SAT Test: The Complete Guide for 2024 (Free) (2024)

SAT Test: The Complete Guide for 2024 (Free) (1)

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/25/24

There’s no need to scour the Internet searching for SAT test resources any longer: the ultimate guide is here for free at your fingertips. Below you’ll find all things SAT definitively answered.

The SAT is a staple high school experience standing between you and the college of your dreams. The SAT test can be nerve-racking for students and college hopefuls. However, with more knowledge comes less anxiety and more confidence.

This complete guide is a one-stop-shop for all your SAT questions, answered: we’ll leave no stone unturned. Read on to learn about the SAT test and its history, statistics, when to take the test, comprehensive tips sure to elevate your SAT test prep, and much more.

What Is the SAT?

So, what is the SAT test? In a few words, it’s a college entrance exam administered by the College Board. The SAT is a mostly multiple-choice test and takes students three hours to complete. Students are tested in three key subject areas:

  • Readingand Writing
  • Math

The SAT is a standardized test used by colleges to gauge college readiness and academic aptitude. Evaluating students based on GPA or academic achievements alone can be challenging. Many of the nation’s schools use different GPA scales and won’t offer students the same academic opportunities.

SAT scores help admissions committees compare applicants fairly, giving all students a more level playing field.

History of the SAT

The humbled beginning of the SAT dates back to before World War I. The conception of the SAT began with the first IQ test. Alfred Binet, a French psychologist, invented the IQ test to “identify slow learners by determining their mental ages.”

During World War I, Harvard professor Robert Yerkes administered IQ tests to almost two million recruits. Doing so allows him to build up a collection of statistical data. Carl Brigham, who had worked with Yerkes, published a book containing the results and their findings.

Bringham modified the IQ test and administered it to Princeton University freshmen and a technical college in NYC. After this, the College Board put Brigham in charge of developing a test for a broader group of schools.

In 1926, the test became the first version of the SAT, and it was administered to high school students for the first time.

Since then, the SAT has undergone many structural and content changes. In the 1950s and 1960s, the modern SAT was adopted by U.S. colleges as a standard entrance exam. In the 1970s and 1980s, SAT questions were finally released to the public.

Heading toward 2000, the SAT began placing a greater emphasis on reading and began allowing calculators in its math section. Afterward, the essay section was added but then removed in 2021. The SAT guessing penalty was also dissolved in 2016.

In 2021, the College Board decided to no longer offer the essay section or SAT Subject Tests. Today, students must only complete the SAT’s three sections: math, reading, and writing and language.

Who Takes the SAT?: SAT Statistics

The SAT Suite of Assessments annual report shows more than 1.9 million high school graduates took the SAT while in high school. Some other statistics of test-takers include:

  • 67% took the SAT on a school day
  • 33% took the SAT on the weekend
  • 51% of female test-takers
  • 49% of male test-takers
  • 16% of test-takers used an SAT fee waiver
  • Most students who took the SAT parents’ achieved a Bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education (26%)

The report also showed the race or ethnicity of students who took the SAT:

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Source: College Board

All high school students in the U.S. can take the SAT if they’d prefer it over the ACT. Junior and senior high school students typically take the SAT, but high school graduates can also take or retake the test. Some students like to take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) before taking the SAT to help prepare them.

When Do You Take the SAT?

So, when do you take the SAT test? The SAT is offered seven times a year, typically on a Saturday, in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. Some schools may offer an SAT School Day, which lets you take the test on (you guessed it) a weekday. Currently, the confirmed or anticipated coming test dates include:

  • May 4, 2024
  • June 1, 2024
  • August 24, 2024
  • October 5, 2024
  • November 2, 2024
  • December 7, 2024

Starting in Spring 2024, SAT School Day will only be offered digitally throughout the following testing window: March 4-April 26.

The College Board recommends taking the SAT for the first time in the spring of your junior year and again in the fall of your senior year. Taking the SAT test well before sending off college applications means you’ll have time to boost your SAT score if necessary.

Knowing test dates can help you understand when you should take the SAT, especially if you want to take the test twice before submitting college applications in the fall and winter of your senior year. A benefit of retaking the SAT is “you get to customize your preparation by focusing on specific areas you need to work on most, and you’ve got the added advantage of knowing what to expect on test day.”

The College Board has anticipated SAT dates you can see for the next annual cycle. These dates can help you plan the best time to take the SAT while navigating your schedule and other responsibilities.

