About the SAT test
WHAT DOES THE SAT MEASURE?
The SAT is an aptitude test. Like all aptitude tests, it must choose
a medium in which to measure intellectual ability. The SAT has chosen math
The question is -- does it measure aptitude for college? The SAT's ability
to predict performance in college is only a little better than chance.
No test can measure all aspects of intelligence. Thus, any admission
test, no matter how well written, is inherently inadequate. Nevertheless,
some form of admission testing is necessary. It would be unfair to base
acceptance to college solely on grades; they can be misleading. For instance,
would it be fair to admit a student with an A average earned in easy classes
over a student with a B average earned in difficult classes? A school's
reputation is too broad a measure to use as admission criteria. Many students
seek out easy classes and generous instructors in hopes of inflating their
GPA. Furthermore, a system that would monitor the academic standards of
every class would be cost prohibitive and stifling. So, until a better
system is proposed, the admission test is here to stay.
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FORMAT OF THE SAT
The SAT is a three-hour and 45 minute test. Only three hours and twenty minutes of the
test count toward your score-- the experimental section is not scored.
There are ten sections in the test.
||Type of Questions
|Reading (3 sections)
||19 Sentence Completions
||48 Reading Comprehension
||67 Total Questions
|Writing (3 sections)
||49 Total Questions + Essay
|Math (3 sections)
||54 Total Questions
||Reading, Writing, or Math
NOTE: The order of the format is not fixed: the sections can occur in
The experimental section, which is not scored, can be a reading section,
a writing section, or a math section.
You won't know which section is experimental.
You will know which type of section it is, though, since there will be
an extra one of that type.
Because the "bugs" have not been worked out of the experimental section
-- or, to put it more directly, because you are being used as a guinea
pig to work out the "bugs" -- this portion of the SAT is often more difficult
and confusing than the other parts.
Knowing that the experimental section can be disproportionately difficult,
if you do poorly on a particular section, you can take some solace in the
hope that it may have been the experimental section. In other words, do
not allow one difficult section to discourage your performance on the rest
of the SAT.
Although time is strictly limited on the SAT, working too quickly can
damage your score. Many problems hinge on subtle points, and most require
careful reading of the set-up. Because high school can put heavy reading
loads on students, many will follow their academic conditioning and read
questions quickly, looking only for the gist of what each is asking. Once
they have found it, they mark their answer and move on, confident they
have answered it correctly. Later, many are startled to discover that they
missed questions because they either misread the problems or overlooked
To do well in your classes, you have to attempt to solve every, or nearly
every, problem on a test. Not so with the SAT. In fact, if you try to solve
every problem on this test you will probably decimate you score. For the
vast majority of people, the key to performing well on the SAT is not the
number of questions they answer, within reason, but the percentage they
SCORING THE SAT
The three parts of the test are scored independently. You will receive a reading score,
a writing score, and a math score. Each score ranges from 200 to 800, with a total test score
of 600-2400. The average score of each section is about 500. Thus, the total average score is
In addition to the scaled score, you will be assigned a percentile ranking,
which gives the percentage of students with scores below yours. For instance, if
you score in the 80th percentile, then you will have scored better than 80 out of
every 100 test takers.
SKIPPING AND GUESSING
Some questions on the SAT are rather hard. Most test takers should skip
these questions. We'll talk about how to identify hard questions as we
come to them.
Often students become obsessed with a particular problem and waste valuable
time trying to solve it. To get a top score, learn to cut your losses and
move on. All questions are worth the same number of points, regardless
of difficulty level. So skip the hardest questions and concentrate on the
easy and medium ones.
Although there is a small guessing penalty on the SAT, if you can eliminate
even one of the answer-choices, it is to your advantage to guess.
ORDER OF DIFFICULTY
Like most standardized tests, the SAT lists problems in ascending order
of difficulty. Therefore, when trying to decide which questions to skip,
skip the last ones.
NOTE: some SAT sections have subsections. Within these subsections,
the problems also ascend in order of difficulty. For example, one of
the writing sections has three subsections: error identification,
improving sentences, and improving paragraphs. So if the section
starts with improving sentences, then Question 1 will be the easiest
and Question 11 (the last of improving sentences questions) will be the hardest.
Then Question 12 (the first error identification question) will be the easiest, and so on.
THE "2 OUT OF 5" RULE
It is significantly harder to create a good but incorrect answer-choice
than it is to produce the correct answer. For this reason, usually only
two attractive answer-choices are offered: One correct; the other either
intentionally misleading or only partially correct. The other three answer-choices
are usually fluff. This makes educated guessing on the SAT immensely effective.
If you can dismiss the three fluff choices, your probability of answering
the question successfully will increase from 20% to 50%.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is the difference between the SAT and the PSAT?
The only difference between the SAT and the PSAT is the format. Indeed,
PSAT questions are taken from old SAT's. Hence, all the techniques that
apply to the SAT apply to the PSAT.
When is the SAT given?
The SAT is administered seven times a year -- usually in October, November,
December, January, March, May and June -- on Saturday mornings. Special
arrangements for schedule changes are available.
If I didn't mail in a registration form, may I still take the SAT?
On the day of the test, walk-in registration is available, but you must
call ETS in advance. You will be accommodated only if space is available
-- it usually is.
How important is the SAT and how is it used?
It is crucial! Although colleges may consider other factors, the majority
of admission decisions are based on only two criteria: your SAT score and
How many times should I take the SAT?
Most people are better off preparing thoroughly for the SAT, taking
it one time and getting their top score. You can take the test as often
as you like, but some schools will average your scores. You should call
the schools to which you are applying to find out their policy. Then plan
your stategy accordingly.
Can I cancel my score?
Yes. To do so, you must notify ETS within 5 days after taking the SAT.
Where can I get the registration forms?
Most high schools have the forms. You can also get them directly from
ETS by writing to:
Scholastic Assessment Test
Educational Testing Sevice
P.O. Box 6200
Princeton, NJ 08541
Or calling: (609) 771-7600