Frequently Asked Questions
- What does the SAT stand for?
- What are the similarities and differences between the SAT and the PSAT/NMSQT?
- Is it true that you get a 200 on the SAT just for signing your name?
- Are some SAT tests more difficult than other ones?
- Are all SAT questions multiple-choice?
- What's the difference between the SAT and Subject Tests?
- How many times can you take the test?
- What test should I take first, the SAT or the Subject Tests?
- Will the SAT Subject Test in Writing still be offered after the new SAT is introduced?
- Which test should I take?
- Why do I have to take the SAT and why is it required by so many colleges?
- What do my SAT scores tell college admission staff about me?
- Can the SAT really show how well I'll do in my first year of college?
- Why does the SAT have the kinds of questions that it does?
- Why don't the questions on the SAT ask about the things I'm learning in my high school courses?
- Who comes up with the questions?
- Why do some of the questions on the SAT seem so tricky? Are you trying to "catch" me?
- Why can't I have more time to take the SAT?
- If coaching for the SAT doesn't help, why are there so many test prep companies?
- What if I don't have money for a test preparation course? Doesn't that put me at a disadvantage compared to students who can afford to pay for them?
What does the SAT stand for?
Originally, SAT was an acronym for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In 1993, the test was renamed the SAT I: Reasoning Test. At the same time, the former Achievement Tests were renamed the SAT II: Subject Tests. SAT has become a simple way of referring to the SAT I: Reasoning Test. In 2004, the "I" and "II" were dropped, and the test became the SAT Reasoning Test, or more commonly, the SAT. The SAT II: Subject Tests became the SAT Subject Tests, or just Subject Tests.
What are the similarities and differences between the SAT and the PSAT/NMSQT?
Both the SAT and the PSAT/NMSQT measure verbal and math reasoning skills. The PSAT/NMSQT contains questions from actual SATs but it is designed to be slightly easier than the SAT. The PSAT/NMSQT also measures writing skills, with multiple-choice questions like those on the SAT Subject Tests in Writing, and like those that will be on the new SAT in March 2005. The PSAT/NMSQT is two hours and 10 minutes, whereas the SAT is a three-hour test. The SAT is used for college admission, but PSAT/NMSQT scores are not sent to colleges. The PSAT/NMSQT Score Report gives you personalized feedback on areas in which you could improve, along with specific advice on how to improve. Taking the PSAT/NMSQT gives you a chance to qualify for scholarship and recognition programs and is a good way to practice for the SAT.
Is it true that you get a 200 on the SAT just for signing your name?
Theoretically speaking, if you just sign your name and don't complete the answer sheet, you would get a score of 200. That's because we don't report scores that are lower than 200. In reality, if we received an answer sheet that wasn't filled out, it would be considered an automatic request to cancel scores and no scores would be reported.
Are some SAT tests more difficult than other ones?
All editions of the SAT are developed using the same test specifications. Even if there are tiny differences in difficulty from test to test, a statistical process called "equating" ensures that a score for a test taken on one date or at one place is equivalent to a score for a test taken on another date or in another place. The rumors that the SAT in one month, say in October, is easier, are false.
Are all SAT questions multiple-choice?
All of the SAT is multiple-choice except for 10 student-produced response math questions. These questions ask you to fill in or "grid-in" your own answers using a special section of the answer sheet. . In March 2005, the new SAT will contain a 25-minute written essay. Read more about the new SAT.
What's the difference between the SAT and Subject Tests?
The SAT is a three-hour test that measures verbal and mathematical skills. SAT scores are used for college admission purposes because the test predicts college success. The Subject Tests are one-hour, primarily multiple-choice tests in specific subjects. Subject Tests measure knowledge or skills in a particular subject and your ability to apply that knowledge.
How many times can you take the test?
You can take the test as many times as you want. Your score report shows your current test score, in addition to scores for up to six SAT and six Subject Test administrations.
What test should I take first, the SAT or the Subject Tests?
Most students take the SAT in the spring of their junior year and again in the fall of their senior year of high school. Most students who take Subject Tests take them toward the end of their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year. Because Subject Tests are directly related to course work, it's helpful to take tests such as World History, Biology E/M, Chemistry, or Physics as soon as possible after completing the course in the subject, even as a freshman or sophomore, while the material is still fresh in your mind. You'll do better on other tests like languages after at least two years of study.
Will the SAT Subject Test in Writing still be offered after the new SAT is introduced?
When the new SAT is introduced in March 2005, all students will be required to take a test with a writing section. For this reason, the Subject Test in Writing will no longer be offered after January 22, 2005. Read more about the new SAT.
Which test should I take?
To find out which test(s) you should take, contact the colleges you are interested in attending or use our College Search to determine admissions requirements and deadlines. Most colleges require the SAT I for admission and many other schools require both the SAT and Subject Tests for admission purposes or placement. Additionally, some colleges require specific Subject Test tests while others allow you to choose which tests you take. It's best to check directly with the school. If you're uncertain about your readiness to take a specific Subject Test, see Which Subject Test to Take.
Why do I have to take the SAT and why is it required by so many colleges?
You may have to take the test because it is an admission requirement of the college you are interested in attending.