You can always take the SAT after high school, too. Some students who take a gap year decide to do this.

SAT Logistics: Signing Up

The easiest way to sign up is to check out the College Board’s open testing center search. You need to choose a specific location before you can complete registration. You’ll choose your country or region, input the date you want to take the test, and the zip code and distance from there you’d be willing to travel to take the SAT.

Once you know which testing center you want to go to, you can sign-up using your College Board account. Registering online for the SAT is fast and easy.

SAT Test Fees

For most students, signing up for the SAT costs $60. Other fees include:

  • Changing your test center: $25
  • Canceling registration before the change deadline: $25
  • Canceling registration after the change deadline up until test day: $35
  • Registering after the deadline but before the late registration deadline: $30

You may also be eligible for SAT fee waivers if one or more of these descriptions applies to you:

  • You participate in the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP), or you’re eligible to
  • Your family’s annual income falls within the Income Eligibility Guidelines.
  • You're enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families
  • Your family receives public assistance
  • You’re an orphan or ward of the state
  • You live in a foster home, do not currently have housing, or live in federally subsidized public housing.

If you qualify for an SAT fee waiver, you get two free SAT tests, two chances to access answer services, and free college and other benefits.

What Happens on Testing Day?

Knowing what to expect on SAT test day can help you keep the pre-test jitters at bay and feel more confident when you walk through the test center's doors.

In the days leading up to your SAT test day, check for test center closures to ensure your test center isn’t closed or changed. You should also check your test center's website the morning of your test.

The doors open at 7:45 a.m., and the doors close promptly at 8 a.m. You must give yourself more than enough time to reach the testing site. Don’t forget to factor in situations beyond your control, such as traffic or public transit delays.

You won’t be allowed to take the test once it has started. If you’re late or absent, you’ll need to reschedule your test for another day.

The test will begin between 8:30 and 9 a.m. You’ll need to wait to be seated: your seat is assigned randomly. Here’s how the rest of your test plays out once you’re seated:

  • Your proctor will read all instructions from a manual. They can only answer any questions about the procedure and can’t provide guidance about test questions or content.
  • Your proctor tells you when it’s time to begin and stop working on each SAT test section.
  • You can only work in each section within the time allotted and can’t go back to a section once it’s ended, even if you finish early.
  • You also can't continue to a new section if you finish the one you’re working on before time is up.
  • Don’t skip any sections.
  • Once the test is finished, your proctor will collect and count test books. After they’ve collected all the materials, you’ll be dismissed from the testing room at about noon.

The College Board says you shouldn’t be surprised if the sections in your test book look different than the students around you: there’s a chance they can be different.


There is one 10-minute and one 5-minute break for most students during the test where you can have a snack and a drink if you choose. Keep your ID and admission ticket with you at all times. All of your test books, materials, and tools must stay on your desk.

Use your breaks as an opportunity to stretch, refuel, and recharge. Taking a quick break can help you come back to the rest of the SAT invigorated and ready to ace it!

Important Note on Devices

Ensure you follow the rules revolving around cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices. If you don’t, your scores can be canceled! Don’t power up your devices during your breaks. If you have a device that makes a noise or you’re seen using it at any point during the test or breaks, you can be immediately dismissed, have your scores canceled, and even have your phone or other device confiscated.

SAT Test Prep: Getting Ready

Getting ready for the SAT takes time, diligence, and dedication. These SAT test prep tips can help empower you and ensure you show up to test day with the confidence to ace the SAT.

Identify a Target Score

Identifying a target score is a crucial step in SAT test prep. You can determine your target score by getting an initial score from your practice test and seeing how much time you have before your scheduled test day. Some students may also look at the class profile data of their target schools and shoot for a score higher than the middle 50% of admitted students.

No matter how you come to a target score, it can help you guide your studies and give you a measurable and actionable goal to shoot for.

Develop a Consistent Study Schedule

A consistent study schedule is perhaps one of the most critical elements of your SAT test prep plan and an excellent test-taking strategy. Your schedule helps you stay on track, ensures you hit all the topics you need to, and can keep you focused. Study schedules also help you avoid cramming the night before your SAT in a haze of caffeine and regret.

Use planning tools like calendars, planners, or your devices to track which days and how long you plan to study. Ideally, it would be best if you gave yourself enough time to plan a more relaxed schedule spread out over at least three months.

