About the SAT test


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 and English.
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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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.

Section Type of Questions Length
Reading (3 sections) 19 Sentence Completions  
  48 Reading Comprehension 70 minutes
  67 Total Questions  
Writing (3 sections) 49 Grammar  
  1 Essay 60 minutes
  49 Total Questions + Essay  
Math (3 sections) 44 Multiple-choice
10 Grid-ins 70 minutes
  54 Total Questions  
Experimental Reading, Writing, or Math 25 minutes

NOTE: The order of the format is not fixed: the sections can occur in any order.
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 subtle points.
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 answer correctly.


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 about 1500.
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.


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.


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.
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%.


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 your GPA.
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

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