What Is the SAT and How to Apply for an SAT Test in 2023?

MBA, MiM, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS, and now SAT — when will the ongoing battle between students and acronyms end? And who will come on top?

All jokes aside, there are numerous tests, degree types and just as many acronyms out there. And they can make life very confusing for students, especially during the stressful process of applying to a university.

So, what is the SAT? Do you really need it? And how can you apply for the SAT test? We’ll answer these questions and more below.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is a paper-based test often used by many universities and colleges (mainly in the United States) to evaluate their candidates. You’ll generally find SAT scores mentioned as requirements for applying to degrees in the States.

Although initially, the SAT was an acronym for ‘Scholastic Assessment Test’, now the full title is the SAT Reasoning Test, most often referred to as the SAT.

The College Board offers the SAT, and the primary purpose of the test is to evaluate your high school knowledge and determine if you’ve got the necessary skills to succeed in college. We’ve used the term ‘college’ because, in the US, people use it even if they refer to ‘university’.

What is the structure of the SAT?

The SAT is divided into 2 main sections plus an optional one:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: Reading Test, Writing & Language Test
  • Math Test
  • SAT Essay (optional)

The SAT takes 3 hours to complete without the optional section and 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay section. Now, let’s look at each part individually:

Reading Test: 65 minutes

The main goal of the reading section is to evaluate how well you can pay attention, process, and use (new) information. The test doesn’t involve memorising words or facts, and candidates don’t need to have previous knowledge about the topics (which can be literary or informational).

You will have 65 minutes to answer 52 multiple-choice questions. Based on their type, we can divide the questions into 3 main categories:

  • questions that evaluate your ability to understand what a passage says directly or indirectly
  • questions that evaluate your ability to understand how a message or idea is transmitted
  • questions that evaluate your ability to draw conclusions and make connections between different paragraphs, ideas, or graphs (e.g. charts, tables)

Learn more about the reading section and check out sample questions.

Writing and Language Test: 35 minutes

The main goal of this section is to evaluate how well you can find and fix errors in order to improve the overall quality of a text (which can be narrative, argumentative, or explanatory).

Just like the previous section, you don’t need any prior knowledge of the Writing and Language Test topics.

You will have 35 minutes to answer 44 multiple-choice questions. The main topics in the passages you will read (and then edit) are from these areas: careers, science, humanities, and history or social studies.

Based on their type, we can divide these multiple-choice questions into 2 main categories:

  • questions that evaluate your ability to improve the flow of ideas and how they are organised, as well as the language effectiveness and clarity
  • questions that evaluate your ability to identify and correct errors related to grammar, structure, punctuation, and word usage

Learn more about the writing & language section and check out sample questions.

Math Test: 80 minutes

The main goal of this section is to evaluate how well you can use math practices, algebra, and strategic tools to solve problems. Your performance in this section will reflect your ability to solve problems in Science or Math classes (in college) or in your future professional and personal life.

This part is divided into 2 subsections:

  • Math Test – Calculator: 55 minutes to answer 38 questions
  • Math Test – No Calculator: 25 minutes to answer 25 questions

For the first subsection, you are allowed to bring and use a calculator (to clarify, a pocket calculator, not the calculator app on a smartphone). However, you might find that you won’t need it for all the questions. For the second subsection, you aren’t allowed to use any calculator.

Out of all the questions in the Math Test, around 80% are multiple-choice. Based on their type, we can divide them into 3 main categories:

  • questions that evaluate your ability to work with and solve algebraic equations
  • questions that evaluate your ability to work with graphs, tables, ratios, percentages, and reasoning to solve real-world issues
  • questions that evaluate your ability to work with more complex mathematic equations and functions

Learn more about the math section and check out sample questions.

SAT preparation materials

SAT Essay: 50 minutes

The main goal of this optional section is to evaluate your ability to use language and analytical skills to write an essay. The task will involve explaining how the author of a passage or a short text builds their argument. The topic will be general, so no prior knowledge is necessary.