Focus on Areas For Improvement

Once you’re confident you’ve mastered an SAT concept, it’s time to move on. Some people may think the best way to study is to give each section the same attention. However, doing so may not always be the best SAT study method. For example, if you have a natural affinity for math and have all the formulas down to a fine art, you probably shouldn’t allot more time studying math than reading.

Focusing on your improvement areas can be a little uncomfortable, but the more familiar you get with the content, the more confident you’ll feel.

Ensure You Finish All Courses Related to SAT Content

You’ve probably finished most, if not all, courses related to SAT content by the time you take the test. Double-check to make sure you don’t have any gaps in your learning. For example, you probably want to take trigonometry or your advanced math courses before test day. Otherwise, your SAT test prep may be more difficult for you without foundational knowledge.

Practice, Practice, and More Practice

Practice tests and regular assessments may be the best way to gain familiarity with the SAT’s content and gauge your progress. Regularly taking SATpractice tests can help you get more comfortable, absorb the material, and ensure you’re on the right track to doing well.

If you’re getting close to your test day and get a high mark on your practice test, you can feel empowered knowing you have the tools to ace the actual SAT!

Ensure You Have Everything You Need

If you want to start test day on the right foot, you can help prepare yourself mentally and

physically before the test. First, you should make a list of everything you need to show up with on test day:

  • Face covering
  • Up-to-date printed admission ticket
  • Acceptable photo ID (such as a driver’s license, official school ID card, government-issued passport or U.S. Global Entry identification card, or SAT Student ID form if you’re a homeschooled student)
  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers
  • An approved calculator
  • Epinephrine auto-injectors are permitted without the need for accommodation as long as they’re placed in a clear bag and stories under your desk as you take the SAT.

While you don’t need to bring these items, it might be nice to bring them:

  • a watch (without an audible alarm that can disturb other test-takers)
  • Extra batteries or backup equipment
  • Bag or backpack
  • A drink and snacks for your break

Time Yourself and Practice Under Test Day Conditions

It’s one thing to perform well on practice tests. It’s another to perform well on timed practice tests. Your speed matters when you take the SAT. Although taking practice tests untimed is an excellent way to start your SAT test prep, strive to begin practicing under test-day conditions as the actual test approaches.

Practicing under test-day conditions means not eating your dinner with Netflix in the background and doing your best to ensure your parents or siblings don't disturb you while you do your review. Ensure you tell everyone in your house what you plan to do to minimize interruptions.

Pretend you’re writing the actual test. Throw your phone across the room, close the other web pages in your browser, and silence the group chat that seems to pop off every five minutes. Time yourself using a watch or an app, and get through the entire mock test in one sitting.

The more you practice with timed tests, the faster and more accurate you’ll get. With enough confidence, you can easily breeze through SAT test day.

Take a look at our SATpop quiz to gauge how well you can answer a variety of SATexam questions.

Take Care of Yourself in the Days Before

You should take care of yourself every day, but pay extra special attention to how you’re feeling physically and mentally leading up to test day. People typically don’t think of self-care or self-soothing activities when they think of SAT test prep, but your performance can take a hit if you’re not in a good head space or denying your needs.

Remember to stay hydrated, eat healthy meals, and shoot for eight hours of sleep each night. If you get nervous or frustrated, take a breath and direct your attention elsewhere. Maybe you love to paint, run, or write in your spare time. Doing something that makes you happy can give your mood and brain a much-needed boost.

Feel Confident and Ready to Take the Test

A little nervousness or anxiety before taking the SAT is a normal reaction to taking such an important exam. However, you shouldn't have a genuine concern that you’re unprepared and won’t perform well. If you developed a realistic study schedule, spent enough time preparing with timed tests, and know you have a good handle on all concepts, you should be ready to take the SAT!

What’s on the SAT?

The current version of the SAT has three sections: math, reading, and writing and language. The shortest section is writing and language, and math is the longest. The College Board offers a breakdown of the time allotted and the number of questions for each SAT part:

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The structure is one thing, but knowing what question types you’ll see in each SAT section can help you feel more confident and prepared.

SAT Reading and Writing Test

The SAT Reading test has 54 questions that you must answer within 64 minutes. There are short reading passages or pairs of passages to be read together. Each passage is between 25 and 100 words long.

