Planning for College

SAT Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the SATs?

A: The SATs are standardized tests used by most U.S. colleges and universities to make admission decisions. If you're an American high school student or a foreign student thinking of attending college in the U.S., you'll need a good SAT score.

Q: What do the SATs cover?

A: The SATs contain questions about mathematics, critical reading, and writing.

Q: How far in advance should I start preparing for the SATs?

A: Twelve weeks before the test, begin test preparations. Set aside at least an hour a day to prepare for the SATs. This may sound like a lot, but learning in small sets of time like this will help you retain more knowledge for the test. Additionally, taking the time for study sessions will make test day much easier.

Q: How should I prepare for the SATs?

A: There's no one good way to prepare for all students. Some students are comfortable using the Official SAT Study Guide (also called The Blue Book) and taking practice tests on their own. Many students prefer having test experts guide them through the tests, help them read and understand questions, and develop strategies for working through difficult problems.

Investing time in reading books will help you immensely on your SATs and in your college life. Becoming an avid reader can significantly improve your vocabulary and reading comprehension, which are important components of the test. About three months before the test, set aside daily time for reading. This includes reading the classics, current literature, as well as the editorial pages of major papers to build up your vocabulary and comprehension skills.

As you read, write down words you don't know and look up their definition. You can also improve your scores by learning key SAT words.

Q: When are the SATs given?

A: The SATs are given five times a year (in November, January, March, May, and June). Most students take them in May of their junior year so they have as much high school as possible behind them, while allowing time to take the test again if needed in November.

Q: Should I take the PSATs (preliminary scholastic assessment test)?

A: It's a good idea to take the PSATs. They'll give you a baseline idea of how you can expect to do on the SATs. And they will help you determine what areas of the test you need additional help in. Taking the PSATs also gives you valuable experience taking a timed test so you're better prepared for the SATs. Colleges rarely see students' PSAT scores, so they're a great, low-pressure way to prepare for the real thing.

Q: What kinds of questions are on the SATs?

A: The SAT test consists of four sections; critical reading, mathematics, writing, and a variable or equating section. The test includes an essay writing section as well as multiple choice questions.

Q: Are the SATs translated into other languages?

A: No, but you can take it in other countries.

Q: What are some common SAT mistakes?

  • Leaving test prep for the last minute. Reading and writing skills are something you develop over time. They're not something you can cram for.
  • Being too flowery or unfocused in the essay. It should be direct and easy to digest.
  • Making grammatical errors in the essay. Leave time to proofread your work.
  • Leaving multiple choice questions blank. If you aren't sure of the answer, use the process of elimination to narrow down your choices. This will improve your chances of getting the question right.
  • Losing focus. The SAT is a long test so practice test taking skills beforehand, and pace yourself during the test.
  • One way to retain focus is to engage in active reading (for instance, notating a passage or jotting down notes about a passage after reading it). You can also increase your attention span by practicing reading in topic areas that you struggle with. For example, if science isn't your strong suit, read the science section of the New York Times website or download science magazine articles. The goal is to learn to keep focus.
  • Panicking and giving up. Don't give up just because you don't know the answer to a few questions. Unlike tests you take in class, you can get quite a few answers wrong on the SATs and still get a good score.
  • Becoming mentally exhausted. Be sure to eat and drink enough before the test. Also, practice reading difficult books or taking practice tests under simulated test conditions. The more you practice, the easier it'll be to stay alert during the actual test.
  • Getting bogged down on one question. Spend a few seconds on the easiest questions and one to two minutes on the hardest ones.

Q: What tips can you share for doing well on your SATs?

  • Take official SAT study guide practice tests. You can download them from sites like
  • Read the instructions carefully. For example, if the instructions say "what is the value of 5x", don't give the answer to just "x".
  • Write down your work. If you're figuring out a math problem, write it out. Likewise, if you're answering a multiple choice question, cross out the answers that you know are wrong to help you narrow down your choices. (Note: Write in your test book but avoid stray marks on your answer sheet.)
  • Your essay extremely focused. Pick a thesis and stick to it. Use varying vocabulary terms and transitions between sentences to avoid repetition.
  • Keep track of time. The SATs are made up of a series of small, timed mini-tests. Bring a watch with you and check the time at the end of each section so you know you're allowing enough time for each section.

Q: What steps can I take to prepare for test day?

A: The night before the test, eat a well-balanced meal and avoid sugary treats. Get at least eight hours of sleep.
On the day of the test:
If you're taken the time to practice over the previous weeks, you should be in good shape. It's also a good idea to:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast.
  • Plan to arrive 15 minutes early so you don't feel rushed.
  • Bring water and healthy snacks to have during the test.

Q: How soon will I get my SAT scores?

A: You'll receive your SAT scores around three weeks after you take the test.

Q: What is a good score on the SATs?

A: Generally, scoring close to about 500 on critical reading, 500 on mathematics, and 500 on writing -- shows that you scored as well as about half of the other students who took the test.

Q: How many people get a perfect score on the SATs?

A: Very few. Only around 1/5,000 students get a perfect score.