What Are The SATs?
Overview and Registration
The SAT Reasoning Reasoning test (also known as the SAT 1) is the most commonly required standardized test for college admissions in top tier US universities. Historically, the SAT has been more popular among colleges on the coasts and the ACT more popular in the Midwest and South. The SAT Reasoning exam tests applicants' skills of critical reading, writing, and math. The test is administered over the span of three and a-half-hours with 10 sections (3 math, 3 critical reading, and 3 writing with one experimental ungraded section from any of the three parts).
The SAT is administered by the CollegeBoard. The exam is administered 7 times a year; once in each of the following months: October, November, December, January, March, May, and June. However, most schools only accept scores up to the January after submission of the app. Students can register for the test on the official CollegeBoard website. Most SAT Reasoning exams cost between 49-100 US dollars. It should be noted that CollegeBoard explicitly only allows the use of Number 2 pencils for the exam.
*Note: The structure of the SAT will be changed in 2016. Thus, visit CollegeBoard to track the changes.
Structure of the Exam
The SAT Reasoning exam consists of three equal parts: critical reading, math, and writing. Each part has a scale of 200-800. It should be noted that the most important parts of the exam are the critical reading and math, seeing as there are some top universities who do not accept the writing portion of the SAT. Also, historically it has been observed that colleges tend to focus more on the math section of the SAT for international applicants, especially for those applying in one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.
The critical reasoning section is focused on testing one's critical thinking and reading skills. The section usually consists of sentence completion questions followed by a long passage which is then followed by questions regarding the passage. Examples of questions include the following:
- Most of the students found the lecturer’s speech _______; in fact, it was so dl that some even nodded off.
(A) illuminating (B) cryptic (C) tedious (D) disjointed (E) unsettling
As you can see from the previous example, this section requires knowledge of general sentence structure in the English language, as well as a familiarity with English phrases and idioms. The best way to perform well on this section is through constant reading and writing. Also, for the essay section, research has shown that the longer the essay, and the higher the number of good vocabulary words used, the better the score.
The second section of the exam is the math portion. The math section tests one’s problems solving and mathematical skills. Most the mathematical fomulas that are needed are given in the exam; however there are some which are not included (such as the formula for calculating the arc of a circle). It takes both good proficiency in mathematical problem solving and speed to score high in the math portion. Examples of math SAT questions are as follows:
- Ben is three times as old as Samantha, who is two years older than half of Michele’s age. If Michele is 12, how old is Ben?
(A) 8 (B) 18 (C) 20 (D) 24 (E) 36
- The area of circle A is 6.25π in2. If the radius of the circle is doubled, what is the new area of circle A?
(A) 5π in2 (B) 12.5π in2 (C) 25π in2 (D) 39.0625π in2 (E) 156.25π in2
Calculators are allowed for the SAT math section, provided they do not have a QWERTY keyboard. Although the CollegeBoard states that a calculator is not needed it is highly recommended for a better score. Graphing calculators tend to be less effective than scientific calculators when it comes to the SAT 1 exam (as opposed to the SAT Math2 Subject test).
The final section of the exam is the writing portion. The writing portion tests one’s grammar and writing skills. The writing portion is divided into one essay section and two multiple choice sections. For the essay section, a student is given a prompt and asked to write a full essay within 25 minutes. The multiple choice questions include error identification questions, sentence improvement questions, and paragraph improvement questions. Examples of the multiple choice questions include the following:
-The corporation began construction on the new building in January, but there is still no completion.
(A) there is still no completion (B) they have yet to complete it (C) it has yet to complete the project (D) they have not still completed it yet (E) it isn’t hardly done yet
As can be seen from the previous example, this section requires knowledge of general sentence structure in the English language, as well as a familiarity with English phrases and idioms. The best route for this section would seem to be through constant reading and writing. Also, as for the essay section, research has shown that the longer the essay, as well as the more number of high-level words, the better the score.
Sending Scores and ScoreChoice
Unlike many of the gulf countries, standardized scores for US colleges are sent by the applicant directly. In order for admissions officers to see one’s scores, one must send them directly through the CollegeBoard website. Most schools require all scores to be sent by late January to early February.
When sending scores, one has an option of using CollegeBoard’s ScoreChoice system. ScoreChoice allows students to choose which scores each school receives; however, not all colleges subscribe to this and some ask that all SAT scores be sent.
When choosing which scores should be sent, one should take into consideration all the different aspects of the score, not just its overall numerical size. For instance, if one is applying to an engineering department for a school known for its science and engineering focus (and only allows for one score from a single SAT setting to be sent), and one has two scores, one overall high and another overall low but with a much better math score. One should not just simply choose to send the higher score but to judge the difference. Some schools, and especially for certain departments, tend to focus on one section more than the other, and therefore one should take that into consideration when choosing which scores to send.
Students can see which schools allow for score choice from the university's official website or through the following link.