The SAT Test: Everything You Need to Know About the SAT

hand writing on test

Maybe you’ve been dreaming about taking the SAT since you were a little kid. Or maybe (like the vast majority of students), taking the SAT test is a responsibility that sort of crept up on you. Now it’s time to prepare, but where to start? On this page, you’ll find the answers to the most commonly asked SAT questions that we get from students, parents, and even teachers and guidance counselors! We’ve also provided links to the best resources out there—both on this site and others. So what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!


The SAT Test in a Nutshell: What You Need to Know

Duration3 hours
SectionsReading: 52 questions, 65 minutes

Writing & Language: 44 questions, 35 minutes

Math, no calculator: 20 questions, 25 minutes

Math, calculator: 38 questions, 35 minutes
Score Range400-1600
Average Score1050
RegistrationOnline, at least 4 weeks and a day before the exam date.

Late registration may be available for an additional fee up to two weeks before the exam.


Table of Contents


What Is the SAT Test?

The SAT is an exam that universities use to assess a student’s college readiness. Originally called the “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” the SAT is made by a company called The College Board.

Learn more about the SAT test here! - magoosh

“SAT” actually no longer stands for anything, given that studies have shown that standardized test scores can predict a student’s performance in his or her first year of college—but nothing beyond that. That should give you some sense of what the SAT is today: a college admissions test. Not an IQ test, and definitely not a Magic-8 ball that will predict the rest of your life!

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When Is the SAT?

The SAT is offered seven times a year: in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. Options used to be more limited if you live outside of the United States, but all seven dates are currently available for international test-takers for the 2020-2021 school year.

When you’re deciding when to take the test, don’t just pick your favorite month! Your best SAT test date actually depends on many factors. But don’t worry—we spell them out in our post on SAT test dates, to make sure you pick the date that’s best for you and your goals!

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What Subjects Does the SAT Test Cover?

The SAT isn’t pulling its punches with its section titles: it really does test reading, writing and language, and math. But what does that mean within each section? Take a look!

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SAT Test Subjects

  • Literary passage

  • Great Global Conversation or founding documents passage

  • Science paired passage

  • Science passage with chart or graph
Writing and Language
  • Humanities passage

  • Social studies passage

  • Science passage

N.B.: 1-2 passages will include a chart or table
Math, no calculator and Math, calculator
  • Algebra

  • Geometry

  • Statistics and data analysis

  • Trigonometry

N.B. Expect to see charts and graphs in this section, too!

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Do I Need to Take the SAT?

No, not necessarily. Unless you want to go to college, that is (and you don’t want to take the ACT). Oh, or unless you don’t care if you graduate high school in some states. (Yep, that’s right—some states require the SAT for graduation!)

All kidding aside, you may not have to take the SAT, but it’s a good idea to take the SAT or the ACT, and some states require juniors or seniors to take one or the other.

Learn more about the SAT test here! - magoosh

That’s right! Some states do require the SAT; others require the ACT. You can find out where on this great ACT/SAT map. The good news is that some of these states will let you take the SAT for free. If you were going to take it anyway, that’s $52 back in your pocket!

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How Important Is the SAT?

As much as you may have heard about its importance, the SAT is not the most important factor in college admissions. Your grades and curriculum are the most important factors.

However, (and that’s a big however), your standardized test scores are likely to be the first thing that college admissions officers see in your application, meaning that you stand a far better chance of getting strong consideration by your dream school if your scores are in the middle 50% (or higher) of that school’s admitted students’ scores.

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Should I Take the ACT or the SAT?

It’s a growing trend, and it’s great news for students: the vast majority of colleges no longer prefer the SAT over the ACT, or vice-versa. Now, most schools will accept either test, which means that you can take and submit the results from whichever test you’re more comfortable with.

Not sure which test that is? Take our SAT or ACT quiz to find out!

Learn more about the SAT test here! - magoosh

If you’re still not sure which to take, you can find out more in ACT vs SAT: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Test and Magoosh’s ACT vs SAT infographic.

The ultimate way to decide which exam to take is to actually, well, take both exams (or the practice versions, anyway!). Then, see how your scores compare with our ACT to New SAT score conversion chart.

You can, of course, take both official exams—this is a growing trend—but we recommend focusing on the exam you find comes more naturally to you. After all, there are only so many study hours in a day/week/life!

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How Do I Register for the SAT?

Register online for the SAT at the College Board website.

There are also mail and phone registration options if you don’t have an internet connection…but you’re here, so it’s pretty likely that you do!

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Where Do I Take the SAT?

