The SAT has become the golden standard entrance exam for most prospective college students wanting to enter a college/university in the USA. Early adaptations of the SATs were taken as early as the mid-1920s while most colleges still used their own versions of entrance exams and certifications.

The exam structure has changed over the years since its inception, but its bottom line is still the same mission – to test college readiness. The exam tests prospective college students on their logic and overall comprehension instead of on details and facts. The SAT places a strong emphasis on complex vocabulary, focuses more on the ability to reason, and tests students on their writing aptitude – instead of overly specific concepts.

Nearly 2.2 million students graduating high school in 2020 took the exam which represented a 4% increase from the high school graduating class of 2019. Making it the most widely taken college entrance exam in the United States with other exams like the ACT following a close second.

If you’re looking for tips and tricks on the SAT, then keep on reading to find out more.

SAT Guide
Obscure vocabulary words are not a focal point on the new SAT, but the word's context in a passage will be. (Photo by Deb Stgo on VisualHunt)

The SAT Breakdown

The proctored exam is offered seven times a year in the United States with exam dates starting in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. If you live outside of the United States then the SAT exam is offered four times a year with exam dates starting in March, May, October, and December.

On exam day the SAT takes about 3 hours without the essay portion, and an additional 50 minutes with the added essay writing time. Beginning in the spring of 2016 the new SAT made the essay portion of the exam optional, bringing the SAT score back to an overall 1600-point scale instead of a 2400 overall point scale. Although the essay is optional it is very much encouraged and required by certain college boards across the US.

The SAT is divided into four sections encompassing reading comprehension, writing, language, and mathematics. The optional fifth section is the essay, which is required and recommended by many colleges.

The first section tests students on their reading comprehension with 52 questions timed at 65 minutes. The reading section includes questions on identifying vocabulary definitions and interpreting short literary passages.

SAT Guide
The addition of basic complex mathematics will also be included on the SAT exam. (Photo by Silenceofnight on VisualHunt)

The second section tests on writing and language with 44 questions timed at 35 minutes. In this section, the exam will be asking questions on sentence and paragraph structure and overall grammar. Expect to see questions on passages from topics including humanities and science to great global conversations.

The third and fourth sections test students on math with a subsection without the use of a calculator with 20 questions timed at 25 minutes and another subsection with a calculator with 38 questions timed at 55 minutes. The mathematics sections cover a wide range of topics including algebra, geometry, statistics, data analysis, and trigonometry. Expect to also see charts and graphs in these sections as well, as they will be testing your ability to interpret visual data sets.

The fifth and final section is the optional essay, in which students are given one question and 50 minutes to answer to the best of their ability in essay format. The essay will always have the same basic prompt: “Write an essay analyzing how the author of the given passage has made his/her argument.” The optional essay will then be followed by a passage. The essence of the essay tests the prospective college students to explain the author’s argument while giving evidence and support from the passage. The essay also tests each student on their ability to structure a simple complete essay with an introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

SAT Scoring Guide

Each of the four sections is combined into two scores, math and verbal, which are then added to give you an overall SAT score on a 400-1600 point scale. Both math sections are combined to give you a math score on a 200-800 point scale. The reading comprehension and writing & language sections are combined to give you a verbal score also on a 200-800 point scale.

In addition to the overall SAT score, you will also have your essay score if you chose to take the optional section. Two different people will read and score your essay. Each reader will give you a score from 1-4 for each of three elements: reading, analysis, and overall writing. The two scores from each dimension from each reader are then added. In the end, you will receive three scores for the SAT essay one for each of the three elements ranging from 2-8 points.

The average SAT score across the US for the class of 2018 was a combined scored of 1068 with a perfect score being 1600 and the minimum score is of 400. The 73rd percentile composite SAT score was 1190, while a 90th percentile composite SAT score was 1340.

When are scores released?

The College Board is getting much faster in releasing and delivering SAT scores. Multiple-choice exam scores take about two weeks after taking the exam during the fall, winter, and early spring while summer scores take a few extra weeks.

Essay scores take about a full 5 business days after your multiple-choice scores are released. The College Board has estimated dates on when students should expect scores to be released based on exam test dates. Summer exam scores take longer to process because of the influx of test-takers, which leads to longer processing times. Yet, once scores are released colleges are expected to get your scores ten days after.

SAT Guide
Setting weekly study goals is essential to keep up with your SAT study schedule. (Photo by Iryna Tysiak on Unsplash)

A Good SAT Score

SAT scores alone will not get you into your dream school. Entrance to a college has to do with a lot more than just an entrance exam score. A good SAT score is just one of the multiple things college admission directors look for. An overall good high school GPA, course load difficulty, and extracurricular activities are other major parts of admissions.

An easy way to see how you stand in getting into your school of choice is by aiming for an SAT score that falls between the college’s 25th-75th percentiles of past admitted students. If your SAT score falls below the 25th percentile you still have a chance of getting in, but your other admission factors will have to be up to par. You might be a high school star athlete, have alumnae parents, or have achieved something exceptional which are all bigger elements than your overall SAT score.

Yet, if you are still aiming for a higher score, getting an SAT exam prep tutor might be a great way to boost your score. An SAT exam tutor can help you plan a specialized exam schedule aimed at the areas that you might want to score higher on. Online communities like Superprof offer an easy-to-use search database of SAT prep tutors across the USA. From face-to-face private tutoring to virtual sessions Superprof offers hundreds of tutors that fit your schedule, needs, and budget.

Need extra help preparing for the SAT with budget-friendly resources or just need exam revisioning tips? A private tutor can help and Superprof makes it fast and easy to find the perfect tutor match.

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A California desert-native who has a passion for baking from scratch, reading 1950-era novels, listening to soul/jazz, and global trotting.