Scholastic Aptitude Test
The SAT (/ˌɛsˌeɪˈtiː/ ess-ay-TEE) is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. Since its debut in 1926, its name and scoring have changed several times; originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, it was later called the Scholastic Assessment Test, then the SAT I: Reasoning Test, then the SAT Reasoning Test, then simply the SAT.
The SAT is wholly owned, developed, and published by the College Board, a private, not-for-profit organization in the United States. It is administered on behalf of the College Board by the Educational Testing Service, which until recently developed the SAT as well. The test is intended to assess students’ readiness for college. The SAT was originally designed not to be aligned with high school curricula, but several adjustments were made for the version of the SAT introduced in 2016, and College Board president, David Coleman, has said that he also wanted to make the test reflect more closely what students learn in high school with the new Common Core standards.
The SAT takes three hours to finish and as of 2019 costs US$49.50 (US$64.50 with the optional essay), excluding late fees, with additional processing fees if the SAT is taken outside the United States. Scores on the SAT range from 400 to 1600, combining test results from two 200-to-800-point sections: Mathematics, and Critical Reading and Writing. Although taking the SAT, or its competitor the ACT, is required for freshman entry to many colleges and universities in the United States, during the 2010s, many institutions made these entrance exams optional, but this did not stop the students from attempting to score high as they and their parents are skeptical of what “optional” means in this context. In fact, the test-taking population was increasing steadily. And while this may have resulted in a long-term decline in scores, experts cautioned against using this to gauge the scholastic levels of the entire U.S. population.
Starting with the 2015–16 school year, the College Board began working with Khan Academy to provide free SAT preparation. On January 19, 2021, the College Board announced that the discontinuation of the optional essay section after June 2021.
The SAT is typically taken by high school juniors and seniors. The College Board states that the SAT is intended to measure literacy, numeracy, and writing skills that are needed for academic success in college. They state that the SAT assesses how well the test-takers analyze and solve problems—skills they learned in school that they will need in college. However, the test is administered under a tight time limit (speeded) to help produce a range of scores.
The College Board also states that the use of the SAT in combination with high school grade point average (GPA) provides a better indicator of success in college than high school grades alone, as measured by college freshman GPA. Various studies conducted over the lifetime of the SAT show a statistically significant increase in correlation between high school grades and college freshman grades when the SAT is factored in. A large independent validity study on the SAT’s ability to predict college freshman GPA was performed by the University of California. The results of this study found how well various predictor variables could explain the variance in college freshman GPA. It found that independently high school GPA could explain 15.4% of the variance in college freshman GPA, SAT I (the SAT Math and Verbal sections) could explain 13.3% of the variance in college freshman GPA, and SAT II (also known as the SAT subject tests—in the UC’s case specifically Writing, Mathematics IC or IIC, plus a third subject test of the student’s choice) could explain 16% of the variance in college freshman GPA. When high school GPA and the SAT I were combined, they explained 20.8% of the variance in college freshman GPA. When high school GPA and the SAT II were combined, they explained 22.2% of the variance in college freshman GPA. When SAT I was added to the combination of high school GPA and SAT II, it added a .1 percentage point increase in explaining the variance in college freshman GPA for a total of 22.3%.
There are substantial differences in funding, curricula, grading, and difficulty among U.S. secondary schools due to U.S. federalism, local control, and the prevalence of private, distance, and home schooled students. SAT (and ACT) scores are intended to supplement the secondary school record and help admission officers put local data—such as course work, grades, and class rank—in a national perspective.
Historically, the SAT was more widely used by students living in coastal states and the ACT was more widely used by students in the Midwest and South; in recent years, however, an increasing number of students on the East and West coasts have been taking the ACT. Since 2007, all four-year colleges and universities in the United States that require a test as part of an application for admission will accept either the SAT or ACT and over 950 four-year colleges and universities do not require any standardized test scores at all for admission.
