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The basics
THE USA: Applying to University


Learn all about the SAT for admission to American universities and colleges, including test structure, grading and how you can go about preparing for & booking your test...

SAT test for entry to American undergraduate programmes

You may have heard of the term ‘SAT’ in American high school dramas, where characters worry that they’re not going to get into college; but what does all this jargon actually mean?


What is the SAT?

Pronounced S-A-T, this is a standardised test taken by students at American high school level. It is a key factor used by American universities when considering students for entry into most undergraduate programmes (other factors include overall high school grades for individual subjects, GPA and extra-curricular activities). The SAT tests important reading, writing and math skills which American students acquire throughout high school and which they’ll need to study at university level (as opposed to content which you can revise).

Originally the test stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test and later Scholastic Assessment Test; however since it was taken over by The College Board and began to be administered by the Educational Testing Service, the SAT doesn’t stand for anything really (a bit like how KFC no longer officially stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken).


Who takes the SAT?

The SAT is widely known. It is taken by 2 million students in America every year, either in their junior or senior year. Do international students need to take the SAT?

Yes, the SAT is required of international students as well as American domestic students. It is a globally-recognised test. In fact international students in 175 countries take the test as well in order to progress onto study at American institutions.


How is the SAT structured?

The SAT is 3 hours 45 mins in length so make sure you’re prepared to be sat down for this extended period of time in a test environment. The test is broken down as follows:


Worth: 200-800 points

Length: 70 mins (1 x 20 min section, 2 x 25 min sections)

Question types: 48 x passage-based reading questions and 19 x sentence completion questions



Worth: 200-800 points

Length: 70 mins (1 x 20 min section, 2 x 25 min sections)

Question types: 44 x multiple choice questions and 10 x student-produced responses



Worth: 200-800 points

Length: 60 mins (1 x 10 min section, 2 x 25 min sections)

Question types: 25 x improving sentence questions, 18 identifying sentence errors, 6 x improving paragraph questions and 1 essay


How is the SAT graded?

Unlike many tests which students take, an SAT score is not simply one number or grade – things are quite a bit more detailed than that (which is good considering the importance of the SAT and its ramifications for a candidate’s future).

Candidates will receive a score report which breaks down their performance by each section and explains what their score actually means. This is useful for high school guidance counsellors and university admissions staff in helping them place a student on the right university course (and even to help them choose a major).


Did you know?

Some American universities may actually contact you once you’ve taken the SAT test to help you apply to them if you perform strongly in the SAT. You'll have a chance to opt in for this when you register.


What’s an SAT Subject Test?

An SAT Subject Test is a further, optional hour long content-based test which tests you in a specific subject. These are excellent if you know what you want to study or major in at university level in the States, and you want to make a strong impression on the admissions officers who will be considering your application. There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science.

Plus by taking an SAT Subject Test, you could save yourself time by already fulfilling some basic requirements or credits for introductory courses and modules once you begin studying at university.


When and where can you take the SAT?

While American students usually take the SAT in their junior year (spring) and again in their senior year (fall), international students have more opportunities to take the test. International candidates can take the test in October, November, December, January, May and June. International candidates can take the test as many times as they like though they’ll have to pay for each one.

There are 1000 test centres around the world. International candidates can check the College Board site here to find a test centre in their country. Sometimes extra test centres are opened though this doesn’t happen often.


How much does the SAT cost to take?

An SAT test for American candidates in the States is $52.50, with an additional fee of $30-40 for international candidates depending on your country.

You can find out more about SAT costs here.

You may qualify for a Fee Waiver which means you won’t have to pay the full cost of an SAT. Check to see if you eligible for a Fee Waiver here.


How do you prepare for the SAT?

There are many online resources to help you prepare for your SAT test no matter where in the world you are. Most notably, you can access SAT practise materials on the College Board website.


How do you register for the SAT?

You can go to the SAT College Board website and register here which lists all the details about upcoming test days. Once you’ve registered, you’ll receive an admission ticket, a seat number and up to four score reports to send to universities and scholarship services.


On the day of your test...

Make sure you know where you are going for your test so you are not late.

You’ll need to take the following items with you:

  • Your admission ticket
  • 2 x No. 2 pencils and an eraser
  • Photo identification
  • Calculator which meets the rules set out by the College Board

You can read more about what you should bring and what you shouldn’t here.


What now?

Register (see above) create your study plan on the official College Board SAT website. Simply enter a few details about yourself and you’ll be provided with a timeline to help you prepare.


Now you know more about the SAT, start looking for a course in America now!


Read more:

'Which US admissions test do I take?'

'What is an "Ivy League" university?'

Study in the USA


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