The SAT Reading test draws its passages from the following document types:

  • “1 literary passage from a work of fiction.
  • 1 or 2 passages from a U.S. founding document or a text in the Great Global Conversation they inspired. An example of a founding document would be the U.S. Constitution. The Great Global Conversation refers to works from around the world that focus on topics such as freedom, justice, or human dignity. A speech by Nelson Mandela would be an example.
  • 1 passage from a work of economics, psychology, sociology, or some other social science.
  • 2 passages from scientific works that examine foundational concepts and developments in Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics.”

There are three types of SAT Reading questions: how the author uses evidence, understanding words in context, and analyzing history or social studies and science. Here’s a breakdown of what each one means:

How the Author Uses Evidence Questions

The main idea of these questions is to show that you understand how the author uses evidence to support their point of view or claim. You may have to:

  • Pinpoint the part that supports the author’s point.
  • Find evidence that best supports an answer to a previous question (like a follow-up question).
  • Identify a relationship “between an informational graphic and the passage it’s paired with.”

Understanding Words in Context

These questions require you to make meaning and sense of a word in the context it appears. The keyword here is “context.” You might have to figure out a word’s meaning based on other clues in the passage or decide how a word choice changes or shapes meaning, style, or tone.

Analysis in History or Social Studies and Science

These questions require the critical reading skills you’ve learned in History, Social Science, or Science classes. You may have to examine an author’s hypothesis based on observation, interpret given data, and consider any other implications in the text.

You can find all of your answers in the text: you won’t have to rack your brain for answers to the content outside of the passage.

The writing presented to you in this test may also have charts, graphs, or other visuals to help you interpret data in the passage. The Reading and Writing questions comprises questions from four content domains: information and idea, craft and structures, expression of ideas and standard English conventions.

Information and Idea

The questions within this domain focus on comprehension, analysis, and reasoning skills and knowledge. They also measure your ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, and integrate information and ideas from texts and informational graphics. This is where you will encounter line graphs, bar graphs, and tables.

Craft and Structures

These questions test your knowledge of high utility words. You should be able to understand and use high-utility words and phrases in context. The questions will test your ability to evaluate texts rhetorically, and make connections between topically related texts

Expression of Ideas

Improving the expression of an author’s ideas falls into three sub-categories:

  • Development questions: These revolve around main ideas, supporting details, focus, and the information presented in any visuals.
  • Organization questions: These focus on how logical the author’s flow is and if the placement of information is effective (introductions, conclusions, transitions).
  • Effective language use questions: These ask you to make the passage more concise by eliminating wordiness while considering style and tone. You may have to combine sentences to improve the passage’s overall flow or give the text a better effect.

Standard English Conventions

These questions focus on the English language’s grammar rules: you must identify problems in a passage and correct them. You may have to deal with sentence structure errors, usage problems, or punctuation errors.

SAT Math Test

You will have 70 minutes to complete the entire SAT Math Test with 44 questions.

The Math Test focuses on four areas:

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Algebra questions focus on linear equations, systems of linear equations, and functions. You may need to create equations to represent a situation, solve equations, and connect different representations of linear relationships.

These are the types of questions you may see relating to this category:

  • “Create, solve, or interpret a linear expression or equation in 1 variable.
  • Create, solve, or interpret linear inequalities in 1 variable.
  • Build a linear function that models a linear relationship between 2 quantities.
  • Create, solve, and interpret systems of linear inequalities in 2 variables.
  • Create, solve, and interpret systems of 2 linear equations in 2 variables.
  • Algebraically solve linear equations (or inequalities) in 1 variable.
  • Algebraically solve systems of 2 linear equations in 2 variables.
  • Interpret the variables and constants in expressions for linear functions.
  • Understand connections between algebraic and graphical representations. “

Problem-Solving and Data Analysis

These questions require you to solve problems relating to real-world experiences and situations. You will work with ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning. Problem-solving and data analysis questions focus on your quantitative literacy and that you’re familiar with the type of math you’ll see in college courses, careers, and everyday life.

This category includes these types of questions:

  • “Use ratios, rates, proportional relationships, and scale drawings to solve single- and multistep problems.
  • Solve single- and multistep problems involving percentages.
  • Solve single- and multistep problems involving measurement quantities, units, and unit conversion.
  • Use scatterplot, linear, quadratic, or exponential models to describe how the variables are related.
  • Use the relationship between 2 variables to investigate key features of the graph.
  • Compare linear growth with exponential growth.
  • Use 2-way tables to summarize categorical data and relative frequencies and calculate conditional probability.
  • Make inferences about population parameters based on sample data.
  • Use statistics to investigate measures of center of data. Analyze shape, center, and spread.
  • Evaluate reports to make inferences, justify conclusions, and determine appropriateness of data collection methods. The reports may consist of tables, graphs, or text summaries.”

