SAT Guide

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.

What Does the SAT Look Like?

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 SAT Going Online

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.

The Evidence-Based Reading Section

The Evidence-Based Writing and Language Section

The Math Section

The Essay Section

How is the SAT Scored?

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.

Score Ranges on the SAT
SAT Section Score Range
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 200-800
Math 200-800
Essay 2-8
Source: CollegeBoard

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?

Average Scores on the SAT, 2016-17
SAT Section Average Score
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 533
Math 527
Essay 5,4,5
Source: CollegeBoard

How Do You Register for the SAT?

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.

How to Prepare for the SAT

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.

Private Tutoring

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.

Studying Apps

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.

  • Identify Weaknesses

    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.

Helpful Resources

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.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

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.

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.

Approved Calculator

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?

Math Tools

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.

Unapproved Electronics

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.

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Associated Needs

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.

Submitting Your Scores

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.