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The SAT is one of two college admissions exams. Colleges and universities around the United States use the SAT, like the rival ACT, as a common standard by which to gauge the preparation of applicants for undergraduate programs. The maker of the exam, the College Board, is careful to emphasize that the SAT is designed around content learned in school and skills needed to succeed in college. For it's redesign in 2016, the SAT has changed its focus to testing "useful" knowledge in "real-world" situations. Gone are the arcane words and the penalty for guessing.

The SAT is a 3-hour standardized test comprised of 3 sections (reading, writing and language, and math). An optional essay lengthens the exam by 50 minutes. Traditionally, students will first take the SAT during the spring of their Junior year and a second time, if necessary, in the fall of their Senior year.

SAT Links

> Applying to College
> Registering for the SAT
> SAT Fees
> What is on the SAT?
> SAT vs. ACT
> How do I prep for the SAT?
> On Test Day
> SAT Test Accommodations
> SAT Make-up Exams
> How is the SAT scored?
> When do I get SAT scores?
> What do SAT results mean?
> SAT Practice Exams

2016-17 SAT Dates

October 1, 2016

November 5, 2016

December 3, 2016

January 21, 2017

March 11, 2017

May 6, 2017

June 3, 2017

All test dates are Saturdays. Sunday testing due to documented religious observance is on the day following each.

SAT Date and
Location Details

Applying to College

Deadlines for college applications vary significantly in type and timing. Early Decision and Early Action applications usually fall in October or November of the year prior to intended matriculation, while Regular Admission due dates are generally between December and February. While in some cases final test scores can be forwarded to school admissions offices after applications have been submitted, generally, students applying early will want to have their testing completely finished and scores reported by early October; those applying for Regular deadlines should try to wrap up their standardized testing in November or early December, at the latest.

In all, there are seven annual SAT test days to choose from, so plan accordingly. Both the SAT and ACT allow students to retake tests and report only their optimal scores, but given the limited number of test dates, students must plan ahead. If you expect to sit for the SAT multiple times, it is often good strategy to establish a baseline score for yourself early in the spring of your Junior year (preferably, as early as January) and then plan from there. Generally, though, there's little evidence that sitting more than twice for the SAT pays much dividend. In any case, students should also be mindful of their target schools' requirements for SAT subject tests (formerly SAT IIs), some of which are offered on a more limited calendar. Careful planning is essential to make sure that you take all of the required tests at optimal times.

That all being said, the SAT (as with the ACT) is merely one small component in the process of applying to four-year undergraduate programs. Students must consider the standardized test component in this broad context. In most cases, applicants are also responsible for a diverse array of application materials. These may include application forms, personal statements, short-answer supplements, high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, portfolios of creative work, interviews and auditions, among other things. It is an elaborate business.

Still, these standardized tests tend to dominate many discussions of college-admissions largely because, come late Junior year, your performance is still within your immediate control whereas almost three years of your high school record has already been settled. Standardized tests happen in a day, academic records are the products of many years' consistent effort. As such, standardized tests can, along with strong supplementary materials and a record of improved academic performance over the later high school years, help redeem a high school career that might not have started on the best footing.

However, standardized tests are not a magic bullet, and we cannot stress enough the preeminent importance of the total application package that students prepare. What is more, despite the increased influence of the Common Application, virtually all colleges' admissions procedures differ to some degree. Students should be mindful of the particularity of each school's process and be careful to tailor each application individually. You should be sure to make direct contact with every college or university to which you are applying.

In light of all this complexity, we strongly advise that students draw heavily on the help offered by their schools' guidance offices. In the absence of a strong college guidance program at your school, you would be wise to have at least one session of consultation with an independent college counselor or one of many non-profit college counseling services. Partners With Parents, of course, can match your family with some of the best college counselors in New York who can guide you through the entire process.

Registering for the SAT

The best and most efficient way to register for the SAT is to create an online profile on the College Board's website. Having a "MySAT" profile will allow you to take advantage of a number of online resources:

  • the ability to view in real time all upcoming test dates and test center availability in your area and register for your preferred one;
  • easy correction and printing of your Admission Ticket for the day of the test
  • a number of tools for reporting scores, including the ability to manage your list of schools receiving scores after you sit for the test and access to Score Choice, a service that lets you select which among your multiple test scores you want reported
  • registration for Student Search Service, which allows admissions offices for schools you might not be considering to find you and send you application materials.

The online registration process will require that you submit a digital photo of yourself. Have a digital file ready when you begin the process.

Students who are under 13, who cannot pay by credit card or who cannot furnish a digital photo must register by mail. You can either obtain a mail-in registration packet at your school's guidance office or download it here. Upon requesting the packet, make sure you also confirm your School Code. (Note: Homeschooled students should use code 970000. If they do not have a student ID, homeschool applicants should also download a School ID form and have it signed by a notary public, with a photo attached. This form will have to be signed again at the test center.)

