What is the SAT?

What is the SAT?

Written by Chris Hernandez

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Learn all about the entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to help decide which students to admit. The sections, FAQs, history, and more.

The SAT is a three-hour entrance examination that tests reading, writing, and math skills. The SAT is used by most colleges and universities to help decide which students to admit. 

In this article, we will walk you through everything you need to know about the SAT – including its history, the benefits of taking the SAT, its format, and the scoring system.

SAT basics at a glance:

  • SAT Length: 3 hours
  • SAT Main Sections:
    • Math
    • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)
  • SAT Cost: $60
  • Highest SAT Score: 1600
  • Average SAT Score: 1060

The SAT, recognized as the most widely used college admission test in the U.S., has been around for almost a century. The SAT is used to measure how well a student is prepared for college. 

It evaluates their math skills, reading comprehension, essay writing skills, and understanding of high school grammar, and provides admissions officers with a tangible way to gauge college preparedness.

College admissions officers look at several factors when evaluating potential students, such as GPA, the types of classes taken in high school, letters of recommendation, extracurriculars, interviews, and essays. The significance of SAT scores in the college admissions process can differ between schools. Generally, scoring well on the SAT/ACT will provide more opportunities for college selection and funding.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the SAT, let's take a deeper dive into the details and explanations of everything about the SAT.

What Is the SAT?

Used by colleges and universities to make admissions decisions, the SAT is a three-hour examination that tests reading, writing, and math skills.

The College Board is responsible for creating and administering the test, and it is used to evaluate students' college readiness.

SAT tests are scheduled seven times a year, usually on the first Saturday of each month, and the College Board provides a program called SAT School Day, which allows students to take the exam in the fall or spring at their own high school.

Those wishing to have SAT scores sent to universities must sign up for the exam a minimum of one month before, at a fee of $60. There is no cap on how many times the exam can be taken, though many people only do so once or twice.

What Subjects Does the SAT Cover?

The SAT has two main sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)

EBRW comprises a Reading test and a Writing and Language test.

SAT Math is split into two subsections: a no-calculator test (on which you may not use a calculator) and a calculator test (on which you may use a calculator).

Number Of Questions
Time Per Question
1. Reading 52 65 minutes 75 seconds
2. Writing and Language 44 35 minutes 48 seconds
3. Math — No Calculator 20 25 minutes 75 seconds
4. Math — Calculator 38 55 minutes 87 seconds
Total 154 3 hours N/A


  • Questions: 52
  • Time: 65 minutes
  • Sub scores: Command of Evidence, Words in Context

The Reading section has five passages which may include two smaller sections and 10–11 questions related to each passage. 

These passages come from history, social studies, science, and literature, and at least one of them will be from the early 1900s or before.

Helpful article: How to Boost Your SAT Reading Score (10 Tips).

Writing and Language

  • Questions: 44
  • Time: 35 minutes
  • Sub scores: Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Command of Evidence, Words in Context

The Writing portion of the exam requests that you suggest corrections or improvements for different portions of passages taken from various sources, including arguments and nonfiction stories. You may be expected to make alterations to improve the clarity of arguments; replace words with more suitable options, and adjust the grammar, structure, or style.

Math — No Calculator

  • Questions: 20
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Sub scores: Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math

The Math – No Calculator section of the SAT is the shortest, taking up about 15 multiple-choice and 5 grid-in questions. With grid-ins, you have to fill in the answer for yourself in the numbered bubbles. This portion of the exam tests multiple concepts like linear equations, linear inequalities, functions, and quadratic equations, plus more sophisticated topics like nonlinear expressions, radicals, and exponentials.

Math — Calculator

  • Questions: 38
  • Time: 55 minutes
  • Sub scores: Heart of Algebra, Problem-Solving, and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math

The SAT Math – Calculator section tests a student's comprehension and problem-solving capabilities with 8 grid-in questions covering linear inequalities, quadratic functions, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and graph/data interpretation. All scientific/most graphing calculators are allowed, and a basic on-screen calculator is available to digital test-takers.

