is a standardized test
widely used for college admissions
in the United States
. It was first introduced in 1926, and its name and scoring have changed several times, being originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test
, then the Scholastic Assessment Test
, then the SAT Reasoning Test
, and now simply the SAT.
The current SAT, introduced in 2005, takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to finish, and as of 2014 costs US$52.50 (up to US$101.5 outside of the United States), excluding late fees. Possible scores on the SAT range from 600 to 2400, combining test results from three 800-point sections: Mathematics, Critical Reading, and Writing. Taking the SAT or its competitor, the ACT
, is required for freshman entry to many, but not all, universities in the United States.
On March 5, 2014, the College Board announced that a redesigned version of the SAT would be administered for the first time in 2016. The exam will revert to the 1600-point scale, the essay will be optional, and students will have 3 hours to take the exam plus 50 additional minutes to complete the essay.
SAT consists of three major sections: Critical Reading
, and Writing
. Each section receives a score on the scale of 200–800. All scores are multiples of 10. Total scores are calculated by adding up scores of the three sections. Each major section is divided into three parts. There are 10 sub-sections, including an additional 25-minute experimental or "equating" section that may be in any of the three major sections. The experimental section is used to normalize
questions for future administrations of the SAT and does not count toward the final score. The test contains 3 hours and 45 minutes of actual timed sections; most administrations (after accounting for orientation, distribution of materials, completion of biographical sections, and fifteen minutes of timed breaks) run for about four and a half hours. The questions range from easy, medium, and hard depending on the scoring from the experimental sections. Easier questions typically appear closer to the beginning of the section while harder questions are toward the end in certain sections. This is not true for every section (the Critical Reading section is in chronological order) but it is the rule of thumb mainly for math, grammar, and the 19 sentence-completions in the reading sections.
The Critical Reading section of the SAT is made up of three scored sections: two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section, with varying types of questions, including sentence completions and questions about short and long reading passages. Critical Reading sections normally begin with 5 to 8 sentence completion questions; the remainder of the questions are focused on the reading passages. Sentence completions generally test the student's vocabulary
and understanding of sentence structure and organization by requiring the student to select one or two words that best complete a given sentence. The bulk of the Critical Reading section is made up of questions regarding reading passages, in which students read short excerpts on social sciences, humanities, physical sciences, or personal narratives and answer questions based on the passage. Certain sections contain passages asking the student to compare two related passages; generally, these consist of shorter reading passages. The number of questions about each passage is proportional to the length of the passage. Unlike in the Mathematics section, where questions go in the order of difficulty, questions in the Critical Reading section go in the order of the passage. Overall, question sets near the beginning of the section are easier, and question sets near the end of the section are harder.
An example of a "grid in" mathematics question in which the answer should be written into the box below the question.
section of the SAT is widely known as the Quantitative Section or Calculation Section. The mathematics section consists of three scored sections. There are two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section, as follows:
· One of the 25-minute sections is entirely multiple choice
· The other 25-minute section contains 8 multiple choice questions and 10 grid-in questions. For grid-in questions, test-takers write the answer inside a grid on the answer sheet. Unlike multiple choice questions, there is no penalty for incorrect answers on grid-in questions because the test-taker is not limited to a few possible choices.
· The 20-minute section is all multiple choice, with 16 questions.
The SAT has done away with quantitative comparison questions on the math section, leaving only questions with symbolic
· New topics include Algebra II
and scatter plots. These recent changes have resulted in a shorter, more quantitative exam requiring higher level mathematics courses relative to the previous exam.
Four-function, scientific, graphing and Computer Algebra System (CAS) calculators are permitted on the SAT math section; however, calculators are not permitted on either of the other sections. Calculators with QWERTY
keyboards, cell phone calculators, portable computers, and personal organizers are not permitted.