You can take the SAT at thousands of test centers around the United States or internationally. The College Board website has a handy-dandy test-center finder that will make it easy for you to find a center near you on a convenient date.

Of course, if you live in a rural area or abroad, it may be difficult to find a close center for your chosen test dates. This makes registering early, as well as coming up with a solid pre-test-day plan (which may include a long drive), all the more important!

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Is the SAT Hard?

Yes and no. It’s probably going to seem hard the first time you sit down to take it. But the more you study, the easier it gets. Why? The SAT is, in fact, a very learnable test. Knowing the format of the exam, and some strategies to tackle its favorite types of questions, can help you improve your score and get on your way to your dream college.

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Have you already studied and want to test your readiness? Here are some exceptionally tricky SAT problems to try your hand at!

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How Is the SAT Scored?

The SAT is scored on a scale of 400-1600. You’ll have one score for Math, on a 200-800 scale, and one score for Verbal, which includes both Reading and the Writing and Language sections, also on a 200-800 scale. Your total score…involves adding them together (but you probably knew that). There are all sorts of SAT cross-test scores, as well, but the 200-800 scores are the key scores that colleges are really concerned about.

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You may have heard that the SAT scoring scale was 600-2400, but forget that! That is old news! It is now 400-1600—just like it most likely was in your parents’ day. Basically, the SAT’s gone retro.

If you’ve taken a practice exam and are wondering how to calculate your score, Magoosh can help you figure out what your SAT score would be. Lucky, right?

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What Is a Good SAT Score?

Well…what’s a good grade? For some students, that may mean an A+; for others, it might mean a C- (hey, it’s passing!). SAT scores are like that: what a “good score” is really, really depends on what your goals are. The average SAT score is currently 1050; for most students, a score above this is pretty darn good.

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Of course, there are so many more qualifiers for what “good” means! Luckily for you, we’ve broken this down into a longer post. Find out more in What’s a Good SAT Score for Colleges?

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What SAT Score Do I Need to Get into My School of Choice?

First of all, let’s just emphasize that SAT scores alone usually won’t get you into your dream schools. With that said…to stand a good chance of getting into your shcool of choice, aim for an SAT score that falls between the colleges’ 25th-75th percentiles for admitted students (sometimes, you’ll see this referred to as the “middle 50%”).

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If your score is lower than the 25th percentile for a particular school, do you still have a chance of getting in? Absolutely—after all, 25% of admitted students did have a lower score and they still got in! With that in mind, they may have been star athletes, had alumni parents, won a Pulitzer Prize…you get the idea. Definitely still apply—but consider doing some additional prep and taking the SAT again, just to be on the safe side (most schools will consider only your highest scores).

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When Are SAT Scores Released?

Here’s some awesome news: the College Board is getting faster! If you’re taking the SAT on any date but in the summer (so in October, November, December, March, or May), you’ll get your scores about two weeks after taking the test, and colleges will get them ten days after that. The College Board has estimated dates on when you’ll receive your score, based on your exact test date.

The bummer? June and August scores may still take up to six weeks to process. A lot of students take the SAT in the summer, and it can lead to longer processing times.

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How Can I Best Prepare for the SAT?

Getting jazzed (or at least mentally prepared) to sit down and take the exam? Awesome! Start off by taking an SAT diagnostic test to see your current strengths and weaknesses. Magoosh’s is expertly written…and free!

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After you have your diagnostic scores, get your SAT study schedule in place. Guess what? Magoosh also has free, awesome study schedules for pretty much everyone, whether you have three days or six months to prepare!

Want a taste? Try this SAT Math Question of the Day

A music artist sold 300,000 compact discs in 2010, a 50% increase from 2009. How many compact discs did the music artist sell in 2009?

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What Are Some SAT Resources for Parents and Educators?

The absolute best thing you can do to understand the SAT is to put yourself in your student’s shoes. Take a look at an SAT diagnostic test (or even actually take one!) so you know what your student’s facing. For teachers and counselors, the College Board has great resources for K-12 educators to understand and prep students for the SAT. Keep in mind that Magoosh has some great deals for group SAT-preparation packages, as well!

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And finally, parents might want to take a look at what high school students wish their parents knew about the SAT and college admissions!

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Where Can I Go to Find SAT Study Resources?

You’re asking the right people! We have an amazing, full-length, and free SAT study guide full of info, strategies, practice problems, and tips, just waiting for your perusal!

Learn more about the SAT test here! - magoosh

And before you run out and spend any of your hard-earned money, take a look at our list of high-quality, free SAT resources, as well as our guide to the best SAT books of 2020-2021. They could end up saving you a lot of time!

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