The SAT has four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calculator), and Math (calculator allowed). The test taker was also optionally able to write an essay which, in that case, is the fifth test section. The total time for the scored portion of the SAT is three hours (or three hours and fifty minutes if the optional essay section was taken). Some test-takers who are not taking the essay may also have a fifth section, which is used, at least in part, for the pretesting of questions that may appear on future administrations of the SAT. (These questions are not included in the computation of the SAT score.) Two section scores result from taking the SAT: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math. Section scores are reported on a scale of 200 to 800, and each section score is a multiple of ten. A total score for the SAT is calculated by adding the two section scores, resulting in total scores that range from 400 to 1600. There is no penalty for guessing on the SAT: scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly. In addition to the two section scores, three “test” scores on a scale of 10 to 40 are reported, one for each of Reading, Writing and Language, and Math, with an increment of 1 for Reading / Writing and Language, and 0.5 for Math. The essay, if taken, was scored separately from the two section scores. The optional essay will not be offered after the June 2021 administration. College Board said it would discontinue the essay section because “there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing,” including the test’s reading and writing portion. It also acknowledged that SARS-CoV-2 had played a role in the change, accelerating a process already underway.
The Reading Test of the SAT contains one section of 52 questions and a time limit of 65 minutes. All questions are multiple-choice and based on reading passages. Tables, graphs, and charts may accompany some passages, but no math is required to correctly answer the corresponding questions. There are five passages (up to two of which may be a pair of smaller passages) on the Reading Test and 10-11 questions per passage or passage pair. SAT Reading passages draw from three main fields: history, social studies, and science. Each SAT Reading Test always includes one passage from U.S. or world literature; one passage from either a U.S. founding document or a related text; one passage about economics, psychology, sociology, or another social science; and, two science passages. Answers to all of the questions are based only on the content stated in or implied by the passage or passage pair.
Writing and Language Test
The Writing and Language Test of the SAT is made up of one section with 44 multiple-choice questions and a time limit of 35 minutes. As with the Reading Test, all questions are based on reading passages which may be accompanied by tables, graphs, and charts. The test taker will be asked to read the passages, suggest corrections or improvements for the contents underlined. Reading passages on this test range in content from topic arguments to nonfiction narratives in a variety of subjects. The skills being evaluated include: increasing the clarity of argument; improving word choice; improving analysis of topics in social studies and science; changing a sentence or word structure to increase organizational quality and impact of writing; and, fixing or improving sentence structure, word usage, and punctuation.
An example of an SAT “grid-in” math question and the correctly gridded answer.
The mathematics portion of the SAT is divided into two sections: Math Test – Calculator and Math Test – No Calculator. In total, the SAT math test is 80 minutes long and includes 58 questions: 45 multiple choice questions and 13 grid-in questions. The multiple-choice questions have four possible answers; the grid-in questions are free-response and require the test taker to provide an answer.
- The Math Test – No Calculator section has 20 questions (15 multiple choice and 5 grid-in) and lasts 25 minutes.
- The Math Test – Calculator section has 38 questions (30 multiple choice and 8 grid-in) and lasts 55 minutes.
Several scores are provided to the test taker for the math test. A subscore (on a scale of 1 to 15) is reported for each of three categories of math content: “Heart of Algebra” (linear equations, systems of linear equations, and linear functions), “Problem Solving and Data Analysis” (statistics, modeling, and problem-solving skills), and “Passport to Advanced Math” (non-linear expressions, radicals, exponentials and other topics that form the basis of more advanced math). A test score for the math test is reported on a scale of 10 to 40, with an increment of 0.5, and a section score (equal to the test score multiplied by 20) is reported on a scale of 200 to 800.
All scientific and most graphing calculators, including Computer Algebra System (CAS) calculators, are permitted on the SAT Math – Calculator section only. All four-function calculators are allowed as well; however, these devices are not recommended. All mobile phone and smartphone calculators, calculators with typewriter-like (QWERTY) keyboards, laptops, and other portable computers, and calculators capable of accessing the Internet are not permitted.
Research was conducted by the College Board to study the effect of calculator use on SAT I: Reasoning Test math scores. The study found that performance on the math section was associated with the extent of calculator use: those using calculators on about one-third to one-half of the items averaged higher scores than those using calculators more or less frequently. However, the effect was “more likely to have been the result of able students using calculators differently than less able students rather than calculator use per se.” There is some evidence that the frequent use of a calculator in school outside of the testing situation has a positive effect on test performance compared to those who do not use calculators in school.
