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What to Know About the SAT

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

By Sonali Bhana

Image via C2 Education

The SAT, administered by the CollegeBoard, is a common standardized test taken by high-schoolers typically in their sophomore or junior year. The first SAT was administered in 1926 and has been utilized ever since. It’s used for students when they apply to colleges or universities, who then assess their applications while taking their scores into consideration.

The SAT has 3 sections: writing/grammar, critical reading, and math. In addition, there are two parts to the math section, a calculator and a non-calculator section. It also includes an optional essay writing portion. The highest score someone can achieve is 1600, while the average score is about 1100, and then the writing essay is separately scored. Typically, the test will take about 3 hours, and the optional essay will take another 50 minutes. However, there are 2 breaks given in between, one 10 minute break and another 5-minute break.

However, due to COVID-19, the CollegeBoard has announced that they will be discontinuing their writing essays, as well as subject tests, to make more time and opportunities for students to take the SAT itself.

Now, what does this mean? Writing essays shows colleges the skill level that the student possesses, leading to the fact that some colleges do require the essay in their admissions. Although, because of COVID-19, many colleges did not require students in the high school graduation classes of 2020 and 2021 to submit SAT scores. After this decision, it was announced that some schools are in fact not requiring them at all for future classes.

Subject tests have been used to assess students’ knowledge of specific courses. Some colleges also require certain subject test scores to be submitted based on the major the student applies to. Subject tests also give students the opportunity to show school admissions the level at which they excel in the subject, possibly influencing their chances of being accepted.

In contrast, the CollegeBoard has been controversial because of its ability to exploit students’ money when taking these tests, as it is common for students to take them more than once.

Typically, it costs $47.50 to take the SAT ($64.50 with the Essay portion), and $22 for each of the SAT subject tests, not including the $26 registration fee. Students who are able to spend more money on external practice services, as well as paying for more tests, are at an advantage as they have a higher chance of reaching a high score. Many people who are classed as minorities are at a disadvantage because they do not have access to the same resources, geographically or financially. It should also be noted that the founder of the SAT stated that it was meant for White Americans during the immigration era to rate their intelligence against those who were immigrating to the United States and see if those who were immigrating were qualified and to “sort them” based on their scores (Hammond, Bruce G.).

However, starting after June 2021, the option for essays and subject tests will not be available. This means that colleges and universities will no longer take them into consideration when examining a student’s application.

Another standardized test that students can take is the ACT, which includes English, mathematics, reading, and scientific reasoning sections. Some schools prefer the ACT and others prefer the SAT. Although, it is common that schools accept either ACT or SAT scores, so it is up to the students to assess which test they believe will properly display their knowledge and skills.

Some students study the summer before they take the SAT, and others study 2-3 months before they take it. To test where your skills are at, I recommend taking a practice test provided by KhanAcademy and their partnership with the CollegeBoard, located on their website. After taking the practice test, or by connecting your PSAT score to your Khan Academy account, it will customize practice problems for you to use. However, if Khan Academy is not enough or does not work well enough for you, there are the options of workbooks or even SAT prep courses that are usually provided by your school or outside organizations/businesses.

To properly study, it is essential to take breaks and not overwhelm yourself, especially because when you overload your brain with the information it is common to become tired and not retain any of the additional information. Set a goal score for yourself and give yourself enough time to work towards it. To start off, practice about 3-5 times a week, and then as you get closer to your test date increase the amount of time you practice, as well as taking more practice tests. It is also essential to examine strategies to get comfortable with the SAT’s wording and format to better help you understand the problems or reading passages on the exam.

Remember, the night before your SAT, get enough sleep and destress your mind in order to prepare yourself and avoid anxiety. In the morning, eat a healthy breakfast and ensure that you arrive early to your testing centre as they will close the doors and not let you in if you are late. If you miss the test, you will not be able to get a refund. Bring number 2 pencils, a calculator that is approved (can be checked on the SAT website), a water bottle, and a snack. During the test, all electronics will have to be turned off, including digital watches like an AppleWatch. Anything that can be used to access the internet or notes is prohibited and can disqualify you from the test if you are seen using it. More information on the specifics of the test and frequently asked questions can be found and answered on the official SAT website.

Don’t worry too much about your SAT afterwards, as many times you will do better than you think and once you finish the test you’re done! Good luck!

Written by writer Sonali Bhana

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