Many colleges require scores from the SAT or ACT tests as a part of the admissions process.  Your SAT score is a key component of your college applications.

SAT Basics

SAT Length

3 hours (plus 50 minutes if taking optional Essay)

SAT Sections

  • Math
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 
  • Essay (optional)

SAT Cost

$46 ($60 if taking SAT with Essay)

Highest SAT Score


Average SAT Score



About the SAT

The SAT is an entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. It is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test administered by the College Board. 
The purpose of the SAT is to measure a high school student’s readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants. College admissions officers will review standardized test scores alongside your high school GPA, the classes you took in high school, letters of recommendation from teachers or mentors, extracurricular activities, admissions interviews, and personal essays. How important SAT scores are in the college application process varies from school to school.
Overall, the higher you score on the SAT and/or ACT, the more options for attending and paying for college will be available to you.

When should I take the SAT?

Most high school students take the SAT, the ACT, or both during the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. It’s important to leave time to re-take the test if you need to raise your score before you apply to college. The SAT exam is offered nationally every year in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June.


View all upcoming SAT test dates.

What is on the SAT?

There are two SAT sections: 

  • Math
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

The SAT also includes an optional Essay section. SAT Essay scores are reported separately from overall test scores. Some colleges may require that you complete the SAT Essay. You can confirm each college’s admissions policies on the school website or on our school profiles.

How long is the SAT?

The SAT is 3 hours long. If you choose to take the SAT with Essay, the test will be 3 hours and 50 minutes.

How is the SAT scored?

Each section of the SAT is scored on a 200 to 800 point scale. Your total SAT score is the sum of your section scores. The highest possible SAT score is 1600. If you take the Essay, you will receive a separate score.

Should I take the SAT or the ACT?

Most colleges and universities will accept scores from either the SAT or ACT, and do not favor one test over the other. That said, college-bound students are increasingly taking both the SAT and ACT. Changes made to the SAT in 2016 have made it easier than ever to prep for both tests concurrently—and earn competitive scores on both! The best way to decide if taking the SAT, ACT, or both tests is right for you is to take a timed  full-length practice test  of each type. Since the content and style of the SAT and ACT are very similar, factors like how you handle time pressure and what types of questions you find most challenging can help you determine which test is a better fit. Try our QUIZ: SAT, ACT, or Both? to learn more.

How do I register for the SAT?

SAT registration deadlines fall approximately five weeks before each test date. Register online on the College Board website. The College Board may require SAT registration by mail under special circumstances.

If you’re thinking of applying to college, it’s vital that you know what the SAT is and how it will affect your application process.

So what is the SAT? It’s one of two standardized college admissions tests in the US. (The other is the ACT.) It’s run by the College Board, a non-profit that also administers the PSAT and the AP (Advanced Placement) program.

The SAT was originally adapted from an Army IQ test and administered as a college admissions test for the first time in 1926. However, it didn’t really catch on until 1933, when the president of Harvard started using the test to assess scholarship applicants because he believed it was an effective measurement of intellectual potential. This view of the SAT helped propel its popularity—by the 1940s, it had become the standard test for all college applicants and was administered to over 300,000 people across the country.

The SAT’s dominance of college admissions testing was challenged with the creation of the ACT in 1959. Though initially much less popular than the SAT, the ACT took hold in the Midwest and the mountain states and, in 2010, actually surpassed the SAT to become the most popular college admissions test.

In part because of the increased competition from the ACT, the SAT recently underwent some big changes. The basic purpose and form of the test are the same (it’s still a multiple choice test used for college admissions decisions), but certain aspects of the structure and content have changed.

This post will establish the basics of the SAT to help you prepare for this important test.

 Why Do People Take the SAT?

The SAT is a standardized test meant to show schools how prepared you are for college by measuring key skills like reading comprehension, computational ability, and clarity of expression. Because so many students take the test, it also provides schools with data about how you compare to your peers nationwide.

