Taking the SAT Reasoning Test

General Information

The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), now known as the SAT Reasoning Test, is a standardized examination taken by students all across the country to determine their readiness for college. There is great variety in the difficulty of courses and grading among high schools, and your SAT score will show where your scholastic achievement ranks you nationally.

The SAT now includes three sections, critical reading, mathematics, and writing, and it’s considered an excellent predictor of your college GPA. To enter college, you must take either the SAT or the ACT. Find out which test your college of choice prefers; often, either is acceptable.

Most students take the test as juniors or seniors in high school, although younger students are welcomed. Students in 8th grade or below must make special arrangements. College Board, the organization that creates and scores the SAT, has posted a very helpful page of SAT-related activities (like choosing your courses), so you can prepare to score your highest from the beginning of your freshman year.

taking SAT test

Topics and Types of Questions

You have a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the SAT, which consists of the following:

  • Essay (25 minutes)
  • Eight sections covering mathematics, critical reading and writing (six are 25 minutes, two are 20 minutes)
  • Multiple-choice writing section (10 minutes)


There are many ways to prepare for the SAT. There’s no charge to use the Question of the Day, the sample practice questions, or the practice test. If you start working with these materials as a freshman in high school, you’ll be comfortable with the SAT format when it’s time to test.

Your teachers can also give you good advice on how to do your best. Some high schools host free practice tests, and there are many websites that also offer them. You can pay for official study guides or prep classes (Kaplan is the most widely known brand), but the wealth of free resources now available renders that optional.


The SAT is now scored on the basis of 2400 points total, rather than the old 1600 scale, but it is still possible to compare old and new scores. In scoring, you receive one point for each correct answer, no points for unanswered questions or incorrect answers you produce on math problems, and a quarter of a point is subtracted for each incorrect answer on a multiple-choice question.

That means you should only take educated guesses, using the process of elimination to answer multiple-choice questions you don’t know at first glance. If you have any real doubt about the answer even after eliminating the obviously incorrect choices, then do not answer at all.

Dates and Fees

You can take the SAT at seven different times of year (January, March, May, June, October, November, December), and available dates are found on this page. The test itself costs $50, and College Board has posted a fee schedule so you can find prices for services like phone registration ($15), changes in plans ($26), and extra score reports ($11 each).

Test Day

There are four items you must bring with you to the testing center: your admission ticket, two pencils and an eraser, a photo ID (for which there are very specific requirements), and an acceptable calculator. The calculator guidelines are also specific, and here they are.

Permitted calculators:

  • Graphing
  • Scientific
  • Four-function (a less desirable choice).

Forbidden calculators include:

  • Any portable or handheld computer, such as a laptop
  • Any electronic writing or stylus-input device, for example a PDA
  • Any calculator with a QWERTY keyboard or one that does not operate silently.

You can find details about the use of calculators during the SAT here.

Differences between the SAT and ACT

Often the colleges to which you apply tell you what test they want you to take. If your selected schools all accept both, then you should take the test best suited to your strengths. In general, the ACT measures what you learned in high school, while the SAT measures your analytic and correlative skills.

The ACT contains four sections, English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional Writing Test. That means you can avoid writing in the ACT, which is not true of the SAT. The SAT requires verbal fluency and logical thought, and you must produce some original answers. The ACT’s traditional four sections are all multiple choice questions.

Note: Do not confuse the SAT Reasoning Test with either the PSAT or the individual SAT Subject Tests.


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