Helpful article: SAT Math Formulas You Must Know Before the Test

Detailed List of the Allowed Time for the SAT

The SAT takes a total of three hours to complete, without any pauses. The Reading section is the longest at 65 minutes, while Math – No-Calculator is the quickest at 25 minutes.

Time Per Question
1. Reading 65 minutes 75 seconds
Break 10 minutes N/A
2. Writing and Language 35 minutes 48 seconds
3. Math — No Calculator 25 minutes 75 seconds
Break 5 minutes N/A
4. Math — Calculator 55 minutes 87 seconds
Total (with breaks) 3 hours 15 minutes N/A


  • You'll get a 10-minute break between the Reading and Writing sections, followed by a shorter five-minute break between the Math — No Calculator and Math — Calculator tests.
  • Test-takers with documented disabilities may qualify for extended breaks, additional breaks, or other accommodations like extended time on the exam.
  • Some test-takers may have to take an experimental fifth section after a two-minute break following the Math — Calculator test. This section takes the form of an extra Reading, Writing, or Math test and lasts 20 minutes.
  • The College Board may include this section to test out new questions for future exams. Your answers in this section will not count toward your final SAT score.
  • The upcoming digital SAT will be much shorter than the current paper SAT, clocking in at just two hours.

When Can You Take the SAT?

The SAT is usually administered on the first Saturday of each of the following months: August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. 

For those based outside the United States, the SAT is available for international test-takers in August, October, December, March, May, and June. Additionally, beginning in 2023, the digital version of the SAT will become available for international test-takers.

SAT Test Dates – Remainder of the 2022-23 School Year

Test Date
Registration Deadline
Late Registration / Deadline For Changes
March 11, 2023 February 10, 2023 February 28, 2023
May 6, 2023 April 7, 2023 April 25, 2023
June 3, 2023 May 4, 2023 May 23, 2023
March 11, 2023 February 10, 2023 February 28, 2023


Anticipated SAT Test Dates – 2023-24 School Year 

SAT Test Date*
Registration Deadline
Late Registration / Deadline For Changes
Aug 26, 2023 July 28, 2023 Aug 15, 2023
Oct 7, 2023 Sept 8, 2023 Sept 26, 2023
Nov 4, 2023 Oct 5, 2023 Oct 24, 2023
Dec 2, 2023 Nov 2, 2023 Nov 21, 2023
Mar 9, 2024 Feb 23, 2024 Feb 27, 2024**
May 4, 2024 Apr 19, 2024 Apr 23, 2024**
June 1, 2024 May 17, 2024 May 21, 2024**

Source: College Board

Most students take the SAT during their junior and senior years of high school. 

Many choose to retake the test to improve their scores, so it's a good idea to take the exam as early as possible, so they have enough time to take it again if they decide to. 

Generally, the SAT is taken in the spring of 11th grade and then again in the fall of 12th grade.

*Your registration options will be limited if you aren't taking the SAT for one of its main purposes.

**Subject to change.

How Does SAT Scoring Work?

The SAT consists of two sections, Math and EBRW, which are each scored on a 200-800 scale. Your total SAT score is the sum of these two section scores, making it possible to earn a perfect score of 1600. 

Since the difficulty of questions varies, not all questions are weighted the same when scored.

The College Board uses an equating process to convert individual raw scores (the number of questions answered correctly) into scaled scores, and this method may differ slightly depending on the version of the SAT taken.

As there is no penalty for incorrect or blank answers on the SAT, it is recommended to make an educated guess on every question.

Although SAT scoring has changed over the years, the structure of the score will remain the same with the introduction of the digital SAT.

What Is a Good SAT Score?

Generally, a score above the median of 1060 is considered good since it means you've done better than half of all test-takers. 

It's best to aim even higher, though, around 1200, which would put you in the top quarter of test-takers and make you a viable applicant for many schools. 

Typically, accepted students to top universities have historically scored highly on the SAT, with an average score of 1450-1550 being in the top 1-4% of test-takers. 

Ultimately, the SAT score that is good for you will depend on the expectations of the universities you are applying to.

