About the SAT

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to frequently asked questions and everything you need to know about the SAT exam.


What is the SAT?

The SAT is a standardized, mostly multiple-choice exam required for admission to most undergraduate universities in the United States. The SAT tests basic writing, critical reading, and math skills in a three-hour and fifty minutes test.

As is the case with most standardized tests, performing well on the SAT requires a combination of both knowledge and strategy. Students need to be familiar with grammar and math rules, but they also need to know how to manage all four sections effectively in order to maximize their score. An efficient, strategic test-taker will score much better than an otherwise bright, studious person who finds it difficult to enter the unique mindset of the SAT. So whatever your strengths, it makes sense to maximize your ability to take the test.

How is the SAT structured?

The revised SAT consists of four required sections: Reading, Writing, and two Math sections (one with a calculator and one without). There is also an optional Essay section, although most competitive schools will also require this section. All the multiple choice questions are weighted equally within each section, though they range from very easy to very difficult.

Reading: 5 passages, 52 questions, 65 minutes

Writing: 4 passages, 44 questions, 35 minutes

Math: Calculator-allowed section:3 8 questions, 55 minutes

Math: No calculator section: 20 questions, 25 minutes

Essay: One prompt, 50 minutes

How is the SAT scored?

The new SAT has a complicated scoring system. Students will receive three test scores ranging from 10 to 40 for Reading, Writing, and Math. Test scores for Reading and Writing will be combined to create an area score for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing on a scale of 200-800. The test score for Math will also be converted into an area score for this section, using the same 200-800 scale. The two area scores will then be added together to create a composite score on a scale of 400-1600. The essay will be scored separately on a scale of 1-4 for each of three dimensions (reading, analysis, and writing), but the essay score will not be factored into the composite score.

Along with these scores, the new SAT will also report two cross-test scores and seven subscores. The cross-test scores will be for Analysis in Science and Analysis in History/Social Studies, and will be on a scale of 10 to 40. The subscores will be based on specific question types within each section of the SAT, and will be on a scale of 1 to 15. These subscores will be in the following areas: Words in Context, Command of Evidence, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math.

All of these cross-test scores and subscores may be confusing for you, but please keep in mind that they will also probably be confusing for college admissions personnel for the next year or so, until they become familiar with the scoring system of the new SAT. The most important scores that colleges will focus on will be the area scores and the composite score.

What's a good SAT score?

The new SAT, like the old version of the exam, is intended to produce a median score (50th percentile) of 500 for each of the two areas: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math. For the most selective schools (e.g. Ivy League, Stanford, Pomona), applicants will probably need a composite score of 1400 or better, while slightly less selective schools (e.g. UW, Chapman, UCSD) will probably want to see composite scores of 1250 or better. Composite scores in the 1050-1100 range should be competitive at state schools such as Western Washington University or Oregon State University.

When should I take the SAT?

The SAT is offered seven times each year: March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. We recommend you take the SAT no later than March of your junior year, so that you have the option of retaking the test in the late spring or fall. However, no student should take the test before he or she has had time to adequately prepare for the exam.

Sandweiss Test Prep offers courses year-round in both Seattle and Bellevue for every test date. See our SAT course page for more info.

How do I register for the SAT?

The easiest way to register for the SAT is online at the College Board website. The current cost of the test is $46 with the optional essay, and $60 without the essay; these fees can be paid online with a credit card. You can also register by mail, either by going to the College Board site or with registration materials found in the offices of most high school counselors. For a fee you can change your test date if necessary.

What about the SAT subject tests?

SAT Subject Tests, are a series of 20 subject-specific standardized tests that are offered throughout the year. The subjects include many typical high school subjects, such as French, History, Literature, and Biology. You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on a single test date. Many selective universities recommend the submission of at least two SAT Subject Test scores.

Sandweiss Test Prep offers private tutoring for nearly all 20 subject tests. Find out more about our private tutoring options here.