The SAT is a three-hour exam with a Math section and a Reading and Writing section. The College Board has dropped the optional SAT essay, but it may be required as part of SAT School Day administrations in some states.
Unlike the ACT, the SAT does not include a science section. The SAT and ACT exams each have their own unique challenges, and students may be more suited to one over the other. For the key differences between the two exams, check this ACT vs. SAT article.
I recommend taking a full-length timed practice test to decide which option is best for you. The Princeton Review offers free practice tests and an online quiz that you can take to see which test you are more suited for.
Taking the SAT and sending out your scores can be a stressful process, but it can be made easier by understanding exactly how the process works.
Here’s everything you need to know about SAT scores:
- When do you take the SAT?
- How is the SAT scored?
- Do you need to take the SAT Essay?
- What is considered a good SAT score?
- When do you receive your scores?
- Can you verify your scores?
- How are your scores sent to schools?
- What is the SAT Score Choice?
- How many times should you take the SAT?
- Should you take the SAT?
When do you take the SAT?
The SAT will be given 7 times during the 2023-24 school year. Students can take the exam on the following dates:
- August 26, 2023
- October 7, 2023
- November 4, 2023
- December 2, 2023
- March 9, 2024
- May 4, 2024
- June 1, 2024
You may take the SAT at any time in your high school career, but most students choose to take it during their junior year, at the point in time when they are beginning the college application process. Some choose to start preparing for the SAT as early as their sophomore year of high school.
I recommend starting early. This way you can develop a strong familiarity with the material the test will cover and hone your test-taking strategies and skills. At the very least, you should devote the fall of your junior year to preparing for the SAT, whether by taking a prep class or by taking practice tests and studying on your own time and then take your first official SAT in the spring of junior year.
Khan Academy, which has teamed up with the College Board, offers free SAT test prep for this purpose.
If you didn’t reach your target score on the first go-around, or you would like a chance to improve your score even further, you can always take the SAT again.
How is the SAT scored?
The SAT underwent a major change in its grading scale recently, moving from a 2400-point scale to a 1600-point scale. This means that the maximum score you can now get is 1600, and the minimum is 400.
The test is graded in two separate sections: (1) evidence-based Reading and Writing, and (2) Math, which consists of a single test with a no-calculator portion and a calculator-allowed portion. Each section is worth 800 points with a minimum possible score of 200 points. Your total score is the composite of these two scores.
The College Board creates a raw score for your test, which is then converted to a scaled score (the score which you see on your report). This is done to account for any differences in difficulty between different versions of the test, so no advantage is given to students taking the test on a particular day.
Your raw score is created based on the following guidelines:
- One point is added for each correct answer.
- A fraction of a point is subtracted for wrong answers (unlike the ACT, which does not deduct any point for an incorrect answer so test-takers are free to take a guess). This fraction varies based on the type of question. For example, ¼ point is subtracted for five-choice questions, ⅓ point is subtracted for four-choice questions, ½ point is subtracted for three-choice questions.
- No points are added or subtracted for unanswered questions.
- If the final score comes out to a fraction, the score is rounded up or down to the nearest whole number.
When you receive your score, you will also be given a full score breakdown that shows where you did well and what you can improve upon.
Do you need to take the SAT Essay?
As mentioned above, the optional SAT Essay is no longer offered by the College Board unless your state requires it as part of high school graduation. To be sure, you should check with your school guidance counselor or administration to see if you’re required to take the Essay portion of the exam.
If you’re required to take the optional Essay test, the essay scores are shown separately on your report and graded on a different scale than the other sections. Essays are graded on three separate measures: reading, analysis, and writing. Two different readers will read and score your essay based on these metrics and award you a score between one and four points. These two scores are then added together to create your official essay score. Therefore, you can receive a score between two and eight in each of these categories, for a maximum score of 24 and a minimum score of six.
What is considered a good SAT score?
Your target SAT score should depend on your own abilities and the admissions standards for the colleges that you are planning on applying to. For example, if you are hoping to go to the University of Delaware, you might shoot for a score between 1200 and 1350, whereas if you are applying to Harvard University or another Ivy League school, you’ll need to have at the very least a score of about 1450.
Each student’s own standards should vary based on his or her own personal standards and the level of competition at the schools that he or she is applying to.
