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College 101

Six Facts About the SAT
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

The SAT is the preppy poster boy of standardized tests for college applications: clean cut, wholesome, but with that subtle mischievous smirk that makes ya melt. But seriously, the SAT is the test that freaks the most people out. A huge percent of that freak-out quotient comes from not knowing what to expect. 

Remember: fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, and suffering sometimes leads to great art. But it also leads to the Dark Side. No need to turn into a cold-hearted Darth Vader toward this bad boy, because Shmoop's here to fill you in on the SAT.

The Skinny on the SAT:

1. What is it?
The SAT is a standardized test that exists to drive college-bound high school students insane...oh, and to test their problem-solving, real-world skills, and knowledge important for college and careers.

2. What's on it?
The test is divided into three sections:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
    • Reading: 65 minutes for 52 questions
    • Writing and Language: 35 minutes for 44 questions
  • Math: 80 minutes for 58 questions
  • Optional Essay: 50 minutes for one essay
"Float like a butterfly, sting like someone who spent time on their SAT test prep."


3. How often is it given?
The SAT is offered seven times a year in the United States and at least six times a year worldwide.

4. Where is it given?
You can take the SAT, you lucky bugger, you, at official testing centers, a.k.a. certain high schools, college campuses, or community centers.

5. When should you take it?
Never. Oh, wait, you want to go to college. In that case, give yourself enough leeway to take the test multiple times, in case you want to improve your score. (Note that there's no guarantee that taking the SAT over and over and over again will lift you up and over that 1550 you scored on attempt number one.) Most folks dip their toe in the SAT pool sometime near the beginning of their junior year.

6. How will schools look at your scores?
If you don't get a 1600, most colleges will burn your application on a funeral pyre. Others will take the highest section scores across test dates (a.k.a. superscore). Every school's different, so check with each Admissions department to find out.

Standardized tests can haunt your dreams and harrow your soul, so we're sorry to have to say this, but, if you're an international student, there's no exact answer to Question #6. In most cases, however, your standardized test scores are going to be super-duper important, because they allow colleges to compare you to your peers in a way your transcripts can't.

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