What you need to know about the SAT exam

Student taking the SAT® exam.

The SAT exam has been around for many years, but it recently (in 2016) received a major revision to make results more predictive of student success in college. There is a new emphasis on reasoning skills, as opposed to memorization of facts. The testing company also removed the penalty for guessing and made the essay portion optional, although many colleges still require it. One other important difference is that the new SAT exam is heavily aligned with the PSAT/NMSQT exam that students often take before this test.

A student’s ability to read and write is actually assessed in two separate tests on the SAT exam: the Reading test and the Writing and Language test. These scores are combined to form a total score on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.

Math ability is assessed in two separate fashions, as well. The content is the same in the two sections and covers four different broad topics in Math. The difference is that, during one section, you will have access to a calculator and for the other, you will not.

Many colleges still seek evidence of a prospective student’s ability to write. Although the essay portion of the SAT is now optional, most students take it at least once so that they will have that documentation when applying for college.

What are the costs?

The cost for the basic SAT exam is $43.00 and $54.50 if the essay is included, but there is a cost waiver option for students in need. Receiving a fee waiver for testing can gain you waived college application fees, as well. Contact your school counselor for information on this. For the basic cost, a report will be sent to you and your school, as well as up to four colleges or scholarship programs of your choice. Late registration, change of location, and other services can increase the cost of the test. For additional information, look here.

What should I bring?

To take the SAT exam, you must have an approved photo ID, your admission ticket (printed from the College Board website), several No. 2 pencils with erasers, and an approved calculator (with fresh batteries). You should also take a watch and a snack or two for breaks. The use of cell phones, computers of any sort, or any device that can take photos or play music is prohibited in testing centers. For a more comprehensive list, check out this page on the official SAT exam website.

All information on the ID must match that on your admission ticket. For more information about “approved” IDs, look here. To see calculator guidelines, see here. If you are in doubt about whether or not to bring an item with you on test day, please see these guidelines.

How is it scored?

Your score report on the SAT test will not only give you one overall score and subject total scores, but it will also break your scores down by specific skills. Sometimes, results on different sections of the test are combined to produce an overall score in a particular academic ability, such as analysis or use of evidence.

1 Overall SAT score (2 section scores, added): 400 to 1600

2 Section Scores:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing—200 to 800
  • Math—200 to 800

3 Test Scores:

  • Reading—10 to 40
  • Writing and Language —10 to 40
  • Math—10 to 40

3 Essay Scores:

  • Reading—2 to 8
  • Analysis—2 to 8
  • Writing—2 to 8

2 Cross-test (selected answers in all 3 tests):

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies—10 to 40
  • Analysis in Science—10 to 40

7 Subscores:

  • Reading, Writing and Language: Command of Evidence—1 to 15
  • Reading, Writing and Language: Words in Context—1 to 15
  • Writing and Language: Expression of Ideas—1 to 15
  • Writing and Language: Standard English Conventions—1 to 15
  • Math: Heart of Algebra—1 to 15
  • Math: Problem Solving/Data Analysis—1 to 15
  • Math:Passport to Advanced Math—1 to 15

You will also be given a percentile ranking. For example, if your percentile ranking is 65, it means you scored better than 65% of the students who take the test.

What kind of job can I get?

Today, an increasing number of jobs require postsecondary (beyond high school) education to secure even an entry-level position. Most colleges require either SAT exam or ACT (American College Test) test scores as part of your application. Check with the colleges of your choice to find out which test they use for admission purposes.

Am I eligible?

Anyone who can read and write well enough to answer the questions can take the SAT exam. Age or grade level is not a requirement, but you must register by mail (not online) if you are under 13 years old. Most students choose to take it during their Junior and early Senior years of high school. Most colleges do not require older students to submit SAT scores, but doing so could help their chances of admission, especially if competition for admission to a college is great.

Why does it matter?

The SAT exam is only one measure of a college applicant’s ability to do college level work, but it is an important one. Colleges know that teachers and courses can vary greatly from one high school to another. The exam provides a more objective way to measure how well a student can perform in the basic skills necessary for college success, especially reasoning skills. The College Board has designed the test based on what colleges have said that students need to be able to do to succeed at the college level. It also measures a student’s ability to think under pressure, which is a valuable skill in the adult world. Even so, your SAT scores will only make up about one-fifth to one-third of your college application and you can take the test multiple times to improve your scores.

What salary can I expect?

While going to college is no guarantee of a high-paying job in your future, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has established that the median yearly income for those with a Bachelor’s degree is 63% higher than those with only a high school diploma. So, attending college is a proactive way to protect your financial future.

When is it available?

The SAT exam is given on certain Saturdays, at least seven times during each school year. It is given in many locations throughout the United States and at many international locations. Sunday options are also available for students with religious observance requirements on Saturdays. Visit the official College Board SAT site for exam dates and other registration information here.

Time Allowed

You will be timed for a total of 3 hours (plus 50 minutes for optional essay) when you take the SAT exam. Section times and number of questions will be:

Reading: 65 minutes—52 questions
Writing and Language: 35 minutes—44 questions
Math: 80 minutes—58 questions

  • with calculator: 55 minutes—38 questions
  • no calculator: 25 minutes—20 questions

Essay: 50 minutes—1 question

Practice using our expertly crafted questions!