Style of questions
Most of the questions on the SAT, except for the optional essay and the grid-in math responses, are multiple choice; all multiple-choice questions have four answer choices, one of which is correct. Thirteen of the questions on the math portion of the SAT (about 22% of all the math questions) are not multiple choice. They instead require the test taker to bubble in a number in a four-column grid.
All questions on each section of the SAT are weighted equally. For each correct answer, one raw point is added. No points are deducted for incorrect answers. The final score is derived from the raw score; the precise conversion chart varies between test administrations.
The SAT is offered seven times a year in the United States: in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. For international students SAT is offered four times a year: in October, December, March, and May. The test is typically offered on the first Saturday of the month for the October, November, December, May, and June administrations. The test was taken by 2,198,460 high school graduates in the class of 2020.
Candidates wishing to take the test may register online at the College Board’s website or by mail at least three weeks before the test date.
The SAT costs US$49.50 (£39.50, €43.50) (US$64.50 with the optional essay), plus additional fees of over US$45 if testing outside the United States as of 2019. The College Board makes fee waivers available for low-income students. Additional fees apply for late registration, standby testing, registration changes, scores by telephone, and extra score reports (beyond the four provided for free).
Accommodation for candidates with disabilities
Students with verifiable disabilities, including physical and learning disabilities, are eligible to take the SAT with accommodations. The standard time increase for students requiring additional time due to learning disabilities or physical handicaps is time + 50%; time + 100% is also offered.
Scaled scores and percentiles
Students receive their online score reports approximately two to three weeks after test administration (longer for mailed, paper scores). Included in the report is the total score (the sum of the two section scores, with each section graded on a scale of 200–800) and three subscores (in reading, writing, and analysis, each on a scale of 2–8) for the optional essay. Students may also receive, for an additional fee, various score verification services, including (for select test administrations) the Question and Answer Service, which provides the test questions, the student’s answers, the correct answers, and the type and difficulty of each question.
In addition, students receive two percentile scores, each of which is defined by the College Board as the percentage of students in a comparison group with equal or lower test scores. One of the percentiles called the “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile”, uses as a comparison group all 11th and 12th graders in the United States, regardless of whether or not they took the SAT. This percentile is theoretical and is derived using methods of statistical inference. The second percentile, called the “SAT User Percentile”, uses actual scores from a comparison group of recent United States students that took the SAT. For example, for the school year 2019-2020, the SAT User Percentile was based on the test scores of students in the graduating classes of 2018 and 2019 who took the SAT (specifically, the 2016 revision) during high school. Students receive both types of percentiles for their total score as well as their section scores.[45
SAT Subject Test Areas
Learn about the math tests, offered at two levels—and answer practice questions.
Learn about tests in biology, chemistry, physics—and answer practice questions.
Learn about the literature test—and answer practice questions.
Learn about tests in U.S. and world history—and answer practice questions.
Learn about tests in nine languages—and answer practice questions.
- Spanish with Listening
- French with Listening
- Chinese with Listening
- German with Listening
- Modern Hebrew
- Japanese with Listening
- Korean with Listening
Subject Tests Overview
SAT Subject Tests are college admission exams on specific subjects. These are the only national admission tests where you choose the tests that best showcase your strengths and interests.
- There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics, and science. See the subjects.
- Each Subject Test is an hour long. They are all multiple-choice and scored on a 200–800 scale.
- Subject Tests test you on your knowledge of subjects on a high school level. The best way to prepare is to take the relevant courses and work hard in them.
When, Where, and How
- SAT Subject Tests are generally given six times in any given school year, on the same days and in the same test centers as the SAT — but not all 20 tests are offered on every SAT date. Find out when specific tests will be given.
- You can take one, two, or three Subject Tests on any test date.
- You can’t take the SAT and an SAT Subject Test on the same day.
- Some SAT Subject Tests require you to bring special equipment — for example, CD players for Language with Listening tests.
- You choose what tests to take when you register, but on test day, you can add, subtract, or switch tests — with some limitations.