SAT - Scholastic Aptitude Test
Just a few years ago the process for applying to college was fairly standard. You had to complete an application, get letters of recommendation, write an essay or two and figure out your financial aid package. Oh, and you always had to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT. Doing well on the SAT was supposed to show colleges that you would be a strong student. However, since the Covid-19 pandemic began, many schools stopped requiring the SAT to avoid having students sit in large groups amid lockdown.
Now, research shows that about 80% of schools no longer require standardized test scores from prospective students. This is a major shift for students who often spent hours studying for the SAT and especially those who paid for extra tutoring sessions or took the exam multiple times.
However, not all schools have followed this no-test model. And some that didn’t require the SAT during quarantine have now reversed their policies. If you’ve never taken the SAT, read below to learn how the SAT works, how much it costs and how to ace it.
What Is the SAT?
The SAT is created and produced by the College Board, a private organization. The SAT includes a series of multiple-choice questions designed to test your intelligence, as well as other skills. Students have two hours and 14 minutes to complete the exam. There will be a 10-minute break between the two sections.
After you take the SAT, you will receive your scores. You can then decide to submit your results to schools you are applying to.
The minimum SAT score is 400, and the maximum score is currently 1,600. From 2006 to 2016, the maximum score was 2400, but it has now gone back to 1,600. When you take the SAT, you will receive a separate score for the verbal part and a separate score for the math part. You will then add these two together to get your total SAT score.
The SAT is one of two exams commonly used by colleges to make admission decisions; the ACT is the other exam. The SAT may also be used to determine what kind of financial aid a student may qualify for. For example, scholarships that use the SAT as one of their criteria may award more money to those who do well on the exam.
The math section lasts for 70 minutes and contains 44 questions. This section is worth between 200 and 800 points and tests a variety of mathematical concepts.
Reading and Writing
Students will be allotted 64 minutes for this portion. There are 54 questions that require students answer as concisely as possible. Like the math portion, this section is worth between 200 and 800 points.
There is also an optional essay portion that is only available if your school proctors the SAT. If you do have the essay portion as part of your exam, you will be given another 50 minutes to complete it.
Even though the SAT is losing popularity, it’s still an important exam that many students have to worry about. Here are the most common questions that students and parents might have about the SAT:
Do all colleges require the SAT?
Fortunately for students, not all colleges require the SAT. Some may accept the ACT instead or even not require any standardized tests. In fact, recently many schools have moved away from using standardized tests as admission criteria.
Schools that don't require the SAT may still let you provide your results. If you're a good test taker, this can potentially help your chances of being accepted.
When can I take the SAT?
There are several times a year that you can take the SAT. Some students like to take the exam at least twice before submitting results to their chosen schools.
How many times can I take the SAT?
There is no specific limit on how many times you can take the SAT. When you take the SAT, it will be added to your official College Board record. Only your six most recent exams will be on that record.
Just keep in mind that you will have to pay a registration fee every time you take the exam.
Where can I take the SAT?
The SAT is generally offered at official testing centers, which are often schools. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find many different testing centers. You cannot take the SAT at home.
You can go here to find a local testing center near you. When you visit the College Board website, you can type in your zip code, how many miles you’re willing to travel and when you hope to take the test to find your options.
Students who live in urban areas are likely to find more options than those living in rural areas. Also, some dates may be more popular than others. It's best to register early so you can guarantee a seat.
For 2024, the remaining test dates are March 9, May 4 and June 1. The SAT is generally offered on a Saturday.
Some schools will host their own SAT day on a weekday. Keep an eye out for alerts if your school offers this option.
How early can I take the SAT?
You can start taking the SAT in your junior year of high school. Taking the SAT early can help you figure out how the exam works and how to best prepare for it. Also, if you're a nervous test taker, taking it several times can help assuage your fears and anxiety. During this time you can also begin the process of finding and applying for scholarships for high school juniors.
What is a good SAT score?
The definition of a good SAT score depends on the school that you're hoping to attend and their minimum scores.
Having a good SAT score may not be enough to get you admitted though, especially if your GPA is below average.
How much does the SAT cost?
