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SAT Exam Frequently Asked Questions

About SAT Exam

Exam Costs Test Day Scoring Scoring tables General
PSAT Questions:
What does the SAT cost? What about fee waivers?

The 2007-08 fee for the SAT Reasoning Test is $43. Students from lower-income families, that meet fee-waiver eligibility guidelines and cannot afford test fees, should see their counselor to request fee waivers. Fee waivers are not permitted with late registrations (except for the October test).

High school juniors or seniors who are eligible to receive an SAT fee waiver can order up to four additional flexible score reports at no additional charge, while they are in high school. These four additional flexible score reports for fee-waiver eligible students can be used at the time of registration to order additional score reports beyond those included with the registration fee. They can also be used to send scores after scores are reported. Only four flexible score reports for fee-waiver eligible students can be used, regardless of the number of times a student registers.
Students who have previously used a fee waiver to register for the SAT or Subject Tests automatically receive flexible score reports for fee-waiver eligible students. Students who meet our fee-waiver eligibility guidelines, but have not yet used a fee waiver to register, can still utilize the flexible score reports. Students should obtain a fee-waiver card from their counselors and use the fee-waiver code, listed on the card, to order additional reports at no cost.


How much time do I have to complete the SAT?

Unless otherwise instructed, you need to arrive at your assigned test center by 7:45 a.m. and testing should be completed between 12:30 and 1 p.m. The total testing time for the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes-not including breaks, check-in time, and pre-administration activities. The total time you should plan on being at the test center is approximately five hours.


May I bring something to eat or drink during the test?

Although for security reasons you cannot open or consume food or drinks during testing, you are encouraged to bring snacks in a book bag on test day. These snacks must be stowed under desks or chairs in the testing room. They can be consumed outside the testing room, in designated areas, during breaks.


Why can't I have more time to take the SAT?

Part of the test is the time crunch…most students don't have enough time to address the questions thoroughly. You have to learn how to maximize your effort with minimum of time available.

SAT says that studies are done to find out whether most students have enough time to attempt to answer all the questions in each test section and that these 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.

Students with Disabilities may request extended time for taking the SAT.


How are SAT scores reported?

The SAT has three scores, each on the scale of 200 to 800. Your score includes writing (W 200-800), mathematics (M 200-800), and critical reading (CR 200-800). Two subscores are given for the writing section: a multiple-choice subscore on a scale of 20-80, and an essay subscore on a scale of 2-12.


Can I find out more detailed information about my results?

All students have access to a free, more detailed, online score report on collegeboard.com. Using the online report, you can access a copy of your essay.

Beginning in fall 2007: In addition to providing access to your essay, the SAT online score report now shows you more about how you performed on each section of the SAT Reasoning Test. It gives you the types of questions, level of difficulty, and how many in each group of questions you answered correctly, incorrectly, or omitted. Percentile information has also been enhanced to give you better comparisons with other groups of test-takers.

For certain test dates, the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) is available for a fee. You can see the actual questions and correct answers, as well as whether you answered correctly, incorrectly, or omitted the question. QAS includes information on question types and levels of difficulty. You will have access to a copy of your essay via your free online score report.

For all other test dates, Student Answer Service (SAS) is available. SAS does not provide the actual questions, but it does send you a list of question types and difficulty levels, along with a description of how you answered the questions. Again, you will have access to a copy of your essay via your online score report.

Check the test calendar to determine whether your test date is eligible for QAS or SAS.


Is it true that you get a 200 on the SAT just for signing your name?

The College Board does not report scores that are lower than 200. In reality, they received a blank answer sheet, with only student identifying information filled in, 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. Sometimes there are slight differences in difficulty from test to test, but they do employ a statistical process called "equating" that helps ensure 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 SAT makers claim there is no truth that the SAT in one month, say in October, is easier than other months.


How many times can you take the test?

You can take the test as many times as you want. Your official mailed score report shows your current test score, in addition to scores for up to six SAT and six Subject Test administrations.