You’ll almost certainly need to take the SAT or ACT if you’re applying to any colleges or universities in the United States, since most require you to submit test scores with your application. Depending on where you want to apply, your ACT or SAT score can account for as much as 50% of the admission decision, so a strong standardized test score is vital.

Additionally, a few states require all high school juniors to take the SAT, including Delaware, New Hampshire, and Michigan.

 Which Schools Accept the SAT?

All four year colleges in the US accept the SAT, and, as I mentioned above, most schools require either the SAT or the ACT (they don’t differentiate between the two). However, there are an increasing number of colleges and universities with more flexible policies, so make sure to check with the specific schools you’re planning to apply to.

You’ll also need to take the SAT or ACT if you’re a US student looking to apply to schools in the UK or Canada or an international student hoping to attend college in the US.

This information all holds true for the redesigned SAT as well, although if you’re thinking of taking the current SAT and aren’t graduating until 2018 or later, you should check whether the schools you’re interested in will require scores from the new version of the test.

 What Does the SAT Cover?

The SAT has ten sections: the first is always the essay, followed by two reading, two math, one writing, and one experimental section of 25 min each (in a random order), and then one 20-min reading, one 20-min math, and one 10-min writing section. The test is mostly multiple choice, with the exception of the essay at the beginning of the test and 10 grid-in questions in one of the 25-minute math sections.

The following chart breaks down the format of the test. Click the links for more depth on what material each section covers.


Topic area


Total number of questions

Critical Reading

2 25-min sections

1 20-min section

48 Passage-Based

19 Sentence Completions


2 25-min sections

1 20-min section

44 Multiple Choice

10 Grid-Ins


1 25-min essay

1 25-min section

1 10-min section

25 Improving Sentences

18 Identifying Sentence Errors

6 Improving Paragraphs


The new 2016 SAT will test most of the same topics, but the format and some of the question types will be different.


Grammar for SAT Writing

The Sat Writing sections test basic grammar and writing skills that most schools teach by or during the tenth grade. The questions test a very limited set of grammatical principles, and rarely cover advanced material. Here is a list  of some of the most common topics that appear on the Writing section of the SAT:


  • Subject-Verb Agreement
  • Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs
  • Subject and Object Grammar
  • Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Articles


  • Common Idioms
  • Prepositional Pair Idioms
  • Proper Diction
  • Vocabulary

Organizational Skills                         

  • Correcting Sentences
  • Improving Paragraphs
  • Organizing Paragraphs


SAT Writing – Identify Sentence Error

Identifying sentence error questions are the most common on the SAT writing section. To be precise, you will find a total of 18 questions out of a total of 49 SAT writing questions. The questions are quiet simple. You are provided with a sentence with four underlined words or phrases corresponding with answer choice A through D. You are expected to choose the underlined portions of the sentence that is incorrect. Choice E always corresponds to “No Error” i.e. the sentence in its present form is correct. SAT does not expect you to correct the sentence but expects you to merely identify what portions of the sentence has a problem.

In order to get a perfect score on this section, you do need to know the grammar rules really well. These questions are relatively simple. However that is no reason to throw caution to the wind. Always be on the lookout for traps: answers> that seem obvious aren’t always so.

Tips and Tricks for Identifying Sentence Errors Questions:

  1. Look out for grammatical mistakes. With practice you can look for patterns and frequently tested common grammatical errors.
  2. Look for the option that breaks grammatical rules or introduces a structural flaw in the sentence.
  3. As you read the sentence, make a quick mental note of what needs a change. Look for what reads funny, complicated, long or awkward. Reconstruct the sentence in your mind as best as you can before you move on to the answer choices.
  4. Remember you are not required to make any correction in the original sentence. Do not waste your time in correcting the sentence.
  5. Sometimes the original sentence may be the best of all the options. The choice E is always the “No Error” choice. You would mark this as the answer if you think the original sentence itself is clear and contains no errors.
  6. Remember SAT is testing your ability to identify errors that break the rules of English language. Do not fall in the trap of selecting the answer that ‘sounds’ odd. You are not being tested for commonly spoken English but rather written English.


