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What Is the SAT?

The writing section of the SAT requires test-takers to complete an essay.
A No. 2 pencil for use with the SAT.
A typical answer sheet for a multiple choice standardized test, like the SAT.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 July 2014
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The SAT Reasoning Test is a standardized test that is required for college admission by many colleges and universities in the United States. More colloquially, the test is usually just called “the SAT,” and the letters are actually a pseudo-acronym, meaning that they don't stand for anything. As an alternative to this test, some colleges allow students to take the ACT, another standardized test, and some schools have an “SAT optional” policy, meaning that students may submit scores, but they are not required.

The first form of the SAT was administered in 1901, when the College Board tested just under 1,000 students. The College Board continues to manage the test today, along with an assortment of other standardized tests used in university admissions; the test itself is designed and published by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Since 1901, it has undergone a number of changes that were designed to streamline the testing process and to compensate for shifts in the education system. As of 2012, the last major overhaul was in 2005, when the ETS retooled the SAT in response to harsh criticism from the University of California system, which considered dropping the test from their admission requirements.

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The current SAT includes three sections, each of which can earn a maximum score of 800 and a minimum score of 200. For the test-taker's final score, the College Board adds the three scores together; typically, a percentile is included with the score, calculated on the basis of scores from students who took comparable tests. Traditionally, top-flight universities such as the Ivy Leagues have demanded very high SAT scores from their applicants.

The first section of the SAT is mathematics, which is divided into three sections. Most of the questions have multiple choice answers, although several questions require test-takers to fill in their numerical answers on an optical answer sheet. The next section is critical reading, which requires test-takers to read short passages and fill out the correct responses to multiple choice questions. Students must also be able to fill in the blanks in sentences using a list of word choices, demonstrating vocabulary skills. Finally, the writing section requires students to write a brief essay, and to respond to questions which test the writing and editing skills of the test-taker.

Sitting for the SAT takes around four hours, including scheduled breaks. Students may also opt to take up to three subject tests known as SAT-IIs when they sit for the regular exam. These subject tests can be used to demonstrate particular skills to a college, or to bypass entry level courses in these subjects, depending on college policies. In the United States, the test is offered seven times a year; it can also be taken at test centers overseas, for students who wish to apply to American colleges.

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amypollick
Post 10

@alipanjwani: The SAT is a general education test. It doesn't apply to any specific field, but rather is for all college students and measures their general knowledge. Like any standardized test, it's really a measure of how well you take tests, and not necessarily how much you know.

Having said that, you can look at it as a general entrance exam. You can major in biology at any U.S. school offering the degree. You'll take the courses once you're accepted into the university itself, based in part on your SAT scores.

U.S. schools generally do not require specialized exams for entrance into particular undergraduate fields. You may take placement tests, which will then recommend you for certain core courses, like preliminary English, etc., but these are not necessary to be admitted to the university.

Many schools do have advanced honors programs to which you can apply for admission, but that's after you've already been accepted to the university.

As I said in an earlier comment, what you need to do is to contact the universities you're interested in for their requirements. Most universities have websites that will list their minimum requirements for admission, and checking there first will give you a good idea of what you need to be enrolled.

alipanjwani
Post 9

Which fields can apply if I take the SAT? Can I go into different fields in biology in colleges in the US? If not, then what exam do I need to take if I want to study biology in the U.S.?

anon161275
Post 7

how many times can one take the SAT?

amypollick
Post 5

@Anon87251: If I read your question correctly, I think I can answer it. The tests are administered at universities and colleges, mostly because they have the facilities to test a large number of students at one time.

Most students who take the SAT are still in high school. In the USA, this means they are usually in tenth, eleventh or twelfth grades, or in their last three years of high school, in other words.

I'm sure registration is available online now (it wasn't when I was taking standardized tests -- back in the Dark Ages, lol.) and students go to the site, register their addresses and get a list of available test dates at nearby testing sites. They pick a date (usually on a Saturday morning), register for that date and pay the testing fee.

If I remember correctly, results are usually mailed to the student's home about six weeks after taking the test. The student can then decide whether his or her score was good enough to get into the university of choice, or if he or she wants to take it again, in the hope of improving the score.

If you're not from the USA, I'm not certain how registration and testing are handled for international students, if you want to attend a US college. My advice would be to contact the universities where you'd like to apply and see what their requirements are for international students. Someone at the college can surely give you some advice on what you need to do.

@sadik: See the above for instructions on taking the SAT if you are in Dubai. I did not take the SAT, but the ACT, but the process is similar. You go into the testing room and are given a sealed test booklet and an optical test answer sheet. This is a sheet of sturdy paper that has four little circles for each answer. With your pencil, you fill in the circle that corresponds to your answer. The answer cards are then scored in an optical reader computer.

The test supervisor will give some preliminary instructions about the test and will tell you to open your test booklet and begin. With the ACT, we took the first two sections, then took a short break. After the break, we were given another sealed test booklet and took the remainder of the test. Either the SAT or the ACT will take about three to four hours.

@Anon82423: The SAT is not for a particular region. It is simply a standardized test meant to measure how much you learned in high school, and how well you can take standardized tests. Every college has different entry requirements as far as scores go.

anon87251
Post 4

The article says that SAT is offered seven times a year, but then when does one go to college after clearing SAT, different sessions for different batches. Please enlighten me on this. I'm really confused about this SAT.

anon82423
Post 3

So what is the SAT for? Like is it specifically for people who want to go to school out west or east or what?

sadik
Post 2

1- Are the papers of the sat test distributed one by one and each paper has a certain time to be collected and distribute the second paper and so on?

2- Can i have a example to know how to fill the first page which includes the name and the address? And if i'm in Dubai what will be the zip code to fill?

anon34702
Post 1

Any details about SAT and its placements?

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