Can I Repeat the SAT?

Retaking the Test
You may be wondering if you should take the test again, and whether your scores will change if you do so. Here are some guidelines that may help you decide:
  • Research shows that the average student who retests increases his or her combined critical reading and mathematics scores by approximately 30 points.
  • Overall, 55% of juniors taking the test improved their scores as seniors, 35% had their scores decrease, and 10% had no change.
  • On average, juniors repeating the SAT as seniors improved their critical reading scores by about 12 points and their mathematics scores by about 13 points. About 1 in 25 gained 100 or more points on critical reading or mathematics, and about 1 in 90 lost 100 or more points
  • Your score report shows the percentage of students with the same critical reading or mathematics scores who scored higher, lower, and the same when they took the SAT again, as well as the average number of points gained or lost. Use this information when deciding whether or not to test again.


What do my SAT scores tell college admission staff about me?

Your SAT scores can tell admissions staff how well prepared you are for college-level academics. The scores also allow colleges to compare your college readiness with other students in a standardized way. That's because all scores are reported on the 200 to 800 scale. For example, if your scores are roughly 500 on each section, which is the mean (average) score, college admissions staff knows you scored about as well as half of the students who took the test.

The SAT is standardized across all students, schools, and states, providing a common 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 is 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.


Can the SAT really show how well I'll do in my first year of college?

Combined with your high school grades, the SAT is a good predictor of your success in college. No single piece of information can predict with 100 percent certainty what your grades will be in college. This is because many factors-including personal motivation-influence your college grades.



SAT Percentile Ranks

Critical Reading (Verbal) and Math Percentiles


What will I be asked to write about in the essay?

The essay question will ask you to develop a point of view on an issue and support it with examples from your studies and experience. You can answer the question successfully in many different ways. You won't have to have any prior knowledge about the topic to write an effective essay. However, you will have to answer the essay assignment directly. See Strategies for Success on the SAT Essay for more information on how to do your best on the SAT essay.


Will colleges see my essay?
How will they use the new writing score?
A college will be able to view and print a copy of your essay only if you sent an official score report to that college.
Writing scores may be used for admissions decisions and possibly for placement in English Composition or related courses. Check with individual colleges to see how they use your scores.


What about students with disabilities?

Students with disabilities, whose documentation has been validated by the College Board, will receive testing accommodations. Students with disabilities that necessitate the use of a computer for writing will be able to do so for the essay portion of the writing section. Learn more about Services for Students with Disabilities.


What do the initials "SAT" mean?

Originally, SAT was an abbreviation 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. In 2004, the numerals "I" and "II" were dropped and the tests are now named the SAT Reasoning Test (or just SAT) and SAT Subject Tests. SAT is a simple and recognizable way of referring to the SAT Reasoning Test.


What are the similarities and differences between the SAT and the PSAT/NMSQT®?

Both the SAT and the PSAT/NMSQT measure reasoning skills in critical reading, writing, and mathematics. The PSAT/NMSQT contains actual SAT questions, but it is designed to be slightly easier than the SAT. The PSAT/NMSQT is 2 hours and 10 minutes, whereas the SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. The SAT is used for college admissions, 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 the best practice for the SAT.


Are all SAT questions multiple-choice?

In addition to multiple-choice questions, the SAT has a 25-minute written essay and 10 student-produced response math questions. The math questions ask you to fill in, or "grid-in," your own answers using a special section of the answer sheet.


What's the difference between the SAT and Subject Tests?

The SAT measures the critical thinking skills you'll need for college. It assesses how well you analyze and solve problems. SAT scores are used for college admission purposes because colleges believe 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.


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.


Which test should I take?

To find out which test(s) you should take, contact the colleges you are interested in attending to determine admissions requirements and deadlines. Most colleges require either the SAT or ACT for admission. Additionally, some colleges require specific Subject Tests while others allow you to choose which tests you take. It's best to check directly with the college admissions offices.