Many colleges require the SAT for admission because it is a standard way of measuring a student's ability to do college-level work.
The SAT is the best independent, standardized measure of a student's college readiness. It is standardized across all students, schools, and states, providing a common and objective scale for comparison. High school grades are a very useful indicator of how students perform in college, yet there is great variation in grading standards and course rigor within and across high schools.
Remember, too, that the SAT in only one of a number of factors that colleges consider when making admission decisions. Other factors, like your high school record, essays, recommendations, interviews, and extracurricular activities, also play a role in admission decisions.
What do my SAT scores tell college admission staff about me?
Your SAT scores can tell admission staff how you compare with other students who took the test. That's because all scores are reported on the 200-to-800 scale. For example, if your verbal and math scores were about 500, which is the average score, then college admission staff would know you scored about as well as half of the students who took the test.
Can the SAT really show how well I'll do in my first year of college?
No test can accurately predict with 100 percent certainty what your grades will be in college. That's because many factors, including personal motivation, influence your college grades.
However, colleges admissions offices use SAT scores to help estimate how well students are likely to do at a particular college. For example, a college looks at the SAT scores, high school grade-point average (GPA), and college grades of its freshman class. The college finds that students who scored between 450 and 550 on the SAT and maintained a "B" average in high school are the students who perform well at its school. Knowing your SAT scores and high school GPA helps the college make a decision about how likely it is that you'll do well at the school.
Why does the SAT have the kinds of questions that it does?
The SAT measures verbal and math reasoning abilities. These abilities relate to some of the things you need to know to be successful in college.
The SAT was designed with questions that reflect or show your reasoning abilities, not just the amount of information you've accumulated during school. As an example, many math items can be answered by using complex equations, but they can also be answered correctly if you can reason through the problem. Reading passages don't just test that you can read but require extended reasoning in order to answer the questions related to the passage. This means that you have to be able to make inferences, assumptions, and interpretations based on the passage provided, in order to understand what the author is trying to say.
Why don't the questions on the SAT ask about the things I'm learning in my high school courses?
The SAT measures verbal and math reasoning abilities that you develop over years of schooling and in your outside reading and study. The test is designed to allow you to demonstrate your abilities in these areas regardless of the particular type of instruction you've received or textbooks you've used. These important abilities — understanding and analyzing written material, drawing inferences, differentiating shades of meaning, drawing conclusions, and solving math problems — are necessary for success in college and life in general. This doesn't mean that the SAT is irrelavent to your course work, however. In March 2005, the new SAT will align more closely with the type of skills being taught in the classroom and necessary for college success. Read more about the new SAT.
Who comes up with the questions?
Test Development Committees comprised of educators and subject-matter experts determine the test specifications and the types of questions that are asked, including topics and areas that should be covered. Internal test developers write the questions, which are then submitted to another test committee, made up of high school and college faculty and administrators, which reviews the test questions and makes recommendations for improving them, if needed. Some test questions are also submitted by high school and college teachers from around the country.
Why do some of the questions on the SAT seem so tricky? Are you trying to "catch" me?
The test questions are not designed to be tricky! But there are some difficult questions that require careful attention and figuring out. Many have incorrect answers that look good at first glance or that will seem correct if you don't pay attention. But the questions are not designed to "catch" you.
Why can't I have more time to take the SAT?
Much effort is made so that most students are given enough time to attempt every question on the test. But even if more time were given, not all students would be able to answer all the questions.
Studies are done to find out whether most students have enough time to attempt to answer all the questions in each test section. These studies show that time limits are appropriate if all students taking the test answer 75 percent of the questions in each section and if 80 percent reach the last question in the section. Based on studies like these, the time limits are appropriate for the majority of the students.
Students with Disabilities may request extended time for taking the SAT.
If coaching for the SAT doesn't help, why are there so many test prep companies?
While trying to learn "tricks" to answer the question will not help you, there are things you can do to prepare for the test. The best way to prepare for the SAT is to take challenging academic courses and work hard in school. It's a fact that students who have taken challening academic courses and have earned good grades receive, on average, higher scores than students who have taken fewer academic courses and have lower grades.
We recommend these basic ways to prepare:
- Take the PSAT/NMSQT.
- Spend time going over sample questions.
- Review the directions, learn to pace yourself, and study the types of questions in the SAT I.
- Take the sample SAT Reasoning Test provided in Taking the SAT Reasoning Test, which is available in the SAT Preparation Center or in your high school-see your school counselor for a copy.
What if I don't have money for a test preparation course? Doesn't that put me at a disadvantage compared to students who can afford to pay for them?
The best preparation for the SAT is taking challenging academic courses and working hard at them. There are other things you can do to prepare for the test that are free:
- Get a free copy of Taking the SAT Reasoning Test from the SAT Preparation Center or from your school counselor's office. This booklet provides test-taking tips, hints to help you get ready, and a complete test.
- Know the test directions and be familiar with the answer sheet (all this is included in Taking the SAT Reasoning Test).
- Read extensively from a variety of books and journals.
- Test preparation materials like the College Board's 10 Real SATs are available for loan at your school and public library — check them out.