That said, it’s good to keep in mind the nationwide averages as well. The average SAT score for the Class of 2019 was 1069. Everything above that mark is considered above-average and everything below is considered below-average. A 1240 would put you in the top 20% of test-takers, making it a strong score for most applicants. If you score below the national average, you will likely want to take the test again.
When do you receive your scores?
When you will receive your score depends on the date that you took your SAT, though typically you will get your scores within a month of taking your test. If you took the optional essay, you will receive your multiple-choice grades a few days before your essay grade. See here for score release dates for each exam.
When your score does become available, you can access it easily by going to your online score report, which will show you both your multiple-choice and your essay scores.
If you don’t have access to the internet, do not have an active College Board online account, and registered for the SAT by mail, you will receive a paper score report in the mail. You can also receive your SAT score by phone beginning on the day they are released, but you will be charged an extra fee.
Can you verify your scores?
If you would like to double-check your SAT score to make sure that you were scored correctly, the College Board offers score verification services that allow you to do so. You can order a verification service when you register for the SAT or up to five months after you take your exam.
You have the option of choosing between the Question-And-Answer Service and the Student Answer Service.
- The Question-And-Answer Service will show you a copy of the SAT questions and a report showing your answers, the correct answers and scoring instructions, and information about the type and difficulty of test questions.
- The Student Answer Service will show you a report showing how you answered questions and information about the type and difficulty of the test questions.
In order to access these reports, you will be charged a score verification fee, which will be refunded only in the case when your scores are changed as a result of the verification.
See here for more information about score verification.
How are your scores sent to schools?
After you’ve taken your test and received your scores, you will need to send your scores to the colleges that you choose to apply to. Most colleges will require that you send them official score reports directly from the College Board, which you can do here.
If you ask for your scores to be sent out before you take the exam, the College Board will send 4 free score reports to colleges every time you take the SAT. Doing so saves you the cost of score delivery and also may give you a leg up on the competition by getting your scores in early. You can also get 4 free scores delivered to colleges if you ask the College Board to send your scores up to 9 days after the test. If you miss this deadline, you will be charged a fee for sending score reports.
What is the SAT Score Choice?
When sending out your scores, the College Board also offers an option called Score Choice. This tool allows you to compile individual section scores from different test dates.
Say, for example, that you performed very well on the Reading and Writing section on the test you took in March but your Math score was well below the one from June. Score Choice allows you to choose the scores you would like to submit and even compile your best section scores to put your best foot forward when applying.
However, different colleges have different policies regarding SAT score submission. Some require that you send all scores, while others allow you to compile your best individual scores. Make sure to check with your college when sending out your application to make sure you understand their policy. Also, see here for a list of 360 of the most popular colleges and their policies regarding score choice.
How many times should you take the SAT?
There is no limit on how many times you can take the SAT, so you can always try again if you can afford it — the SAT costs $60 for the 2023-2024 academic year.
Keep in mind, however, that only your six most recent scores will stay on file at the same time. And, depending on the schools you’re applying to, you may have to share your bad scores.
Dawn Mueller, an educational consultant with Tutor Doctor, recommends taking the SAT a maximum of four times during the college application process.
“What will happen is, the colleges will look at your highest score in the verbal and the math sections. Taking it four times kind of balances it out. Maybe you do really well in the math section one time and maybe do really well in the verbal sections the next time. You get the benefit of both of those,” Mueller explained.
“I think that if you take it any more than four times, you’re starting to realize regression to the mean, unless you really change your test-taking strategy or really get some additional help in bolstering those areas in which you may have some deficiencies,” she added.
You may also be satisfied with your first score, in which case, don’t sweat taking another exam. Save yourself the time, stress and money, and move on to the next step of your application.
Should you take the SAT?
The list of test-optional schools has been growing in recent years. For the fall 2024 entering class, over 1,900 U.S. institutions are test-optional, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).
If you’re considering taking the SAT but are not sure about it, check the FairTest list to see if the schools you’re interested in are test-optional. If all your schools are test-optional, you can opt to take the SAT as it may be helpful to you.
“For the schools that are test-optional, it could still potentially help if you’re above their middle 50 percent average. It could help with scholarships for some colleges,” Joe Korfmacher, director of college counseling at Collegewise, told TUN.
The SAT — and the college application process in general — can be a huge source of stress for students, parents, and teachers. But it doesn’t need to be! If you plan in advance and prepare properly, it can be a smooth process. Remember, it’s best not to put anything off until the last minute and to get your scores in early.