How to Prepare for the SAT

The SAT is a common, standardised entrance test used by US universities and colleges to assess both US and international applicants. The SAT score you achieve will form a key part of your college application and determine which colleges you have a realistic chance of getting accepted into. 

This guide provides all of the key information you need to know about the SAT, including what sections are included and what a ‘good’ score looks like, and top tips on how to prepare.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is an entrance exam created and administered by the College Board and used by many colleges and universities in the US to make admissions decisions. It is a multiple-choice test which includes two main sections: Reading and Writing, and Maths.

What is the digital SAT 2024?

The SAT is now digital: from 2023 for international students and from 2024 for US students. Digital SAT exams ensure that each test is unique. SAT plans to introduce a set of tools through the digital version of the testing app, including a timer, a reference sheet, and a flagging tool to mark the pending questions for review.

You should note that the 2024 digital SAT exam pattern gives students the benefit of attempting the exam on their own devices. However, students cannot take the test from home (exams are still supervised).

The test will be administered through a digital app called Bluebook.

Also, the SAT adapts its format each year so you should always search for the most up-to-date information available.

Need an expert SAT tutor to guide you through the 2024 moderations and/or assist you to get your dream score? Just ask.

How important is the SAT?

The SAT is an important part of your US college application. It is a standardised test which means it provides colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare applicants from across the world and from different educational backgrounds. 

How important SAT scores are in the application process varies from college to college. It will always be considered alongside other aspects of your application, including your qualifications, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, personal essays, and admissions interviews (if required). For particularly competitive universities/colleges, a high SAT score is crucial in order to give your application a good chance of success.

What is included in the SAT?

The SAT was 3 hours long with 3 sections. However, the SAT in 2024 lasts for 2 hours (2 hours 15 minutes with breaks) and consists of 2 sections (with 2 modules each). 

Section 1: Reading and Writing 

This section is 32 minutes long and consists of 2 modules (with 27 questions each).

Since 2023, the reading section has had shorter passages. The reading section usually consists of standalone passages and one pair of passages that you read together. The passages are drawn from the following sources:

  • Literary passage/s from a work of fiction
  • Passage/s from a US founding document or a text in the Great Global Conversation they inspired (topics such as freedom, justice or human dignity, such as a speech by Nelson Mandela, for example)
  • Passage/s from a work of Economics, Psychology, Sociology, or another social science
  • Passage/s from scientific works that examine foundational concepts and developments in Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry or Physics

There are usually three main types of questions you will be asked in the Reading section.

1. How the author uses evidence

Some questions ask you to show your understanding of how the author uses evidence to support a claim. Questions like this might ask you to identify the part of a passage that supports a point the author is making, find evidence in a passage that best supports the answer to a previous question, or find a relationship between an informational graphic and the passage it’s paired with.

2. Understanding words in context

Many of the questions on the Reading test ask you to identify the meaning of a word in context. You may need to use context clues in a passage to figure out which meaning of a word or phrase is being used. In other questions, you may need to decide how an author’s choice of words shapes meaning, style, and tone.

3. Analysis in history/social studies and science

The Reading test includes passages in the fields of history, social studies, and science. You’ll be asked questions that require you to draw on the reading skills needed most to succeed in those subjects. For example, you might read about an experiment and then see questions that ask you to examine hypotheses, interpret data, and consider implications.

From 2024, reading passages will be shorter with just one question connected to each passage. Also, reading passages will reflect a wider range of topics, including more of what students will read at university.

Please note that essays are no more a part of the SAT exam for international students.

Section 2: Maths

This section is 35 minutes long and consists of 2 modules (with 22 modules each).

In 2024, Maths questions will be explained more concisely than before.

Most of the test is multiple-choice, however, some of the questions at the end ask you to write the answer. Everyday formulas are provided for you to use in these questions. This part of the SAT focuses on the areas of Maths that will play the biggest role in college and potentially your future career. These include:

  • Heart of Algebra, which focuses on the mastery of linear equations and systems.
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis, which is about being quantitatively literate.
  • Passport to Advanced Maths, which features questions that require the manipulation of complex equations.
  • Additional Topics in Maths, including Geometry and Trigonometry.

