Khan Academy, in partnership with the College Board, offers a free online prep course tailored to students' skill levels. Prep courses typically include practice tests, test-taking strategies, and personalized feedback.
Studying Tips for the SAT
Familiarize Yourself with the Test Structure
Become thoroughly familiar with the structure of the SAT test, the different kinds of questions, and the time allowed for each section. If you understand the format, you will know what to expect on test day.
Determine Your Target Score
Look up the 75th percentile SAT score for each school you want to attend. You should aim to earn the highest 75th percentile score of all the schools.
Use the Practice Test to Reach Your Target Score
Take a practice test to figure out how long you have to study to achieve your target score. A 30 point increase may require only 10 hours of dedicated study, while 150 or more hours of study may result in a 200-300 point gain. Retake practice tests, noting areas where you need to improve.
Practice tests help you figure out what your where your weaknesses lie, so you can work on answering the types of questions that address those specific skill deficits.
Prioritize Time Management
Figure out how long it takes you to complete each question on the practice test and estimate how much time you need to answer all the questions and have enough time to go back over your work.
Test preparation materials do not have to be expensive. Students can find a variety of free online resources.
- College Board Practice Tests The College Board offers timed practice tests, in paper and online formats, including actual previously-administered SAT exams. Students receive automatically scored answers and recommendations to improve their performance.
- Khan Academy This site offers a variety of SAT preparation materials, including full-length and subject area practice tests and content area reviews. The content features personalized instruction as well as general strategies and test-taking tips.
- Magoosh SAT Prep YouTube Channel Students who respond well to visual learning may find these videos useful. They cover subject tests, test-taking strategies, and study tips. They also address what to expect on test day.
- Supertutor TV SAT YouTube Channel This set of videos, developed by a Stanford-educated student who received a perfect SAT score, presents strategies for the subject area tests and essay, as well as tips for boosting scores and saving time.
All testing sites follow the same procedures. Doors open at 7:45 a.m. and close at 8 a.m. Testing begins between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Test takers receive an assigned seat. The SAT without the essay includes one 10-minute beak and one five-minute break. Take time to get up and stretch, have a quick drink or snack, or use the restroom. Test takers may not take restroom breaks during the exam. Students can use the blank spaces in the test book for making notes but will not receive scratch paper.
What Should You Bring with You?
Valid Photo ID
Test takers must present a valid government- or school-issued photo ID. Students must present original IDs with their full legal name as it appears on the test admission ticket.
Students must show their printed admission ticket for entrance to the testing center. This ticket confirms their registration, indicating the test type, date, and testing location.
No. 2 Pencils
Make sure to have an ample supply of sharpened, No. 2 pencils and good quality erasers. Students may not use mechanical pencils or pens.
Students should bring a battery-operated calculator that they have used before. The College Board only allows graphing, scientific, and four-function calculators. Refer to this list of approved calculators.
Because the rules prohibit cell phones, stopwatches, and any other electronic device that beeps, the best way to keep track of time is to bring an analog watch without an audible alarm.
Layers of Clothing
Temperature control in testing centers can be unpredictable. Students should wear layers of comfortable clothing, such as light jackets or sweaters, that can be adjusted to conditions as needed.
What Should You Leave at Home?
Do not bring any math tools other than your calculator into the testing center. The rules prohibit students from using items like rulers, compasses, or protractors.
The College Board maintains a strict policy concerning unapproved devices. Test proctors may not allow students to take the test if they bring a cell phone, tablet, laptop, camera, or recorder to the testing site.
Books (e.g., Dictionaries)
Test proctors will confiscate any paper or printed materials. Leave study guides, dictionaries, and any other books at home.
Test takers with documented disabilities may request accommodations, such as extra breaks, extended test time, and large-text or Braille test books. Because requests can take up to seven weeks for approval, students should first decide on a possible test date, allowing ample time for the request to be processed. Students must request formal approval through the College Board Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) before they can register for the SAT. Once they gain approval, the student will receive an eligibility code that they must enter when they register for the SAT test online. Students who register by mail must include a copy of their SSD eligibility letter.
Students can usually access their SAT scores within two to three weeks after the test. The exact timeline depends on the test date; the College Board provides an updated schedule of score release dates on its website. Test takers receive an email when their scores reports become available that explains how to access the online score portal.
How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?
The College Board sends official SAT score reports directly to the schools designated by the test taker. When students register for the SAT, they can request up to four free score reports for specific schools or scholarship programs. If students do not indicate any recipients for their scores when they register, they have up to nine days after the test to designate four free score report recipients.
What Scores Will Schools See If You Take the Test More Than Once?
The Score Choice option allows students who have taken the SAT more than once to send colleges their best scores. Students can choose the score reports from their best test dates or the highest scores from each subject test, but they cannot pick and choose their best scores from individual sections. Test takers who do poorly on a particular date may use Select Choice to omit that score report. If students do not participate in Score Choice, all their score reports from each test date will be sent to the schools they have designated.
How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?
SAT scores remain valid indefinitely. When a student has finished high school and has not attempted an SAT test for a year, the College Board archives the scores. Test takers may request retrieval of the score reports at any time. The College Board sends a notice with test scores from five or more years ago explaining that the scores may be less valid predictors of academic readiness than scores from more recent versions of the test.