Advanced Math

While the SAT may call it “Advanced Math," the only place this section whisks you away to is some pretty complex equations and functions. These questions revolve around the math you’ll need to know if you want to study quantitative-heavy disciplines and prepare you for STEM careers. Think of these questions as your stepping stone to more advanced courses like statistics or calculus.

Advanced Math includes the following various question types:

  • "Create a quadratic or exponential function or equation that models a context.
  • Determine the most suitable form of an expression or equation to reveal a particular trait, given a context.
  • Create equivalent expressions involving rational exponents and radicals, which includes simplifying or rewriting in other forms.
  • Create an equivalent form of an algebraic expression by using structure and fluency with operations.
  • Solve a quadratic equation having rational coefficients. The equation can be presented in a wide range of forms to reward attending to algebraic structure and can require manipulation to solve.
  • Add, subtract, and multiply polynomial expressions. Simplify the result. The expressions will have rational coefficients.
  • Solve an equation in 1 variable that contains radicals or contains the variable in the denominator of a fraction.
  • Solve a system of 1 linear equation and 1 quadratic equation.
  • Rewrite simple rational expressions.
  • Interpret parts of nonlinear expressions in terms of their context.
  • Understand the relationship between zeros and factors of polynomials. Use that knowledge to sketch graphs.
  • Understand a nonlinear relationship between 2 variables by making connections between their algebraic and graphical representations.
  • Use function notation, and interpret statements using function notation.
  • Use structure to isolate or identify a quantity of interest in an expression or isolate a quantity of interest in an equation.”

Geometry and Trigonometry

Additional Topics in Math account for six questions on the SAT Math Test: three requiring a calculator and three that don’t. These questions cover other concepts and topics the other sections haven’t, including geometry, trigonometry, complex numbers, radian measure, and more.

Here are some of the question topics you might encounter:

  • “Solve problems using volume formulas.
  • Use trigonometric ratios and the Pythagorean theorem to solve applied problems involving right triangles.
  • Add, subtract, multiply, divide, and simplify complex numbers.
  • Convert between degrees. Use radians to determine arc lengths. Use trigonometric functions of radian measure.
  • Apply theorems about circles to find arc lengths, angle measures, chord lengths, and areas of sectors.
  • Use concepts and theorems about congruence and similarity to solve problems about lines, angles, and triangles.
  • Use the relationship between similarity, right triangles, and trigonometric ratios. Use the relationship between sine and cosine of complementary angles.
  • Create or use an equation in 2 variables to solve a problem about a circle in the coordinate plane.”

The SAT Math test is the longest section and covers the most content.

How SAT Test Scoring Works

Although the SAT technically has two sections, the SAT Reading Writing Test (also referred to as Evidence-Based Reading and Writing) makes up one score, along with your Math Test. Each of these sections is scored from 200-800 in 10-point increments. Your composite SAT score, in turn, can range from 400 to 1600.

Your scores in each section are calculated based on your raw score or the number of questions you answered correctly. These raw scores are then scaled to a score from 200-800. This conversion process is essential because it “adjusts for slight differences in difficulty among versions of the test and provides a score that is consistent across different versions.”


The College Board uses a process called equating to ensure SAT scores taken on different testing days are equivalent. Equating ensures “the score a student receives on the SAT means the same regardless of when the student took the test.”

For example, a Math score of 480 on one day’s test means the same as 480 on another testing day despite different questions being asked. Equating helps admissions committees compare students who took the SAT on different days, and it evaluates a student's individual improvements if they’ve retaken the test.

Because of equating, your raw score may not always equal the same scaled score. The concept is sometimes difficult for students to wrap their heads around. However, you could answer six questions incorrectly on one test and seven incorrect on the next and still achieve the same score depending on question difficulty.

Other SAT Score Metrics

Besides your EBRW, Math, and total SAT scores, your score report will show you your test scores in Reading, Writing and Language, and Math from 10-40.

You’ll also see “Cross-Test” scores that “represent performance on select questions across the three tests and show a student’s strengths” in Analysis in History/Social Studies and Science. Your score will range from 10-40.