How to Study for the SAT

Taking the SAT is the perfect time to show what you have learned and how ready you are for college. 

To get the best results, begin studying at least two to three months before the test date. To improve your chances of being accepted into your dream school, Amikka Learning’s one-on-one tutoring is there for you.

Master the SAT

Amikka Learning’s SAT prep course covers every single piece of content and strategy needed to get a top score in the Math, Reading, and Grammar sections.

Resources included:

  • Over 200 videos of content
  • Over ten practice exams
  • Rewind, pause, or speed up our course whenever necessary
  • Hundreds of practice questions

Contact Amikka for a free trial now!

SAT Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s now answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the SAT.

What is the Best Option — SAT or ACT?

Most colleges and universities accept either the SAT or ACT and do not prefer one over the other. Many college-bound students now take both tests, and changes to the SAT in 2016 make it easier to prepare for both tests at the same time and score competitively on both.

To decide if taking the SAT, ACT, or both tests is right for you, it is advisable to take a full-length practice test of each type to assess how you handle time pressure and identify which types of questions you find most challenging. This will help you decide which test is more suitable for your strengths and weaknesses.

When should I take the SAT?

Most high school students take either the SAT or the ACT in either their junior or senior year. It is important to allow enough time to re-take the test if necessary to increase your score before applying to college. The SAT is offered nationally in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. (We’ll include a list of dates further down)

What is on the SAT?

The SAT is comprised of two main sections

  • Math
    • SAT Math includes a section that allows calculators and a no calculator section.
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
    • The EBRW is made up of two tests, the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test.

How long is the SAT?

The SAT test allows 3 hours for completion.

How is the SAT scored?

Each section of the SAT is scored on a 200-to-800-point scale.

Your total SAT score is the sum of your section scores.

The highest possible SAT score is 1600.

How do you register for the SAT?

SAT registration deadlines are typically about five weeks before each test date.

Register online on the College Board website.

Under specific circumstances, the College Board may require SAT registration by mail.

How can I prep for the SAT?

There are a variety of options, such as free resources, online classes, or tutors. Experts with knowledge of the test can help you establish a study plan and help keep you focused on your goal.

Along with offering the best 1-on-1 tutors for private lessons, Amikka Learning created over 1,000 videos of content to help their students improve even faster. Move from beginner to expert level at lightning speed.

Is the SAT optional?

There is a movement against standardized testing, which has gained momentum recently as a result of the cancellation of in-person exams during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, several universities have adopted the approach of allowing applicants to submit their scores if they wish, but not penalizing them if they don't.

Despite the debate surrounding the SAT and ACT, a high score on either of these tests still indicates a good likelihood of college success.

Therefore, if you opt to include your SAT scores in your application, it serves as a tangible demonstration of your academic proficiency and potential for success at the given institution.

The History of the SAT

It All Started in 1926

The first SAT was administered on June 23rd, 1926, and was then known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. 8,000 students took the test, 60% of whom were male. The majority of those students were attempting to gain admission to either Yale University or Smith College.

A committee led by renowned Princeton psychologist Carl Campbell Brigham designed a test to gain an objective benchmark for student scholastic achievement.

It was composed of 315 questions covering classification, arithmetic, definitions, antonyms, number series, paragraph reading, logical inference, and analogies, and had to be completed within 90 minutes.

It was the first-ever attempt at measuring scholastic achievement in a loosely organized format.

Major Revisions Over the Next 75 Years

In 1930, the SAT underwent its first major revision, changing the structure of the test from multiple subjects to two categories: verbal and math.

Over the next 75 years, the test was altered several times, such as removing antonyms to avoid memorization and adjusting the time limits of each section, as well as updating the content of the math and verbal sections to better assess academic achievement.

This two-part structure remained until 2004 when the test was revised once more.

From 1930 to 2005, scoring on the SAT changed dramatically. The mean score per section was set at 500, with a standard deviation of 100 points. This created a basis for determining the performance of students taking the test.

