What is the SAT?

September 14, 2021

The SAT Reasoning Test is a standardized test that is required for college admission by many colleges and universities in the United States. More colloquially, the test is usually just called “the SAT,” and the letters are actually a pseudo-acronym, meaning that they don't stand for anything. As an alternative to this test, some colleges allow students to take the ACT, another standardized test, and some schools have an “SAT optional” policy, meaning that students may submit scores, but they are not required.

The first form of the SAT was administered in 1901, when the College Board tested just under 1,000 students. The College Board continues to manage the test today, along with an assortment of other standardized tests used in university admissions; the test itself is designed and published by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Since 1901, it has undergone a number of changes that were designed to streamline the testing process and to compensate for shifts in the education system. As of 2012, the last major overhaul was in 2005, when the ETS retooled the SAT in response to harsh criticism from the University of California system, which considered dropping the test from their admission requirements.

The current SAT includes three sections, each of which can earn a maximum score of 800 and a minimum score of 200. For the test-taker's final score, the College Board adds the three scores together; typically, a percentile is included with the score, calculated on the basis of scores from students who took comparable tests. Traditionally, top-flight universities such as the Ivy Leagues have demanded very high SAT scores from their applicants.

SAT Reasoning Test

The first section of the SAT is mathematics, which is divided into three sections. Most of the questions have multiple choice answers, although several questions require test-takers to fill in their numerical answers on an optical answer sheet. The next section is critical reading, which requires test-takers to read short passages and fill out the correct responses to multiple choice questions. Students must also be able to fill in the blanks in sentences using a list of word choices, demonstrating vocabulary skills. Finally, the writing section requires students to write a brief essay, and to respond to questions which test the writing and editing skills of the test-taker.

Sitting for the SAT takes around four hours, including scheduled breaks. Students may also opt to take up to three subject tests known as SAT-IIs when they sit for the regular exam. These subject tests can be used to demonstrate particular skills to a college, or to bypass entry level courses in these subjects, depending on college policies. In the United States, the test is offered seven times a year; it can also be taken at test centers overseas, for students who wish to apply to American colleges.

Looking for a private one-on-one SAT test prep? Speak with our academic advisor to get custom matched with your online tutor today!

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