Students who miss the late registration for a desired test date may be able to have their names put on the waitlist. This will not guarantee a seat and will require an additional fee. Further information can be found here.

Those students who cannot test on Saturdays due to religious observance are able to register for non-Saturday testing. First-time registrants must register by mail with a written and signed explanation of the reasons for the request. Thereafter, requests for non-Saturday test dates can be made via online registration. Details are available here.

If you live more than 75 miles from the nearest testing center, you may also be able to arrange an alternative accommodation.

SAT Fees

The basic fee for an SAT registration is $45, and with the optional essay, $57. This includes the test administration and the first four (4) score reports to college admissions offices.

From there, fees are added for the following services:

  • Additional score reports (the 5th and beyond, plus any made after registration): $12 each
  • Telephone registration (only available to those who have registered previously): $15.00
  • Changes to registration (date, place, test type): $28.00
  • Late registration (on top of standard registration fee): $28.00
  • Waitlist (only charged if you gain admittance): $46.00
  • Rush score report: $31.00 for first; $12 for each additional report
  • Scores by phone: $15.00 per call
  • Archived score report: $31.00
  • SAT Question and Answer Service: $18.00
  • Multiple-choice score verification (hand-scoring): $55.00
  • Essay score verification: $55.00

Note: In cases of financial need, you may be able to obtain a fee waiver or reduction on many of the above services. (Fees cannot be waived for those services that are a matter of convenience like rush reporting or scores by phone .)

What is on the SAT?

The SAT covers three subject areas, Reading, Writing & Language, and Mathematics. In general, these test your ingenuity with the skills you've been acquiring in school. The actual testing time for the SAT is 3 hours, but students should expect to spend more like 4 hours for the full administration. This includes time spent on instructions and logistics as well as short breaks during the test. Students will face the sections in sequence and each section will be timed independently. Students may not return to a previous section or go ahead to subsequent sections during the test.

Reading -- 65-minutes -- 52 questions -- 6 passages (2 of which are paired)

The Reading section test students' skill at readinng and interpreting written works. The passage-based questions gauge students' ability to comprehend the main ideas and the use of detail in a series of passages (4 singles, 1 pair). Passages range from 500 to about 750 words. They include: One  U.S. and world literature passage, two history/social studies passages (one in social science and one from a U.S. founding document or text in the Great Global Conversation), and two science passages. At least one will have an information graphic such as a table or graph. For each passage, students are asked a series of questions that fall into three categories: Information and Ideas (summarize what the author is saying, themes, evidence), Rhetoric (the author's POV and purpose, style, writing technique, word choice) and Synthesis (similarities, differences, logical conclusions [only for for paired passages and informational graphics]). In the case of paired passages, questions may ask test-takers to determine how the author of one passage might clarify his/her intentions by responding to the substance of the other passage.

Writing and Language -- 35 minutes -- 44 multiple-choice questions -- 4 passages

The Writing and Language section essentially tests a student's ability to improve content through revision and edit for grammar and usage. There are four passages, each of which ranges from 400 to about 450 words. Unlike the Reading section which uses published works, in this section the texts are created by the test-makers so they can include errors in grammar or clarity. The passages include one on a career-related topic and one each in the humanities, history/social studies, and science. At least one will have an information graphic such as a table or graph. For each passage, students are asked a series of questions that fall into two categories: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. Expression of Ideas questions require student's to assess and improve the substance and quality of the text, while Standard English Conventions questions require students' to recognize and correct errors in sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.

Mathematics -- 3 sections (two 25-minute sections, one 20-minute section) -- 54 questions (44 multiple choice, 10 student-generated responses) -- 70 minutes, total

The Mathematics sections generally test students' ability to reason logically from the core math content that they have been learning in school. Often this means applying familiar concepts in a new and non-intuitive manner or combining old ideas in novel ways. Overall, these questions will include both word and computation problems.

These sections cover four primary subject areas: Numbers and Operations (20-25%), Algebra and Functions (35-40%), Geometry and Measurement (25-30%), and Data Analysis, Probability, and Statistics (10-15%). For more detail on any of these subject areas, see the College Board's SAT Mathematics ReviewAA packet.

The questions that require students to generate their own answers will involve more computation; as such, they are scored without a guessing penalty. That is, students will not be penalized for a wrong answer.

The test-makers will provide basic formulas. Use of an approved calculator is permitted.

