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SAT and Test Prep Resources

The SAT, previously known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a test that serves to measure a student's academic readiness for attending college. The exam was created in 1926 and it is proctored by an organization called the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and published by the College Board. Juniors and seniors in high school take the test in preparation to enter college, although students in lower grades may also take it. Its main counterpart is the American College Testing exam, or ACT, and most colleges require students to take one of these two tests as a requirement for entry. Students are encouraged to seek the highest possible scores on the SAT and ACT, as better scores mean access to more prestigious colleges and better scholarships.

SAT Origins

The origins of the SAT come from a test that a man named Robert Yerkes invented for the United States Army. Called the Army Alpha test, it was used by the military as an intelligence test for recruits. His partner, Carl Brigham, then modified the exam in 1926 for use in college admissions, where it became known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT. The intent of the SAT is to provide an unbiased assessment of a student's scholastic ability. It is a form of standardized testing that not only judges the academic prowess of students, but also the performance of entire secondary schools.

SAT Evolution

The SAT has evolved many times over the decades, and will continue to evolve as education standards change. Until 2005, the maximum score on the SAT was 1600, with the minimum score being 600. In March of 2005, however, the SAT's maximum score changed from 1600 to 2400 with the addition of a 25-minute essay section. As of 2005, the SAT lasts three hours and 45 minutes and comprises three sections, each worth 800 points, with a minimum score of 200 points each.

SAT Sections Length Number of Questions Score Range
Critical Reading 70 minutes 67 200-800
Writing 60 minutes 49 + essay 200-800
Mathematics 70 minutes 54 200-800
Experimental 25 minutes Random Not scored

Each part of the SAT is given its own score, and exam takers are shown the score for each section, as well as their percentile rankings, which judge them against all other SAT takers.

The addition of the essay section has invited controversy due to the subjective nature of the essay grading process. For example, one professor proved that the essay section can be gamed by test takers, particularly by writing longer essays and using more complex words. Essays with factual errors were shown to have received high scores, such as those that attributed the writing of Anna Karenina to Joseph Conrad instead of the proper author, Leo Tolstoy. Graders who judge SAT essays are given up to three minutes to do so.

This version of the SAT will be administered for the final time in January 2016.

The New SAT

Starting in March 2016, a new version of the SAT will replace the previous version. The maximum score will return from 2400 to 1600 and the essay will be optional.

SAT Sections Length Number of Questions Score Range
Reading 65 minutes 52 200-800 (combined Reading and Writing and Language)
Writing and Language 35 minutes 44
Mathematics 80 minutes 58 200-800
Essay (optional) 50 minutes N/A 2-8

Key Features of New SAT:

  • Test focuses more on practical knowledge and critical reasoning
  • Penalty for guessing incorrectly eliminated
  • Deletion of analogies
  • Essay optional (check with your college to see if they require it)
  • Students can access free, personalized SAT practice from the Khan Academy

Study Tips

The most important key to scoring high on the SAT lies in extensive amounts of test preparation. There are a number of test preparation services, some of which cost money and others that are free. Practice exams are also available from certain sources, which students or their parents can purchase at bookstores or find online.

An important tactic for getting a higher score is to take practice exams at home, using timers to simulate a real testing environment. This will help a student learn how to focus and read questions carefully, as well as cope with the pressure that comes with the test's time limits. It is also important to know the general makeup of the SAT and the amount of time that is allowed for each section, as well as the scoring process.

For some students, test preparation begins years before they actually take the test. Some parents invest heavily in tutoring for mathematics, reading, writing and vocabulary skills. This tutoring will form the foundation of knowledge that a student needs in order to do well on the SAT. Students may begin practicing as far back as their sophomore year in high school. They should not wait until only a few months before the date of the SAT exam to start preparing. One of the best ways of improving reading comprehension and vocabulary is to read the first section and opinion section of the daily newspaper or the entire Sunday newspaper.

During the actual SAT exam, test takers should heed the time limits and read questions quickly,  thoroughly and carefully. This is because some questions contain very subtle details and are designed to trick students into giving the wrong answer based on a misinterpretation. Students should also skip the most time-consuming and perplexing questions and return to them after answering other questions in that section. As with many other types of tests, when multiple choice answers are encountered, the process of elimination will help students to identify and disqualify answers that are glaringly wrong and concentrate on deciding which of the correct-looking answers is the most accurate.

For the SAT administered through January 2016, students should not attempt to guess their answers on multiple choice questions. This is because all SAT questions that receive a wrong answer inflict a larger point penalty than questions that don't get answered. It is also unwise to work on a difficult question for too long, as it takes time away from working on other questions. This could result in the student running out of time for the section and leaving many questions unanswered.

Starting in March 2016, guessing on SAT questions will no longer be penalized. When taking the new SAT, students should answer every question on the test, even if they need to make random guesses. Some guesses may be correct, which will increase the score.

It is always advisable for a student to get a good night's sleep before taking the SAT. The SAT is administered seven times a year and always on Saturday. (For students who cannot take the test on Saturday for religious reasons, the tests are usually scheduled on Sunday.)

Most students take the SAT for the first time in the spring of their junior year in high school, and for a second time in the fall of their senior year. (About half take the SAT two or more times.) Students are highly encouraged to get the highest score possible on the SAT on the first try. Some colleges take multiple SAT attempts and calculate the average of all scores as the final score.

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