SAT 2024 allows students to use calculators for the entire Maths section. Now, a graphic calculator is built into the digital testing app for students who do not have their own calculator which creates an equal playing field for students/schools with fewer resources.

Reach out for expert guidance on the SAT.

How is the digital SAT scored (2024)?

The scoring dynamics for the digital test bring a new twist. The initial module performance in each exam section prompts the software to tailor the second module – either a notch easier or more challenging. Bagging correct answers on the tougher ones racks up extra points. 

Exams will now be scored on a 1,600-point scale. 

Brace yourself for a quicker results turnover; in days, not weeks, a welcome change from the old pencil-and-paper era.

Note: The tests are still supervised by examiners and take place in schools or test centres. So, students are not allowed to take the tests at home.

Need help understanding scoring and/or getting top results? We can help.

How much does the SAT cost?

The SAT costs $60 to register for. There are also additional charges for other services, such as changing your test centre ($25), cancelling your test by the cancellation deadline ($25), and additional score reports ($12 each).

When is the SAT?

The SAT is sat seven times per year (March, May, June, August, October, November, and December). See all SAT test dates on the test website.

You’ll need to register for the SAT via the College Board website. There are multiple SAT dates you can register for and each has its own deadline. For example if you want to take the SAT in October, you will need to register by the deadline in September.

Where is the SAT?

The SAT exams are held in a test centre. The exam used to be pen/paper, however, the SAT is now digital: from 2023 for international students and from 2024 for US students. Find your local test centre here.

What is a good SAT score?

The 50th percentile value (1028 or higher) is considered average. 

The 75th percentile value (1200 or higher) and the 90th percentile value (1350 or higher) are considered good and excellent.

If you’re looking to achieve a top SAT score or improve your score, The Profs’ SAT tutors can help. Our experts have years of experience helping students prepare and understand the balance you need between knowledge, technique, and sustained effort to succeed in the SAT. Get in touch with our team to start preparing.

5 tips on how to prepare for the SAT

1. Start early and create a plan

Amongst attending school, revising for exams, fulfilling other extracurricular commitments, and applying for college, finding time to prepare for the SAT can be a challenge. That’s why it’s important to start thinking about the SAT early and create a plan that ensures you are able to prepare for everything in the test before the day.

On its website, College Board recommends giving yourself 2-3 months to prepare for the SAT. However, if you’re applying from a country other than the US, it may be wise to leave yourself a little more time than this as there may be topics and question styles you are less familiar with.

2. Read widely and engage with school work

The SAT requires a broad range of school-level knowledge and a deep understanding of the English language. Reading from a wide range of sources in your free time and keeping on top of your school work are therefore great starting points when it comes to preparing for the SAT.

Pay close attention to modules you have covered at school that include topics that you are likely to cover in the SAT. For example, in preparation for the Maths section of the ACT, ensure that you are up to date with all school-level content you’ve covered on: Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Geometry, Trigonometry, and more.

Top tip: As with performance at school in general, you should make sure that you are getting enough sleep and are maintaining a suitable work-life balance in the months running up to the SAT. Your brain simply cannot function at its fullest potential unless you take care of your health – both physical and mental – so this is key to preparing as effectively as possible.

3. Prepare for every section individually

Each section of the SAT tests different skills and abilities. In order to perform well overall, you need to make sure you have prepared for each section adequately. Look at the information provided by College Board on exactly what topics and question types you can expect to come up in the SAT, and ensure that you understand each of these topics before the day.

You should also set aside dedicated time in your preparation plan to look at past/practice questions for each section. Like most other tests, the SAT does not purely test your subject knowledge, but your ability to write well, solve problems, and answer the specific questions you are presented with.

Top tip: It can be easy to fall into the trap of revising topics and practising question styles that you are already familiar/comfortable with. However, while this may boost your confidence in the short-term, it will not prepare you effectively for the actual test and may mean you miss out on learning new information and developing vital skills. Make sure that you practise not only what you already know, but also what you find difficult, especially topics or question styles that you have never come across before.

4. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Like most tests, the SAT is taken under timed conditions and it is crucial that you complete as much of the test as possible within the allotted time you are given (2 hours).

Taking practice SAT tests under timed conditions is the best way to simulate the environment you will be faced with in the real exam. It also allows you to identify areas that you may struggle with more under time pressure (for example, Maths questions that require mental maths) and try out strategies to help you stay calm and perform well.

Good quality practice tests and preparation resources are not always reliable or easy to find. College Board, the organisation that administers the SAT, offers some practice tests you can use as part of your preparation, and you may be able to find other mini-practice tests elsewhere. However, when it comes to resourceful preparation, nothing compares to The Profs’ specialised SAT tuition.

Over many years of successfully tutoring US college applicants, our tutors have developed a wealth of knowledge and resources to help you prepare for every element of the SAT, from time management strategies to specialised Reading, Writing and Maths support. Get in contact with our team today to find out how we can help you.

5. Work with an expert SAT tutor

Preparing for the SAT can be stressful. There’s a lot of pressure to perform well so that you can get into your dream college. Unlike school, you won’t necessarily have a structured learning plan that ensures you are prepared for all of the content, or teachers who understand the test specifications. The solution to this is to work with a qualified SAT expert.

Working with a tutor will provide so many benefits to your preparation. A SAT tutor can:

  • Identify and focus on areas in which you need extra support.
    It can be tricky to identify your own weaknesses, especially if you don’t know what exactly your examiners are looking for. Our experienced SAT specialists can help you tailor your preparation to areas where it’s most needed.
  • Offer insider knowledge on the admissions test you are taking and what the assessors will be looking for.
    The Profs’ SAT tutors have first-hand experience of the specific test structure, question types, and content you will face – all of which will be invaluable to your preparation.
  • Make the preparation more fun and engaging.
    It can be difficult to stay self-motivated and engaged when you’re juggling SAT preparation with normal schoolwork, and all of the other requirements of applying for college. Ensuring the preparation process is enjoyable will take some of the pressure off while still maximising your chances of success.
  • Support with your wider US college application.
    Applying to a US college can be an unfamiliar and confusing experience, especially if you are applying as an international student, as there are lots of important factors to consider. The Profs’ experts will ensure that you are not only prepared for the SAT, but also for the wider college application process.

To find out more about our SAT tuition and wider US application services, get in touch with our team today.

FAQs

How long is my SAT score valid?

Your SAT score is valid for five years from the date you took the test. Therefore, if you don’t get into your chosen university the first time around, you could use the same test for another application in the following year, or for another university. You can also resit the SAT multiple times if you are not happy with your score.

When is the deadline for registering for the SAT?

In general, the registration deadline for the SAT is around five weeks before the testing date. For example, if you want to take the SAT in October, you will need to register by the September deadline.

When do I get my SAT score?

From 2023, the SAT scores are released days after the exam instead of weeks. Hence, candidates won’t have to wait weeks or months to obtain the SAT exam result report, allowing them to apply for colleges more quickly.

What does SAT stand for?

The SAT is a standardised entrance exam used by colleges and universities in the US. The SAT stands for ‘Scholastic Assessment Test’.

Can I take both SAT and ACT?

Although you are unlikely to need both scores to apply for US colleges, you can take both the SAT and ACT exams. Many applicants choose to take both tests in order to give themselves the highest chance of a competitive score and the most options when it comes to college choices.

Should I take the SAT or ACT?

Unless specified by the university, you are usually free to take either test, however, it’s important to think about which best fits with your application. For example, if you’re applying to study a science-based degree like Engineering or Medicine, it is best to do the ACT to showcase your scientific knowledge.

Some universities do specify either the SAT or ACT, so it’s important to check with their international admissions office directly to double-check before registering. An increasing number of college applicants are taking both the SAT and the ACT to give themselves the highest chance of a competitive score and the most options when it comes to college choices.