Your score report’s “Subscores” show your proficiency in these SAT question types:

  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions
  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math

Your subscores in each skill area range from 1-15.

Score Ranges

The scores you achieved on the SAT will also have score ranges. These score ranges show how your scores can vary if you took a different administration of the SAT under identical conditions. For example, if you scored 1300 on the SAT one day, your score range on different days could range from 1260 to 1340. These ranges are “derived from the standard error of measurement:”

  • Total: ±40 points
  • Section: ±30 points
  • Test scores, subscores, and cross-test scores: ±2 points

We’ll cover everything you need to know about percentiles and average SAT scores in the next section.

Average SAT Scores

Average SAT scores and percentiles can tell you how you compare to other test-takers. According to the College Board, the most recent average total SAT score is 1028, down from 1060 the previous year. The average ERW score is about 520, and the average Math score is 508.

SAT score averages can change from year to year, but looking at percentiles can show how you compare to other applicants. There are two types of percentiles released by the College Board: Nationally Representative Sample Percentiles and SAT User Percentiles.

Nationally Representative Sample Percentiles “are derived from a research study of U.S. students in grades 11 and 12 and are weighted to represent all U.S. students in those grades, regardless of whether they typically take the SAT.”

The SAT User Percentiles show the actual scores students achieved on the SAT by “the past three graduating classes who took the current SAT during high school.” Here is a chart comparing the 25th and 75th percentiles:

Percentile Total Score EBRW Score Math Score
75% 1180 600 590
50% 1010 510 500
25% 850 440 410

Source: SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report

As seen above, the percentiles show you what percentage of students performed worse or better than you. Shooting for the 50th percentile is an average SAT score.

SAT Tips & Tricks

The SAT is a lengthy test, and it requires an adequate amount of studying if you want to do well. Because we’ve outlined SAT test prep at the beginning of this guide, we’ll move to the tips and tricks you can use to breeze through test day and hack the SAT.

General SAT Tips & Tricks

We’ll begin with general test tips to help you navigate the SAT with the least stress possible.

Budget Your Time

Your speed is just as important as accuracy as you take the SAT. However, good time management and the ability to speed through questions aren’t skills you can cultivate overnight.

Budgeting your time is crucial to performing well on the SAT: don’t allow yourself to get caught up on a difficult question and have 10 minutes pass you by in the blink of an eye. If you do get stuck on a question at any point, move on.

If you’ve noticed you’re not as fast as you’d like to be when you take practice tests, keep ongoing. The more familiar you are with the content, the faster you’ll finish problems. Remember, accuracy is most important. Be sure you’re answering questions correctly before you go racing for an SAT speed-run world record.

Start With Easier Questions

Starting with more straightforward questions is an excellent way to budget your time. If you scan the test and already have answers jumping out at you, get them down and out of the way. Answering easier questions first can help you prioritize if you do end up running out of time.

Another benefit of starting easy is it can boost your morale. Getting stuck on the first question doesn’t set you up for success. Starting on the wrong foot can make you feel anxious and incapable, even when that’s not even close to the truth. Give yourself a boost, and remember you can do it!

Leave No Question Blank

Imagine there’s one minute left, and you still have three questions left to answer. What do you do? The correct answer is anything but leaving them blank. The SAT decided to do away with its guessing penalty in 2016, meaning you have nothing to lose if you throw out a few guesses.

Although guessing may not be ideal, it’s a much better option than leaving blank answers. Remember: a blank answer is always wrong, but a guessed answer always has a chance to be correct.

Do Your Best to Manage Test Anxiety and Stay Confident

Test anxiety sucks, and it can happen to the best of us. Maybe you’re the type who feels fine and confident until you have the test plopped in front of you, or you replay every answer you did in your head after the test picking apart every little thing you think you did wrong.

Harvard University’s Academic Resource Center states this anxiety can come from perfectionism, unfamiliarity with the material, or procrastination to start studying. If you’re getting very nervous as you’re taking the SAT, consider:

  • Reciting a positive affirmation in your head like, “I’ve got this,” or “I studied hard and I will do well.” Whatever works for you!
  • Visualize a place that calms you or briefly think of something that makes you happy. It can help break up negative thinking patterns.
  • Take deeper breaths. Your breathing tends to get shallower when you’re nervous, so breathing more deeply can help you calm down.
  • Have a reward picked out for yourself to look forward to. The SAT is a tough test. Think about how you’ll reward yourself after, whether you’re picking up a new video game, getting your favorite takeout, or whatever else makes you feel good!