At the end, your essay will reveal:

  • how well you can understand a text and its main points (both direct and implied)
  • how well you can analyse one or multiple points or arguments (e.g. how they are expressed, what methods are used)
  • how well you can structure and write your essay (e.g. paragraph structure, linking ideas, use of grammar)

Learn more about the essay section and check out sample questions.

How to prepare for the SAT?

The SAT doesn’t aim to be an obstacle in your university or college application. The test itself evaluates skills and knowledge that are part of the educational curriculum.

What we’re trying to say is… as long as you’ve paid attention in classes previously and you’ve done your homework, projects, and assignments, the SAT shouldn’t feel like a challenge but rather like a re-encounter with familiar concepts.

That being said, various materials are available to help you prepare for this test:

  • SAT Practice on Khan Academy: free materials, including video lessons, full practice tests, and personalised feedback
  • SAT Practice Tests: free full practice tests by College Board that you can download and work on at your own pace
  • SAT Sample Questions: free sample questions by College Board which you can use to determine your current level and where you need to improve or study more
  • SAT Sample Study Plan: free sample study plan by College Board to show how you can start preparing for the SAT in an organised and disciplined way

How to apply for the SAT?

The registration deadline for an SAT test is usually 5 weeks before the test itself. This leaves enough time for late registrations or changes in case the initial registration contains errors.

You can check out the SAT test days for 2021-2023 on the official College Board website. Those who want to apply outside the US should check out the international registration.

You should first find the closest test centre in your area and determine which date works best for you. Afterwards, you can apply for the SAT online by creating a free College Board account. Make sure all the information you enter is up-to-date and valid.

The SAT registration fee is 55 USD in the US, but you might pay additional fees if you apply in other countries.

How does an SAT test day look like?

  • Test centres open at 7:45 in the morning; if you’re late or absent, you can reschedule
  • The SAT test itself starts between 8:30–9:00; you will be assigned a seat and given all the necessary instructions (e.g. don’t skip sections)
  • You will only have 2 breaks: one of 10 minutes and one of 5 minutes; during those, you can quickly eat or drink; you cannot access your smartphone or other devices during this break
  • If you don’t take the essay, you should finish around 12 o’clock. If you do take the essay, you will finish around 12:50–13:00.

What to bring on the SAT test day

Make sure you have all these items (and ideally spares) on your SAT test day:

  • a valid ID with photo
  • the admission ticket you should print after the online SAT registration
  • a pocket calculator (make sure it is approved)
  • two No. 2 pencils with erasers

Learn more about the requirements you need to meet on test day and check out the international requirements if you take the test outside the US.

SAT scores

The total SAT scores range between 400 and 1,600:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections: 200-800
  • Math section: 200-800
  • Essay section: three scores that range between 2-8. Scores for the essay section, which is optional, are provided separately and don’t impact the other scores.

One of the most common questions is: “What is a good SAT score?” And the most straightforward answer is a good SAT score is one that will get you into the university or college of your dreams.

This is why you should already know the minimum SAT score accepted by your favourite universities and aim to at least match that. Of course, the higher the score, the better. Just to have a general idea:

  • 1,050 (around 500 in both sections) is an average SAT score
  • 1,100–1,200 (around 550-600 in both sections) is an above-average SAT score
  • 1,250–1,350 (around 650 per section) is considered a good SAT score
  • 1,300–1,450 is considered a very good SAT score
  • 1,400–1,500 is considered a great SAT score

Learn more about how the SAT is scored and how to interpret your results.

Interesting programmes for you

Explore more than 80000 Master's programmes from all around the world with Studyportals.

All disciplines
Worldwide

Wishlist

Hey there 👋🏼

We are Studyportals, the #1 education platform to find your best matching studies for free.

What are you interested in studying?

Go to your profile page to get personalised recommendations!