However, college 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. A college may find 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 that school. Knowing your SAT scores and high school GPA helps the college make a decision about how likely it is that you'll succeed in college.


Why does the SAT have the kinds of questions that it does?

The SAT was designed so you can demonstrate your reasoning and problem-solving 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; they 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.


Do the questions on the SAT ask about the things I'm learning in my high school courses?

The SAT Reasoning Test shows how well you can use the content you are learning in school to solve problems. It is a measure of the critical thinking skills you'll need for academic success in college. The SAT assesses how well you analyze and solve problems-skills 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 irrelevant to your course work, however; the SAT is closely aligned with the type of skills being taught in the classroom and necessary for college success.


Who comes up with questions on the SAT or Subject Tests?

High school teachers and college professors, along with educational assessment experts, develop the questions on the SAT and Subject Tests. The committee members also set the test specifications and the types of questions that are asked, including topics and areas that should be covered. High school and college faculty and administrators review the test questions and make recommendations for improving them. Test questions are then tried out with high school students (pretested) before they show up on an actual SAT or Subject Test.


Who Creates The Exam

The Educational Testing Service (or ETS) is the world's largest private educational testing and measurement organization, operating on an annual budget of approximately $1.1 billion. ETS develops various standardized tests primarily in the United States for K-12 and higher education, but they also administer tests such as TOEFL and GRE internationally. Many of the assessments they develop are associated with entry to US undergraduate and graduate institutions.

ETS is a US-registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1947 to take over the operation of the Cooperative Test Service of the American Council of Education. Starting in 1937, this organization pioneered the use of mark sense technology and the IBM 805 Test Scoring Machine.

The international headquarters is located on an 376-acre estate outside of Princeton, New Jersey in Princeton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey; processing, shipping, customer service and test security is in nearby Ewing. ETS Europe is headquartered in Utrecht in the Netherlands. ETS employs about 2,700 individuals, including 240 with doctorates and an additional 350 others with "higher degrees."

Much of the work carried out by ETS is contracted by the private, not for profit firm, the College Board. The most popular of the College Board's tests is the SAT, taken by more than 3 million students annually.


When is the best time to start studying for the SAT?

It is never too early to start preparing for the SAT. Take the PSAT both in sophomore and junior years to familiarize yourself with the test format. By the time you take your "real" SAT in May or June of your junior year, you should be well prepared.


What Are The Differences Between The SAT And ACT?
  • The SAT is preferred on the coasts, while the ACT is more often used in the Midwest. However, each school has its own policies, and many schools accept both exams. You should check with every school to which you're considering applying.
  • The ACT has a Science section. If you hate science, this is a potential reason to avoid the ACT. However, you should realize that the Science section of the ACT tests reasoning skills and not actual science knowledge.
  • The essay is required on the SAT, but optional on the ACT. More importantly, the essay factors into your overall SAT score but not your composite ACT score.
  • There is no penalty for wrong answers on the ACT. However, this shouldn't affect your decision about which test to take.
  • All your SAT scores show up on every SAT report, but you can send only the ACT scores you want. So it's easier to hide bad ACT scores. However, most schools claim to look at only your highest score on a particular test. The biggest ramification of this difference is probably that it's harder to hide taking the SAT many times.
  • While the College Board would deny it, the SAT tends to work slightly more like an IQ test than does the ACT. The subject matter is no more advanced, but math is trickier and grammar concepts are harder to pin down. So at least marginally, good test-takers do better on the SAT while good students (including "grinders") do better on the ACT.

In the end, you'll need to take whichever test your prospective colleges require. But if those colleges will accept either exam, you should probably make a decision about where to focus most of your prep efforts. Still, don't forget that you can at least take both the SAT and the ACT. A lot of overlap exists between the exams, and at least attempting both of them may give you the best shot of getting the score you need.


How Do the SAT and ACT Compare?