Staying confident can be difficult. Know that you have the tools to do well on the SAT when you walk into test day. Even if you don’t necessarily feel confident, acting confident can help you get there.

Use the Process of Elimination

If you’re not sure of your answer from the get-go, the process of elimination can help you get there. If you have four answers to choose from and eliminate one you know can’t possibly be correct, you’ve already increased your chance of selecting the correct answer from 25% to just over 33%.

Use the process of elimination to reduce the noise and get as close as you can to the correct answer.

SAT Reading Test Tips & Tricks

Next, here are some section-specific tips to help you hack the SAT Reading Test and leave the test room happy.

EBR: Develop Your Best Strategy

Reading passages can take time. Ensure you develop a strategy that works best for you before taking the SAT Reading Test. Some options include:

  • Reading the passage in its entirety then looking at the questions.
  • Skimming the passage and then looking at the questions.
  • Look at the questions first to help guide your reading afterward.
  • A mix of any of these strategies depends on the passage and questions.

The only way to know which strategy works best for you is to try them out and see what gets you to the correct answer in the shortest amount of time. Ensure you play around with these methods well in advance of your SAT!

Mark Up Passages

Don’t be afraid to put your pencil on paper and mark up the passages. After all, you’re allowed to write in your test booklet for a reason. You can mark up words and sentences you think are essential, like topic or thesis sentences, evidence that supports the author’s claim, and more. Feel free to underline, circle, do a doodle, or whatever else will help you find the information later!

Read the Pre-Passage Description

Don’t skip the pre-passage descriptions before diving into each extract. These little blurbs can give you some great context into who the author is, the year the piece was written, and other relevant background information. These little informational snippets can help you figure out the tone of the writing and the author’s stance without even looking at the passage.

Choose Your Passage Order

Start with the passage that you want to do first. Maybe you're a big fan of science: tackle that question first. Be mindful about your passage order, and as always, don’t linger too long if you think you’ll get stuck.

Start with the easiest passages or the ones related to your interests, and you’ll start the SAT Reading Test strongly.

Don’t Mix Up Your Dual Passage Answers

The dual passage question throws another element into the Reading Test. Some students like to tackle this one last as it can be more complicated. These passages are complete on their own, but they will cover similar subject matter.

Some of the questions underneath these passages will only ask about one in particular, while some of the questions will ask you to compare and consider both passages simultaneously. Consider tackling the questions relating to only one passage first: it can give you a better foundation for evaluating how these two separate passages fit together and contrast or compare their main ideas.

Consider Leaving Main Idea Questions Last

On the topic of “main idea” questions, you might be better off saving each of them for last after you’ve completed the rest of the passage’s questions. Some students have trouble nailing down the main idea right away, but it typically becomes clearer the more you work with the passage and its content.

SAT Writing and Language Tips & Tricks

Now that you’ve got the SAT Reading Test down like an expert, we can move onto the best practices for the Language and Writing Test.

Memorize Your Grammar Rules

Unfortunately, there’s no way to get around memorizing your grammar rules for the Writing and Language Test. You should know where to place commas and other punctuation marks, ensure sentences have a good structure that remains parallel, and other English language mechanics.

Concise Answers Are Often Right Answers

Concise answers are often correct in the Writing and Language Test. Be mindful that there are some exceptions to this: it’s not a hard and fast rule, but it can help you rule out wordy sentences. If two choices appear correct to you, the shorter one is the most likely answer.

If the answers tend to be off-topic, eliminate them immediately.

Skim To Understand

You have less than a minute to answer each question. The time limit suggests you shouldn’t spend much time reading passages in-depth. Skimming should be enough to give you the information you need.

Skimming is helpful because it can help you understand the passage’s tone and style without spending too much of your precious time. You can even answer questions as you read. When you see an underlined area, try to see if you can identify the problem (if there is one) before you look at potential answers.

Save Long Questions For Last

Like how you can wait to answer “main idea” questions in the SAT Reading Test, consider leaving the long questions for last. Writing and Language Test questions may ask you to go beyond evaluating individual sentences to whether an entire paragraph accomplishes the author’s purpose. Try to answer the rest of the passage’s questions first because it can help prepare you for these bigger-picture questions.