The Essay is the SAT's most direct test of student skill and it is the first thing students will tackle on test day. Test-takers will have 25 minutes to address a single prompt. This will generally be in the form of a quote, claim or a pair of short statements. The prompt poses a question that asks students either to defend the claim or propose their own stance. Students must stake out a position that either supports the argument put forth in the quote or opposes it. Over several paragraphs, they will then have to justify their claim by mustering and analyzing evidence drawn from their reading, personal experience, or knowledge of history.


This is a classic debate. While historically the SAT was the test of choice around the Coasts and the ACT dominated in the Midwest, we've now arrived at the point where every four-year school around the country has adopted both tests (and all swear up and down that they are agnostic on the question of which they prefer). So, students are posed with the dilemma: which test will help them put their best feet forward in the competitive application environment. Many. Many. Many. Many people have weighed in on this. Here are the basic points to consider:

  • Content: The most basic difference is this: the ACT is a curriculum-based test. The SAT is an "aptitude" test. From this basic difference there are a few consequences.

A) The SAT is a test-takers test. Since it doesn't base its questions as much on the student's knowledge base coming into the test, it creates difficulty by being tricky. The SAT poses questions that have twists and turns and traps. If reading and analytic skills are not your forte, the SAT may not be the test for you. The ACT is more straightforward. On the other hand, if your strength has not been doing all your homework diligently or taking copious notes, but you still make it happen at test time, then the SAT could play to your strengths.

B) The SAT demands vocabulary. The ACT requires some Trigonometry. If either of these facts give you chills, you might consider steering toward the more comfortable test.

  • Time: The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long (assuming you aren't taking the optional Writing section). The SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. Will the extra time be an issue for you?

  • Writing: Not all colleges and universities require the ACT plus Writing. The SAT includes a mandatory writing section. If your target schools don't require the optional Writing module on the ACT and standardized essay writing fills you with dread, then that's a plus in the ACT column.

In the end, it's a matter of feel and expectation. The best thing you can do to answer this question is take a practice test of each type under comparable conditions (timed, in one sitting, when you're similarly well-rested and fed) and see how you do. Beyond the score, which felt better? Which made your eyes glaze over more? You are the only judge who matters here. Of course, Partners with Parents has tutors who are well-versed in both and can help guide you.

How do I prepare for the SAT?

As with any standardized, timed test, the first step in SAT Prep is developing familiarity. You need to know the timing, the question types, and the content, backwards and forwards. So, start with a practice test. You can also download four full-length practice tests from The College Board itself, here. Take them under conditions that approximate test-day circumstances as much as you can manage: sleep well the night before; do it in the morning; do it in one sitting with appropriate times and breaks. An untimed practice test really isn't going to tell you much.

If you do not score as high as you'd like or simply want more practice, there are many options available to you. First, The College Board's practice section of their website offers a great deal of possibility including a daily practice app, study groups and, of particular note, a partnership with Khan Academy to provide free SAT practice with personalized recommendations. Although we have not worked with the program, this is a highly reputable company who is doing great things in the arena access to education. Many publishers also offer practice materials, online and in-store. If the The College Board still puts out books of practice tests and the like, that would be the place to start since books published by third parties often have mistakes on format, content, or question writing. Despite the occasional lapses, they can also make useful contributions to a self-administered test preparation regimen.

In the event that work on your own doesn't produce the results you're looking for, or if you know that you're just not going to be able to do it that way, Partners With Parents works with some of the best SAT tutors, who will design a program to help you meet your goals by the time the test date rolls around. E-mail us or call us at (212) 928-5016.

On Test Day

Your test date, time, and place will all be on your admission ticket. If you are not familiar with the test center, make sure to look up directions prior to the day of the test. Typically, you will need to be at the test center at 7:45am. Try to be early to allow for unforeseen problems.

You must bring the following:

  • Your admission ticket

  • Acceptable ID -- Your current school ID or government-issued ID (driverÃ????Ã???Ã??Ã?¢??s license, passport) with picture are your best choices.

  • An approved calculator

  • Several #2 pencils and erasers

We also advise that you bring snacks or water to have during the breaks. (You may not eat or drink inside the test room.)

We strongly advise, too, that you bring a watch (though it may not have an audible alarm) in order to better keep yourself on pace. Note, though, that many electronic devices (cell phones, pagers, MP3 players, cameras, and other recording devices) are strictly forbidden, even during breaks. Since your score can be canceled if you are seen with a phone, you might be wise not to bring it at all.

Also, we urge you to make sure that you get a good sleep the night before the test, eat a good breakfast, wear comfortable clothes, and allow yourself a little time before the test begins to take a breath and relax.

SAT Testing With Accommodations

Students with a documented learning difference or other disability that regularly requires accommodation have a variety of options available for SAT testing. These include extended time, wheelchair accessibility, preferential seating for lip-reading, special test formats including Braille or large print, written versions of spoken directions, and others.