The SAT is not a free exam. It costs $55 for basic registration. That fee comes with free four score reports, which will be sent to the colleges that you list. If you want to send your scores to more schools, you may have to pay an additional fee.
Students may qualify for an SAT fee waiver, so they don’t have to pay the fee. The fee waiver is generally available for students who receive some kind of government benefits, including free or reduced lunch, public assistance, public housing or other programs. Students who are unhoused or who are orphans or wards of the state can also get a fee waiver.
If you qualify for the fee waiver, you will get free unlimited score reports, so there is no limit to how many schools you can send your SAT results to.
There are also additional fees you might have to pay if you cancel your registration or change your registration date.
Which schools still require the SAT?
Even though the trend seems to be moving away from standardized testing, some schools still require the SAT. In fact, some schools that stopped requiring the SAT during Covid have now gone back to their pre-pandemic testing policies.
For example, Dartmouth recently decided that it would resume using SAT scores - the first Ivy League school to do so. This may be a sign that things are going back to how they were before Covid.
Dartmouth isn’t the only school that uses the SAT exam. There are several reputable universities, including both public and private schools, that require applicants submit scores:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Georgetown University
- University of Florida
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Purdue University
- University of Georgia
Should I still take the SAT?
Even if your school does not require the SAT, it can help you get admitted if you’re a strong test taker. Having an impressive score will always be a boost, unless the school does not look at your SAT scores at all. If you can get a fee waiver and are confident you can get a good score, it is probably worth taking. If you don't get a good score, you don't have to share your score with colleges to which you are applying.
Do scholarships look at your SAT scores?
Some scholarships may use your SAT scores as a deciding factor. Some schools may look at your SAT score when determining if you qualify for merit-based scholarships. Also, there may be some scholarships with both need and merit-based requirements that look at your SAT scores.
There is no general minimum SAT score you need to have to win a scholarship. In fact, many scholarships for high school seniors will not care about your SAT scores.
Some scholarships that look at standardized test scores may look at either your SAT or your ACT score. You can decide which one you want to send. It’s not unheard of for students to do better on one type of test than the other. These scholarships may let you decide which score you want to include.
Some state-based grants may also have testing requirements. For example, the Mississippi Eminent Scholars Grant (MESG) requires that students have at least a 1350 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT. These requirements can be waived if you are a National Merit Finalist or Semi-Finalist.
State grants that ask for a student's SAT score often use GPA as a substitute. For example, the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship requires a 1060 SAT score, a 3.0 GPA or a 21 ACT score.
When will I get my SAT score results?
SAT results will be released fairly quickly after sitting for the exam. They’re usually available about two weeks after the test date.
You can find a list of score release dates here. Scores will be sent to the colleges on your list about 10 days after the scores are released to you.
If your school hosts its own SAT testing day, then the results may take slightly longer to be released to you. They will generally be available about three weeks after the test date.
How can I improve my SAT results?
If the schools you’re applying to still rely on the SAT, you should focus on getting the highest score possible. First, take a couple of practice exams to see how you do.
If you’re not hitting above the median score for the schools you like, you may need to consider taking a remedial class. Ask your school’s academic counselor if they have any suggestions. You can also find special SAT tutors who can personally identify your weak areas.
If you are still having trouble, you can also focus on applying to schools that are test-optional. This will give you the opportunity to have your other qualities considered, like your high school GPA, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation and more.
What is superscoring?
When you take the SAT, you may find that you score significantly higher on one part of the exam than the other. When this happens, you may decide to retake the exam and study harder for the less impressive part. Unfortunately, studying for each part individually can result in you only doing well on one section at a time and not increasing your total score.
That’s where superscoring comes in. Some schools will look at your SAT results individually and find the highest-scoring part from each time you took the test.
For example, let’s say you initially scored a 1200, with a 700 on the math portion and a 500 on the writing/reading portion. A few months later, you score a 1250 with a 650 on the math and a 600 on the writing/reading portion.
If a school uses a “superscored” SAT score, then it will take the 700 math score and the 600 writing/reading score to come up with a 1300 total. This can open up more financial aid opportunities.