The SAT has gone through changes in its grading algorithms to better serve college admissions committees and school/government administrators as a comparative measure of American academic performance. These changes have led to fluctuations in average scores nationwide.

Criticism Increased

The SAT has become a widely used college admissions tool, leading to increased scrutiny of the content and scoring criteria of the exam.

Criticisms include that it favors students from higher-income backgrounds, and historically forbade the use of calculators, until the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics called for the use of calculators on the test in 1994.

2005 Changes

In 2005, the SAT underwent a major revision in response to criticisms from the University of California System, which argued that the test was no longer a reliable measure of future student success. The first version of the revised test was administered on March 12, 2005.

The 2005 changes to the test split it into three sections, each comprising 800 points:

  1. The reading comprehension section of the test has been updated to focus more on understanding the context and usage of English words rather than memorization of analogies. It includes passages of varying lengths and tests comprehension, logical inference, and overall usage of the English language.
  2. This math section of the SAT was designed to reduce the wide range of scores seen in past versions of the exam, while still testing the same mathematical principles and concepts.
  3. The SAT added a new section to its test that evaluates students' grammar and understanding of the English language and grammatical conventions. This is the first time the SAT has tested specific grammatical principles.
  4. Furthermore, the 2005 SAT required students to write an essay in 25 minutes to assess their writing ability. It was scored out of 12 points, and the score was also used to determine the 200–800-point score for the writing section of the test.

The 2005 edition of the SAT was widely disliked due to a new and confusing grading scale for both college admissions committees and parents and students. In response to the backlash, the College Board announced in 2014 that a new version of the SAT would be launched in 2016.

The New SAT— Effective March 2016 and Beyond

The SAT underwent another revision in March 2016, including a 1600-point scoring scale, an optional essay, and a slightly shorter test time of under four hours. The most significant changes that created the New SAT included the following:

  1. Eliminate the use of vocabulary in the reading section and replace it with “vocabulary in context” problems
  2. Disallow the use of a calculator on one of its two math sections
  3. Remove penalty for wrong answers
  4. Aim to be a more accurate reflection of the Common Core Curriculum that will appeal to students and college admissions committees.

SAT Test Name Changes

The acronym SAT used to stand for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which was created to measure an individual's innate intellectual ability.

However, as attitudes shifted toward focusing on potential instead of innate intelligence, the name was changed to the Scholastic Assessment Test.

That was followed by the SAT I: Reasoning Test and the SAT Reasoning Test.

Now, SAT is simply used as an acronym with no further words attached.

Most Recent Changes

The College Board announced that the 2021 SAT will no longer include an essay component or any SAT Subject Tests. Rather, students will be able to demonstrate their essay writing skills through their performance on the SAT Reading and Writing sections. Nevertheless, six states (Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma) will still be administering the SAT with the essay component during the 2021-22 school year.

Expected Future Changes

While the SAT has long been a paper test, the College Board announced on Jan. 25, 2022, that the SAT will go digital starting in 2024.

According to a College Board spokesperson, the SAT digital recreation is a “lower-stakes test” for a “largely test-optional world.” Pending changes include:

  • Shortening the length of the test from three hours to two hours
  • Providing more time per question
  • Allowing calculators for the entire Math section

If you want to set yourself up for success on the SAT and beyond, contact Amikka Learning for help.

Written by Founder
Chris Hernandez

Christopher Hernandez, the founder of Amikka Learning, couldn’t afford expensive SAT tutoring so he spent hundreds of hours studying on his own.

After improving over 400 points and attending an Ivy League school he realized how unfair the playing field was with tutoring: no matter how smart you were, if you couldn’t afford tutoring you were stuck.
His dream was to change this.

He began tutoring for the SAT and quickly realized that he was a gifted tutor. His students were loving his program and improving very fast.

Fast forward 8 years, Amikka is a leader in the education industry and has helped thousands of students get into their dream schools.

If you’d like a free consultation for 1-on-1 tutoring schedule a call with our team here.

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Help Your Child Get Into Their Dream School. Without The Cost.

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SAT and ACT prep.

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