With the recent changes to the content of the SAT math section, the need to save time while maintaining accuracy of calculations has led some to use calculator programs
during the test. These programs allow students to complete problems faster than would normally be possible when making calculations manually.
The use of a Computer Algebra System
calculator is sometimes preferred, especially for geometry
problems and exercises
involving multiple calculations. According to research conducted by the CollegeBoard, performance on the math sections of the exam is associated with the extent of calculator use, with those using calculators on about a third to a half of the items averaging higher scores than those using calculators less frequently. The use of a CAS calculator in mathematics courses, and also becoming familiar with the calculator outside of the classroom, is known to have a positive effect on the performance of students using a graphing calculator during the exam.
The writing portion of the SAT, based on but not directly comparable to the old SAT II subject test in writing (which in turn was developed from the old Test of Standard Written English (TSWE)), includes multiple choice questions and a brief essay. The essay subscore contributes about 28% to the total writing score, with the multiple choice questions contributing 70%. This section was implemented in March 2005 following complaints from colleges about the lack of uniform examples of a student's writing ability and critical thinking.
The multiple choice questions include error-identification questions, sentence-improvement questions, and paragraph-improvement questions. Error-identification and sentence-improvement questions test the student's knowledge of grammar, presenting an awkward or grammatically incorrect sentence; in the error identification section, the student must locate the word producing the source of the error or indicate that the sentence has no error, while the sentence improvement section requires the student to select an acceptable fix to the awkward sentence. The paragraph improvement questions test the student's understanding of logical organization of ideas, presenting a poorly written student essay and asking a series of questions as to what changes might be made to best improve it.
The essay section, which is always administered as the first section of the test, is 25 minutes long. All essays must be in response to a given prompt. The prompts are broad and often philosophical and are designed to be accessible to students regardless of their educational and social backgrounds. For instance, test takers may be asked to expand on such ideas as their opinion on the value of work in human life or whether technological change also carries negative consequences to those who benefit from it. No particular essay structure is required, and the College Board accepts examples "taken from [the student's] reading, studies, experience, or observations." Two trained readers assign each essay a score between 1 and 6, where a score of 0 is reserved for essays that are blank, off-topic, non-English, not written with a Number 2 pencil, or considered illegible after several attempts at reading. The scores are summed to produce a final score from 2 to 12 (or 0). If the two readers' scores differ by more than one point, then a senior third reader decides. The average time each reader/grader spends on each essay is less than 3 minutes.
In March 2005, Les Perelman
analyzed 15 scored sample essays contained in the College Board's ScoreWrite
book along with 30 other training samples and found that in over 90% of cases, the essay's score could be predicted from simply counting the number of words in the essay. Two years later, Perelman trained high school seniors to write essays that made little sense but contained infrequently used words such as "plethora" and "myriad". All of the students received scores of "10" or better, which placed the essays in the 92nd percentile or higher.
Style of questions
Most of the questions on the SAT, except for the essay and the grid-in math responses, are multiple choice
; all multiple-choice questions have five answer choices, one of which is correct. The questions of each section of the same type are generally ordered by difficulty. However, an important exception exists: Questions that follow the long and short reading passages are organized chronologically, rather than by difficulty. Ten of the questions in one of the math sub-sections are not multiple choice. They instead require the test taker to bubble in a number in a four-column grid.
The questions are weighted equally. For each correct answer, one raw point is added. For each incorrect answer one quarter of a point is deducted. No points are deducted for incorrect math grid-in questions. This ensures that a student's mathematically expected gain
from guessing is zero. The final score is derived from the raw score; the precise conversion chart varies between test administrations.
The SAT therefore recommends only making educated guesses, that is, when the test taker can eliminate at least one answer he or she thinks is wrong. Without eliminating any answers one's probability of answering correctly is 20%. Eliminating one wrong answer increases this probability to 25% (and the expected gain to 1/16 of a point); two, a 33.3% probability (1/6 of a point); and three, a 50% probability (3/8 of a point).