FAQs on the SAT

Should I prepare for the PSAT?

In general, prepping for the PSAT is an excellent idea. The PSAT is usually given during the Junior year of high school.  If you achieve a top score on the PSAT, you can qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Although the PSAT is only 2/3 as long as the SAT, it is essentially the same test, minus the SAT Essay.  Studying for the PSAT will therefore prepare you for the Fall SATs given in October, November and December.  Finally, preparing for the PSAT can give you early warning signs in areas where you need to improve, allowing you to work on these weak spots in plenty of time to boost your real SAT scores.

When should I take the SAT?

To achieve your best SAT score, start early.  Many top-scoring students take the test during their Junior year in October, November, or December. If you perform strongly on one section, you can then focus your energy on sections where you need more work. This strategy allows you to use your prep time and energy more efficiently.  After taking the test in the Fall, you can then take it again in the Spring, and once more during the Fall of your senior year if need be.

How many times should I take the SAT?

The short answer is that you should keep taking the SAT until you hit your target score. Taking the SAT three times is very common, while some students take it four times or more. But beware. Taking the test over and over again will not necessarily boost your performance.  In fact, becoming obsessed with the test can actually lower your scores.  Most students should plan to take the test two or three times, taking it a fourth time if necessary.

What is Super Scoring?

Most colleges take a student’s highest SAT scores in Reading, Writing, and Math from multiple tests and combine them to form a composite “Super Score.” For this reason, taking the SAT multiple times is generally a good idea.  Some colleges, however, will only consider a student’s highest score from a single test date, while other colleges require students to submit all SAT scores.  When in doubt, always check with each college’s admissions office to ascertain their policy on SAT scoring.

Do some colleges not require SAT scores?

At last count, there are more than 700 colleges and universities that have a “test-optional” policy. However, even these colleges will accept standardized test scores as part of your application.  As a result, a high SAT score can still improve your chances of admission in many of these “test-optional” schools. Of course, most students do not apply only to test optional schools, which means that earning the highest possible SAT score is essential for college-bound high school students.

Do colleges consider only the Reading and Math sections of the SAT, and ignore the SAT Writing section?

In 2005, the College Board changed the SAT to include a multiple-choice grammar section and a 25-minute Essay writing component, changing the two-part SAT (Verbal and Math, 800 points each, 1600 points total) to three parts (Reading, Writing, and Math, 800 points each, 2400 points total). In the first couple of years after this change, few colleges and universities placed significant weight on the SAT Writing score. Many college applicants therefore began to conclude that the SAT writing score doesn’t matter. In 2008, however, the College Board released a study showing that of all the SAT sections, the new writing section was the most predictive of college success.  In recent years, more schools have been giving weight to the SAT writing section as they make their admissions decisions. Some colleges also use the SAT writing score to place students in the appropriate first-year writing class. A high score will sometimes place a student out of college writing altogether. Although the College Board will make the Essay portion of SAT optional starting in 2016, excelling on this portion of the test can still give students a competitive edge.