WHAT DOES THE SAT* MEASURE?
The SAT is an aptitude test. Like all aptitude tests, it must choose a medium in which to measure intellectual ability. The SAT has chosen math and English.
The question is — does it measure aptitude for college? The SAT’s ability to predict performance in college is only a little better than chance.
No test can measure all aspects of intelligence. Thus, any admission test, no matter how well written, is inherently inadequate. Nevertheless, some form of admission testing is necessary. It would be unfair to base acceptance to college solely on grades; they can be misleading. For instance, would it be fair to admit a student with an A average earned in easy classes over a student with a B average earned in difficult classes? A school’s reputation is too broad a measure to use as admission criteria. Many students seek out easy classes and generous instructors in hopes of inflating their GPA. Furthermore, a system that would monitor the academic standards of every class would be cost prohibitive and stifling. So, until a better system is proposed, the admission test is here to stay.
FORMAT OF THE SAT
The SAT is a three-hour test (or three-hours and 50-minutes if you do the optional essay). The test has two parts: Math and Verbal. Each part has two sections: Verbal: Reading Test and Writing and Language Test. Math: Calculator section and No Calculator section.
|Reading||52 passage-based questions||65 minutes|
|Writing and Language||44 passage-based questions||35 minutes|
|Math (Calculator)||38 Multiple-choice and Grid-in questions||55 minutes|
|Math (No Calculator)||20 Multiple-choice and Grid-in questions||25 minutes|
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Although time is strictly limited on the SAT, working too quickly can damage your score. Many problems hinge on subtle points, and most require careful reading of the set-up. Because high school can put heavy reading loads on students, many will follow their academic conditioning and read questions quickly, looking only for the gist of what each is asking. Once they have found it, they mark their answer and move on, confident they have answered it correctly. Later, many are startled to discover that they missed questions because they either misread the problems or overlooked subtle points.
To do well in your classes, you have to attempt to solve every, or nearly every, problem on a test. Not so with the SAT. In fact, if you try to solve every problem on this test you will probably decimate you score. For the vast majority of people, the key to performing well on the SAT is not the number of questions they answer, within reason, but the percentage they answer correctly.
SCORING THE SAT
The two parts of the test are scored independently. You will receive a verbal score and a math score. Each score ranges from 200 to 800, with a total test score of 400–1600. The average score of each section is about 500. Thus, the total average score is about 1000.
In addition to the scaled score, you will be assigned a percentile ranking, which gives the percentage of students with scores below yours. For instance, if you score in the 80th percentile, then you will have scored better than 80 out of every 100 test takers.
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SKIPPING AND GUESSING
Some questions on the SAT are rather hard. Many test takers should skip these questions. We’ll talk about how to identify hard questions as we come to them.
Often students become obsessed with a particular problem and waste valuable time trying to solve it. To get a top score, learn to cut your losses and move on. All questions are worth the same number of points, regardless of difficulty level. So skip the hardest questions and concentrate on the easy and medium ones.
There is no guessing penalty on the SAT, so it is to your advantage to guess, especially if you can eliminate one or more of the answer-choices.
ORDER OF DIFFICULTY
Like most standardized tests, the SAT lists problems in ascending order of difficulty. Therefore, when trying to decide which questions to skip, skip the last ones.
THE “2 OUT OF 4” RULE
It is significantly harder to create a good but incorrect answer-choice than it is to produce the correct answer. For this reason, usually only two attractive answer-choices are offered: One correct; the other either intentionally misleading or only partially correct. The other two answer-choices are usually fluff. This makes educated guessing on the SAT immensely effective. If you can dismiss the two fluff choices, your probability of answering the question successfully will increase from 25% to 50%.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When is the SAT given?
The SAT is administered seven times a year — usually in October, November, December, January, March, May and June — on Saturday mornings. Special arrangements for schedule changes are available.
If I didn’t mail in a registration form, may I still take the SAT?
On the day of the test, walk-in registration is available, but you must call ETS in advance. You will be accommodated only if space is available — it usually is.
How important is the SAT and how is it used?
It is crucial! Although colleges may consider other factors, the majority of admission decisions are based on only two criteria: your SAT score and your GPA.
How many times should I take the SAT?
Most people are better off preparing thoroughly for the SAT, taking it one time and getting their top score. You can take the test as often as you like, but some schools will average your scores. You should call the schools to which you are applying to find out their policy. Then plan your stategy accordingly.
Can I cancel my score?
Yes. To do so, you must notify ETS within 5 days after taking the SAT.
Where can I get the registration forms?
Most high schools have the forms. You can also get them directly from ETS by writing to:
- Scholastic Assessment Test
- Educational Testing Service
- P.O. Box 6200
- Princeton, NJ 08541
Or calling: (609) 771-7600
* SAT is a registered trademark of the College Entrance Examination Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this Web site.