SAT Writing – Improving Paragraph

The Improving Paragraphs section in the SAT writing consists of questions that test your ability to critique both the content and the sentence composition of a multi-paragraph passage. In the writing section of the SAT, there is one passage followed by 6 multiple choice questions of this type. Often, the paragraphs contain grammatical errors and incorrect sentence structure. The passage is also filled with errors of style, clarity, wordiness, and poor organization. Sometimes the passage is also a badly written paragraph or an essay overall. It’s your job to find and fix the errors in the passage. SAT expects you to choose answers that follow the conventions and requirements of standard written English.

Tips and Tricks for Improving Paragraphs:

  1. This section is less than 10% of your entire score. Therefore, determine a reasonable amount of time that you would like to spend in this section. Read through the passage quickly. You will not be asked a question for every sentence.
  2. Identify what the focal point or the central theme of the passage is. The language or sentences support the chief idea. This will help you with the context questions.
  3. As compared to Identifying sentence errors questions Improving Paragraphs questions focus on an entire passage of writing, not just on one sentence. Therefore, Improving Paragraphs questions usually approach problems at the paragraph or sentence level, which means the big picture, is important.
  4. Do not look at the answer choices first but rather come up with an answer as you read the question. The answer choices can be confusing and you might fall in the trap.
  5. Go with a ‘Simple’ and ‘Clear’ answer. The intent of Improving Paragraphs is to test your ability to understand and present an idea with simplicity and clarity. This strategy will apply for correcting sentences, combining sentences and transitioning from one paragraph to the next. As a general rule a passage should have a beginning, middle and a closing or end.


SAT Writing – Improving Sentences

Another type of questions in the SAT writing section is Improving Sentences. There are a total of 25 multiple choice questions in the SAT Writing Section that are of type Improving Sentences. Each of these questions has a sentence that has some word, words or the whole sentence underlined. Your task is to check if the sentence is OK the way it is or the underlined words can be changed to make the sentence clear and correct. There will be times when there will not be an error at all.

SAT follows the same principles of English in the entire writing section. Make an answer choice that follows the requirements and conventions of standard writing in English. Above all, these types of questions focus on the completeness and clarity of the idea being presented in the sentence.


Tips and Tricks for Improving Sentences:

  1. Similar to Identifying Sentence Errors questions look out for grammatical mistakes. With practice you can look for patterns and frequently tested common grammatical errors. But remember this section does not focus so much on the grammar but the sentence as a whole.
  2. Look for the option that makes the original better. SAT ‘better’ means a sentence revised in such a manner that it conveys the meaning clearly and precisely. The revision should not change the meaning of the sentence though.
  3. As you read the sentence, make a quick mental note of what needs a change. Look for what reads funny, complicated, long or awkward. Reconstruct the sentence in your mind as best as you can before you move on to the answer choices.
  4. Do not feel obligated to make a revision. Sometimes the original may be the best of all the options. The choice A is always the original underlined words. You would mark this as the answer if you think the original itself is clear and precise and requires no revision.
  5. Remember SAT is testing your ability to improve sentences that follow the rules of English language. Do not fall in the trap of selecting the answer that ‘sounds’ better. You are not being tested for commonly spoken English but rather written English.


Essays for SAT prep

Essay section of the SAT tests a student’s ability to formulate and support an argument for or against a certain issue or question, which is specified by the test. The topics chosen by the test are completely subjective; there is no right or wrong answer, rather, the openness of the issues is designed to give students a chance to exhibit good writing style and strength of argument. Though there is no “recommended” structure for a good essay, logical flow, coherence, competent use of vocabulary, good analysis and clarity of thought are critical ingredients of getting a good score. Students may use examples from personal experience or quote other factual information from such sources as science, literature, or history to bolster their ideas on the essay.


Essay Skills

Basics of Essay Writing
Essay – Intro and Organization
Essay – Body Paragraphs
Essay – Overview and Conclusion