Understand Relationships Between Ideas

Beyond understanding your grammar rules and English language conventions, you should understand how an author’s points and ideas are related as you read. You should be able to identify:

  • What content reinforces the author’s main idea or purpose
  • If there is any content that contrasts with the author’s purpose
  • Where there are cause-and-effect relationships
  • Event sequences

SAT Math Tips & Tricks

With EBRW taken care of, these SAT Math Test tips can help you finish the test with confidence.

Memorize Common Formulas

The SAT provides a reference sheet with the most common formulas you’ll see on the SAT Math Test. While it’s great you have one less thing to worry about, you should try to memorize the formulas anyway. Memorizing them may not be fun, but you probably already remember at least a few of them from your high school classes.

Memorizing the formulas helps you perform math questions with more confidence. It also helps you save time: you won’t be feverishly flipping back and forth trying to find the formula you need.

Ensure You Can Do Basic Calculations, Sans Calculator

Most of the SAT Math test doesn’t allow you to use your calculator. You’ll need to confidently perform basic calculations like multiplying and dividing or sketching a graph of a line. Ensure you’re prepared to do so without a calculator.

Get Familiar With Linear Equations

Linear equations make up a substantial chunk of the SAT Math Test. If you’re struggling with these types of questions before the SAT, they should be the focus of your math studies. You’ll frequently run into linear graphs, equations, and word problems involving linear equations.

These linear equations are also your building blocks for understanding systems of linear equations. Get familiar with lines and slopes: they’re key to performing well on the SAT Math Test!

Make Sure Your Calculator is Allowed

There would be nothing worse than showing up to test day with an unapproved calculator or forgetting one altogether. You are prohibited from sharing a calculator with another test-taker, and you are only allowed to certain calculators.

Prohibited calculators include:

  • Laptops, computers, tablets, phones, smartwatches, or anything else related
  • Calculator models with access to the Internet, or that have Bluetooth, recording capabilities, camera, or any other features similar to a smartphone
  • Calculator models with a QWERTY keyboard, pen input, or stylus
  • Any calculator that makes noise, uses an electrical outlet, or has a paper tape

Basically, you’re allowed to have most graphing calculators, scientific calculators, and four-function calculators (even though these are not recommended). If you’re confused or unsure if your calculator is permitted, be sure to check the SAT’s approved list.

Mark Up Questions and Turn Language Into Math Symbols

Consider marking up math questions if they are presented primarily as words. Circle, underline, and make notes on the side about important mathematical information you’ll need. You may also find words that suggest which equation or formula you need to find the answer. Write all this information on the side.

While you’re marking up word problems, you’ll likely find a lot of math language. When you see it, translating it to math symbols can make your life much easier. For example, “a number,” “how many,” and “how much” can be translated to a variable like x, n, or whatever other letter makes you happy.

Turning language into math symbols can make finding answers easier. Try it in your next practice test if you haven’t already!

Plug-In Answers If You’re Stumped or Have Time

Plugging in your answers to see if it’s the right one shouldn’t be your first strategy, but it might make a great last resort. All you do is work through the problem presented backward using one of the answers from below.

This method eats up a lot of precious time, so we recommend only using this method to either check your work if you've finished the test early or if you have enough time left over to do it.

Resources for Students

The College Board offers many resources for SAT test-takers. You can download free paper practice tests or practice tests exclusively for those using assistive technology through its website.

The College Board also offers a free tailored practice plan, eight full-length practice tests, practice questions, video walk-throughs, hints, and other SAT strategies through its partnership with Khan Academy.

You can also hire an SAT tutor to maximize your chances of achieving a high score. Virtual SAT tutors ensure you get the attention and feedback you need to understand the content, identify your test-taking strategy, create a realistic personalized study schedule, and more. Remember, you don’t have to go through your SAT test prep alone.

The Future of the SAT

According to Priscilla Rodriguez, Vice President of College Readiness Assessments at the College Board, the SAT won’t be offered on paper for much longer. The SAT will soon be offered in a digital format: the changes will be rolled out internationally in 2023 and in the U.S. in 2024.

Rodriguez said the new SAT would be easier for students to take and cut test time from three hours to two. “We’re not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform. We’re taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible,” she said.

The new SAT version can combat logistical issues like students bringing the wrong pencils or calculators. If students don’t have a digital device such as a laptop or tablet they can use to take the test, one will be provided for them on test day.

SAT Test: The Complete Guide for 2024 (Free) (2024)


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