You must submit your application for testing with accommodations and documentation before registering for your first exam. In general, this approval will hold for future testing. On the exam date, you will need to bring your approval letter in addition to your standard check-in materials.

The process of eligibility review can either be initiated through your school's guidance office or by your family directly. In either case, significant documentation is required. The review process generally takes 7 weeks, so plan ahead. If your first test date will be in the spring of your Junior year, you may want to get started as early as December in order to guarantee that all paperwork is accounted for before you sign up for your first date.

SAT Make-Up Exams

The only "make-up"; SAT exams offered are due to test center closings, very bad weather or a testing "misadministration" or "irregularity." They post such info about closings, SAT make up dates and alternate test centers here. Naturally, the College Board cares deeply about the "validity and integrity" of the exams they create, so if you're late or miss the SAT or SAT Subject Tests due to unforeseen circumstances, you'll just have to register for the next date. If this is a concern because you need to get it out of the way in the spring of junior year or you have a specific deadline for applications, then it would be wise to pick an initial testing date that is followed by an administration the next month (i.e. choose Oct or Nov vs. Dec and May vs. June).

If you miss your test date but know you still need to take the SAT, it does behoove you to call The College Board's Customer Service at (866) 756-7346, to reschedule. Although a "change fee" of $28 applies, you do avoid the minimum price of $50 for registering for a new exam date. As you might expect, if you do not want to reschedule, for another test date all of the original fees except for additional score reporting are nonrefundable.

How is the SAT scored?

The most prominent feature of SAT scoring is its guessing penalty. In order to dissuade students from rushing at the end and filling in bubbles at random, the test-makers penalize wrong answers one quarter point. This has the downside of hurting students for every mistake, but it also has a strategic upside: if you are able to eliminate two out of five answers, then the positive benefits of an educated guess outweigh the risks of a lost quarter point. If you can knock a couple of answer choices out of the running, then take your shot at a guess, if you are stuck on the problem or stressed for time. (The one exception to the guessing penalty is the section of student-generated mathematics questions. There, only correct answers count.)

Generally, each correct answer on the test is worth one point. Your total number of correct answers minus a quarter point for each incorrect response determines your raw score for each of the four multiple choice sections. The College Board then normalizes these raw scores against scores on other SAT test forms to arrive at a scaled score for each section. For the Critical Reading and Mathematics sections, these scaled scores will be on a range from 200-800.

For the multiple choice section of the Writing section, the scaled score will be on a 20-80 scale.
To complete the writing score, the Essay is receives a score from 2 to 12. Each of two independent readers ranks a student's writing on a scale from 1 to 6 points which are then combined. This Essay score along with the Writing multiple choice score results in an overall scaled Writing Score, which again is in the range from 200-800. As a note, the process of scaling the Essay and the Writing multiple choice score generally places about 30% of the weight for the entire Writing score on the Essay and 70% on the multiple choice.

These scores are then ranked against all other students' scores and rendered as a percentile placement. That is, if your score report tells you that you were in the 51st percentile, you scored higher than 51% of your peers.

When do I get the SAT results?

Scores are available online starting about two weeks after the test date. You can find a calendar of score release dates here. Scores can be rushed or reported by phone for an additional fee.

As for reporting to colleges, you can elect either to send all of your scores to your intended schools or opt for the Score Choice reporting method. This allows you to select which test date's scores you want to report. Of course, this doesn't mean that students can mix and match their best section scores.

What do the SAT results mean?

The first thing to remember is that SAT scores represent a snapshot of your skills on a single day. They should be taken as such. Your actual ability will always be more of a range than a fixed number. Under different circumstances you will score differently: in some ways, the breakfast you ate that morning and the time you went to bed the night before are reflected in your score just as much as the extent of your vocabulary or your familiarity with functions.

In many ways, too, the SAT is a particularly complicated mirror for student ability. Because the SAT's curriculum has to be accessible to every high school junior and senior around the country, across a wide array of school quality and skill level, the test-makers can't rely on content alone to differentiate students. Instead, they resort to an array of tricks and traps and convolutions to make the test harder. As a consequence, the SAT can be less representative of school-type work and more reflective of your test-taking skills. As such, it should not be read as a definitive statement about a student's academic ability.

This is precisely why SAT scores are only one part of your application profile created during the college admissions process . Don't get too hung up on your scores, either for the good or the bad. You should try to maximize your personal performance and then put it behind you and focus on the rest of your application.

SAT Practice Exams

The College Board puts out an official practice SAT each year�????�???�??�?�  which can be found here.

SAT Contact Info/Resources

For further information on the SAT and the policies of The College Board, visit the website, which includes many helpful tools and aids, like questions of the day and interactive planners.

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