It’s becoming easier than ever to take the SAT for free. While students throughout the United States can get fee waivers if they fall under certain income thresholds, the College Board (SAT testmaker) is now partnering with states and school districts to provide the exam for free to all their 11th-grade students. In fact, around 800,000 students took the exam for free through this program in the 2016-2017 school year. But how do you know if you live in one of the states that provide the SAT for free?
That’s where we come in!
States That Provide the SAT for Free
High-school juniors who live in the following states can currently take the SAT for free (under certain conditions, which we’ll get to in a moment!):
- New Hampshire
Wait a Minute…I Took the SAT for Free, and I’m Pretty Sure I Don’t Live in New Hampshire!
Don’t worry! You’re (probably) not going to get stuck with a bill for the $54 test fee anytime soon.
In addition to state partnerships, the College Board is also cultivating partnerships with individual school districts in many states. For example, some Tennessee school districts offer such a program. California, too, made waves in 2016 when 12 districts hopped on board.
Hmm…This Still Doesn’t Match up with my SAT School-Day Experience Last Year
Keep in mind that College Board/state contracts are usually annual. They can—and do—change from one year to the next. In addition to changes in Tennessee and California districts, state-based changes over the last year include Oklahoma’s decision to offer the SAT and the ACT to its juniors for free, and Illinois hopping from free ACTs to free SATs for its students.
More Changes Are Still to Come…
As you can see, it’s really important to be aware of what’s going on between your state or district and the College Board! A lot of changes have been afoot in recent years…and it’s not just due to a sudden wave of politicians’ generosity.
You might know President Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It followed President Bush’s No Child Left Behind. Basically, states get money from the federal government for accountability testing, to check up on whether students are, well, learning what they’re supposed to. The Department of Education requires that states test high school students at least once.
But! The ESSA lets states use the SAT and ACT for this test, instead of giving another test just to check accountability. This is awesome for states, because now they a) don’t have to write and give their own test, and b) can give students a boost in college admissions by making testing easier. All this, and it’s funded by the federal government!
In terms of what that means for you, you may not have to take an additional statewide accountability exam just to show the DoE how your school’s doing. Instead, your testing will benefit you as much as them! Because no matter why you’re taking the SAT for free, if it’s official, your scores are still valid for college admissions.
How Do I Make the Most of My Free SAT?
First of all, be aware of both the benefits and the drawbacks to free, state- or district-sponsored testing. Yes, there are drawbacks—even though there’s a lot to be happy about to! So let’s start there.
Pros of Taking the School-Based SAT for Free
- Uh…it’s free!
- It’s a great opportunity to take the exam twice.
- You won’t have to take the test on a weekend morning! (Probably.)
- Annoying registration stuff is minimized.
That’s $54 in your pocket to spend on something other than a test.
If you were going to pay to take the SAT anyway, now you can take it both on a school day and on a regularly scheduled SAT exam day. This will give you a great shot at maximizing your score.
And you’ll get out of class for most of the day, too! (Uh…not that that’s a pro or anything.)
You won’t have to think about where to take the test, what test date is best for you, how not to get lost, any of that stuff. Thanks, state-based SAT exam partnership!
Cons of Taking the School-Based SAT for Free
It’s not all sunshine and daisies, though. Don’t get me wrong, the pros faroutweigh the cons, but you definitely want to be aware of the cons going into this thing. For example:
- You won’t get to choose your test date. Your school district will. In 2016, the SAT School Day was Wednesday, October 19. We can infer that the test date will probably remain mid-week in mid-October in future years. School districts also have the opportunity of offering the test on national test dates (those are those weekend mornings!), but most probably won’t. It’d cost more to have staff administer the test when they wouldn’t normally be in school.
Why is this important? As Chris points out, your SAT test date can have a major impact on your score. With that in mind, make sure that you plan to use your free SAT in the most helpful way possible. Make a study plan early, decide if you’re going to pay to take the test again, and consider whether you’re going to take the ACT or SAT subject tests as well. If so, plan how you’re going to fit them into your exam schedule.
- It may make score reporting more confusing.
- You may benefit from taking the ACT also or instead of the SAT. Some students perform better on the ACT; some colleges may require the ACT. In any case, it’s a good idea to see where you’d stand, percentile-wise, on both tests by taking a practice exam for each before testing. Yes, it’s another test, but it may pay huge dividends when it comes to college admissions! Downside here? You may have to take the SAT at school anyway, for state accountability purposes.
Some states do offer both tests for free to juniors, so check out the states that provide the ACT for free.
There IS a nationally administered (weekend) October SAT, as well as the October SAT school day. It’s not a fantastic idea to take both—you won’t have time to get feedback on your performance on the first before taking the second—but if you do, pay extra attention when you choose which scores you want sent to schools.
I’m Still Not Totally Sure How This All Applies to Me
I know, it’s a ton of information to process! At the end of the day, even if you’re relatively sure you cantake the SAT for free, it’s still a good idea to check in with your school’s guidance counselor. He or she can give you the final word on your individual situation. Then, you can go on to SAT greatness! After you spend that $54 burning a hole in your pocket, that is.
About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
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