Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the SAT?

The SAT Reasoning Test is a standardized test for college admissions in the United States. The SAT is owned, published, and developed by the College Board, a nonprofit organization in the United States. It was formerly developed, published, and scored by the Educational Testing Service which still administers the exam. The test is intended to assess a student's readiness for college. It was first introduced in 1926, and its name and scoring have changed several times. It was first called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Assessment Test, but now SAT does not stand for anything, hence is an empty acronym.

The current SAT Reasoning Test, introduced in 2005, takes three hours and forty-five minutes to finish, and costs $49 ($75 International), excluding late fees.Possible scores range from 600 to 2400, combining test results from three 800-point sections (Mathematics, Critical Reading, and Writing).

Taking the SAT or the ACT, is required for freshman entry to many, but not all, universities in the United States.

What does SAT cover?

The current SAT includes three sections, each of which can earn a maximum score of 800 and a minimum score of 200. For the test-taker's final score, the College Board adds the three scores together; typically, a percentile is included with the score, calculated on the basis of scores from students who took comparable tests. Traditionally, top-flight universities such as the Ivy Leagues have demanded very high SAT scores from their applicants.

The first section of the SAT is mathematics, which is divided into three sections. Most of the questions have multiple choice answers, although several questions require test-takers to fill in their numerical answers on an optical answer sheet. The next section is critical reading, which requires test-takers to read short passages and fill out the correct responses to multiple choice questions. Students must also be able to fill in the blanks in sentences using a list of word choices, demonstrating vocabulary skills. Finally, the writing section of the SAT requires students to write a brief essay, and to respond to questions which test the writing and editing skills of the test-taker.


The College Board revamped the SAT in 2005. How has the new SAT changed from the old SAT? Is new SAT harder or easier than the old SAT?

The College Board had taken out the Analogies and Quantitative Comparisons and had included an Essay section. In the Reading section shorter reading passages and questions relating to “double-reading passages” were added. The new math section was enhanced and added items from third year college preparatory math.


SAT vs. ACT: How should students decide which test to take?

The correlation happens to be very high for both tests in that if you score well on one you will score equivalently well on the other. However, the ACT is more memory oriented than the SAT. The material is about the same, for example, there is Grammar on both tests. Math is about the same except the ACT is less strategically oriented. There is Reading on both tests and they test about the same things. However on the ACT there is a whole section on scientific data interpretation (The SAT has some questions on this topic in the Math). Fortunately you don’t have to know the science subject matter on the ACT. If you are more prone to memory, maybe it’s better to take the ACT. If you are more prone to strategizing or you like puzzles,  take the SAT. In any event, check with the Schools that you are applying to and find out which test they prefer.


What is a good SAT score?

It all depends on the colleges you are considering. A 1800 on the SAT may be above average at one university but below average at another. The higher your score, the more options are open to you.

The national average for the new SAT is 1500. If you are close to these averages you will likely be accepted into a considerable number of colleges and universities (as long as you have decent grades), but may not be considered at more selective schools. Above average SAT scores will improve your chances of getting into a more selective school.

Scores below an 1100 on the SAT are considered low at just about any four-year college. You can overcome low scores with good grades or an outstanding application. But even if you're accepted by a four-year college, the school may advise or require you to take some remedial courses as a freshman.

Unless you pulled in a perfect 2400, you can always improve your score. Some students are confident that their numbers are high enough to get them into the college of their choice. But unless you're an honorary member of the admissions committee, you never know.

A good SAT score can also help you snag additional scholarship money. Even if you have already been accepted to a college, you may want to consider taking the test again (say, in December or January of senior year) for that reason.

When should I take the SAT?

The SAT is offered seven times during the school year: October, November, December, January, March, May, and June. It is generally a good idea for a student to take it for the first time in the second half of the junior year; January, March, and May are good dates.


How do I register for the SAT?

You can register for it very easily online at www.collegeboard .com by using a credit card for a fee of $45. Fee waivers are available through high school counseling offices for low-income students who cannot afford the cost. The test is offered at many sites, mostly at large public and parochial schools, but the sites vary on different dates. Details are available online on the College Board Web site and in the printed registration booklet. Some test sites fill up quickly, so it is good to plan ahead and register early to get the site of your choice, without having to drive a long distance to take the test.

Scores are mailed about three weeks after the test date, or are available by phone or online two weeks after the test. Online scores are available free; a fee is charged for scores by phone. The same Web site where you register for the test will have your scores—password-protected, of course. You can also pay for an answer grid showing your pattern of correct and incorrect answers as a function of question type and difficulty level. For some test dates, but not all, you can even purchase a copy of the actual test you took.

How many times should I take the SAT?

There are several things to consider when deciding on how many times you should take the SAT exam.

  • How much time have you put into preparation when you are retaking the exam?
  • How significantly have you improved?
  • How do the colleges you’re applying for evaluate your SAT scores?

It’s important to remember that the College Board submits all of your SAT and Subject Test scores whenever you send a score report to a college. However, most colleges have a policy of using your higher scores in their determination of your eligibility. Unless you have done extremely well and are trying to improve by a very small margin (from 780 to 800, for example), it’s unlikely that taking the SAT more than once will have a negative effect.

Colleges use SAT scores in different ways. Certain schools, such as University of California, take your best overall score from a single time that you took the SAT. Other colleges take the best scores from different exam dates. In either case, it doesn’t hurt you to retake the test to see if you can score better.


What SAT score should I aim for to get into [insert school name here]?

Obviously, the overall strength of your admissions application (grades, application essay, recommendations, extracurricular activities) will have a big say in what SAT score you should aim for.

As a general guideline, however, here is a list of the average (25th percentile to 75th percentile) SAT scores at some top US colleges.

How is the ACT different from the SAT?

Broadly, the ACT is a content-based test while the SAT is a skills-, or problem solving-based one.  For example, while the SAT gives you all the mathematical formulae you need to know, the ACT expects you to know many of them already.  In order to maintain our laser-sharp focus on helping students master the SAT, Pacific Prep does not do ACT prep. 


What is the difference between the SAT and the Subject Tests?

The SAT is designed to measure the critical thinking skills necessary to do well in college. It determines how well you analyze and solve problems. This is why SAT scores are used in college admissions - they determine the likelihood of your success in college. The Subject Tests focus on specific subjects, are primarily multiple-choice, and only take an hour to complete. Subject Tests are used to determine knowledge and skills in a particular area.


What are the similarities and differences between the SAT and the PSAT/NMSQT?

The PSAT/NMSQT was designed to provide students with practice for taking the SAT, while also offering opportunities to qualify for scholarship and recognition programs. Like the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT measures math, reading, and writing skills. While the PSAT/NMSQT contains actual SAT questions, it is not designed to be as difficult. The PSAT/NMSQT is also shorter than the SAT, coming in at two hours and ten minutes. The SAT itself takes three hours and forty-five minutes. Also unlike the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT is not used for college admissions and scores are not provided to colleges. One of the most compelling reasons to take the PSAT/NMSQT is its Score Report, which provides you with personalized feedback on areas you can improve, along with specific advice on how to do so.


When do I take the PSAT?

The PSAT scores that are counted for scholarships and other awards are from your junior year. Many students take the PSAT as sophomores, though, for practice. This gives you risk-free exposure to the exam's format, question-types, and content. You can compare your test-run score to SAT I scores achieved by students at colleges on your wish list. If your scores are low, compared to the college averages, you may want to begin formal preparation for the PSAT and SAT I. Since the exam is designed to test skills acquired over a period of time, early preparation is often the only way to see a significant increase in your test scores.