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All About the SAT Test

Overview of the SAT

The SAT is one of the world's oldest standardized tests, and has been offered in one form or another since 1926. The exam is used mainly for undergraduate admission to universities in the United States, but it is accepted by colleges in some other countries. The SAT is owned by the College Board, an organization founded in 1900 to "expand access to higher education." Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers the SAT on the College Board's behalf. The SAT assesses various verbal and quantitative skills in three sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), Math, and Essay (the last is optional). The first two sections are scored between 200 and 800 each, for a composite score between 400 and 1600. The Essay section is scored separately on a scale of 2 to 8 each in the areas of reading, analysis, and writing.

SAT Availability

In the United States, the SAT is offered seven times per academic year (in August, October, November, December, March, May and June). Internationally, the SAT is available four times per year (October, December, March, and May). The test may be taken at test centers in all 50 American states, and there are also testing locations in many other countries around the world. Some of these countries have special requirements with respect to test registration and test administration, which can be viewed on the College Board website.

The SAT and University Acceptance

Nearly all universities in the United States will consider SAT scores for admission. Most schools require standardized testing, and they will generally accept either the SAT or the ACT. Test-optional schools in the U.S. will usually review SAT scores, and there are very few colleges that refuse to consider the exam at all. Some institutions have SAT score prerequisites, while others have no minimum SAT score requirements. Test score data for a given school's accepted students can almost always be found on that university's website, and institutional score averages can be considered accurate predictors of institutional score expectations. Test scores also contribute to a school's rank in publications such as U.S. News & World Report.

A Short Comparison of the SAT and the ACT

The SAT and the ACT are almost exactly the same in terms of length (with the essay, the former is just 10 minutes longer), but they are structured differently. The SAT has three sections, while the ACT has five (English, math, reading, science reasoning, and essay). SAT and ACT availability (seven times per year in the U.S.) and acceptance (nearly all U.S. colleges) are the same. Both exams evaluate the same broad academic skillset, but they do not test these abilities in exactly the same ways. We advise conflicted students to simply try practice versions of both tests, and choose whichever assessment is best for them.

SAT Score Information

The College Board issues detailed reports on SAT scoring for the total group of test-takers. The median SAT total score for the current high school graduating class is approximately 1060. Total scores of 1200, 1300, 1400, and 1500 are in the respective 76th, 88th, 95th, and 99th percentiles. The median EBRW score is between 500 and 510, while the median Math score is between 520 and 530. About 5% of all test-takers score 700 or higher on the reading/writing section, and approximately 6% score 700 or above on the math section. For the most highly selective universities in the United States, sectional scores of 700 should be regarded as the minimum necessary for realistic chances of acceptance. The College Board considers an EBRW score of 480 and a Math score of 530 to be the benchmark for college and career readiness, defined as a 75% likelihood that the student will receive at least a C in a first-semester college course.