ACT stands for American College Test.
It is a standardized examination for prospective college students developed by the University of Iowa. Although originally popular only in western states, colleges all over America now allow applicants to submit either the ACT or SAT I. The ACT is a better measure for students who have good recall of specific knowledge learned in school. It is less abstract than the SAT.

Look at an ACT review book to familiarize yourself with the content and structure of the test. Take a practice test of the ACT and the SAT I to see which format best highlights your talents.May the scores be with you!


Is there a penalty for guessing on the SAT?

The SAT does not penalize guessing, as long as it is an "educated guess". They take off 1/4 point for an incorrect answer, give a full point for a correct answer, but neither add nor subtract for a question that is not answered. Of course, if you leave too many blank, it will affect your score. But the SAT is definitely geared (4 to 1) in favor of credit for right answers.

Guessing is generally not a good strategy. The answers to SAT Verbal essay questions are usually contained in the passages. No outside knowledge is required although critical thinking skills should be well developed in order to extract the appropriate information. The Math SAT requires knowledge of certain levels of mathematics. If you do not know how to do the problem, guessing will probably not help.


I Am Overseas in the Military.
Where Can I Take the SAT and ACT?

The SAT and ACT are administered internationally. Contact the closest American Embassy and they will inform you of the testing sites closest to where you are stationed. They will also provide you with the testing dates.

You can obtain information regarding testing sites and dates in the USA and internationally at:



Can you take the SAT after high school?

You can take the SAT at any time, although it is most indicative of academic success when administered close to the date of high school graduation.



What exactly is the PSAT?

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a multiple-choice standardized test administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) in the United States.

An estimated 1.3 million high school juniors and sophomores take the test each year. Recently, some freshmen, 8th, and even 7th graders have also begun taking this test. The scores from the PSAT are used (with the permission of the student) to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Testing and scores
The test is composed of three sections: Mathematics, Critical Reading, and Writing, and takes two hours and ten minutes to complete. Each of the three sections is scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points, which add up to a maximum composite score of 240 points. This parallels the SAT, which is graded on a scale of 200 to 800 (the narrower range is to distinguish from which test a score comes and to denote less accuracy). However, unlike the SAT, the PSAT does not include higher-level mathematics (e.g., concepts from Algebra II) or an essay in its writing section.

The sum of the three scores is known as the Selection Index and is used, along with four general criteria for eligibility such as U.S. citizenship, for both preliminary and primary selection in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

The minimum Selection Index for recognition as a Semifinalist is determined by selection unit and is set by the NMSC in each at whatever score yields about the 99th percentile. While many people object to this, this is used instead of a national minimum to ensure an even geographical distribution of Semifinalists. Because it is dependent on selection unit, on the number of students taking the test in the selection unit, and how well the students in the selection unit do on the test, the minimum varies from year to year and from selection unit to selection unit. For example, in the most recent competition, minimum scores required for Semifinalist recognition ranged from 204 in Mississippi to 224 in Massachusetts, with an unweighted mean of 215.

Students not recognized as Semifinalists whose Selection Index is above a different limit are recognized as Commended Students and receive Letters of Commendation. This minimum is determined nationally and is set at whichever score yields the 96th percentile-about 202 to 2005 on average.

After being confirmed as a Semifinalist (which occurs one year after taking the PSAT as a junior), students must complete an application to become a Finalist. Other factors besides the PSAT Selection Index score are taken into account, such as the student's Grade Point Average (GPA) and extra-curricular activities. However, these criteria are not particularly rigorous, and simply completing the application is typically enough to advance to Finalist standing, since approximately 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists become Finalists.


Is taking the PSAT necessary?

If you are planning to take the SAT, the PSAT is good practice. The experience of taking a standardized test will help you understand your skills and timing. Also, the printout you receive of your correct and incorrect answers can give you good information about your strengths and weaknesses in time to prepare for the SAT. A small percentage of students who take the PSAT are recognized with Letters of Commendation, Semi-Finalist, or Finalist status. In addition to the honor, these awards can provide scholarships for college.